Thoughts on travel and identity
In six months I’ll be leaving for China to visit a close friend. When I leave, it will have been almost three years from the time I was last in China. As I think about my journey, I’m reflecting on how this trip will be different from others. It’ll be a lot shorter than my last two trips, but—more importantly—my purpose for going is entirely different: leisure rather than studying or teaching. I’ve never gone to China for pure enjoyment—I’ve always gone with the intent to come back home as something different.
My first two extended stays in China (two months the first time, one year the second time) were for study purposes. I was there for one reason: to learn Mandarin. Of course I had other goals: travel, experience a new culture, get to know China, assert my independence. But my primary reason was to be in a Mandarin-speaking environment and have the opportunity to speak Chinese every day. I left for China wanting to come home a Mandarin speaker.
Last time I went to China I taught academic writing at a college. I had just finished my MA and was ready for some classroom teaching experience. While I definitely wanted to work on my Mandarin while I was there, my primary goals for going were to get some teaching experience and to see how I could translate all the theory I’d learned during my MA studies into practice in an actual classroom. I was excited about challenging myself to be an ethical participant in the English language industry. I left for China wanting to become a good English teacher.
This time, my sole purpose in going to China is to travel, see a new part of the country, spend time with a close friend, and have fun. I feel an incredible sense of excitement. I feel no pressure to achieve anything or gain any new layer of identity. I’m preparing to leave for China wanting nothing more than to become a slightly more experienced version of what I am right now.
What does any of this matter? Maybe nothing—maybe I’m just thinking out blog. But I think that going to a place with a specific purpose in mind changes how you perceive that place and your experience within it. When I was a student and didn’t return home as proficient in Chinese as I’d hoped, my feelings of disappointment in myself extended to my feelings about China. When I was a teacher, I didn’t pursue as many opportunities to speak Chinese as I could have. Now that I’m going to travel to China without an agenda and with no set purpose other than to explore and have fun, I wonder what will happen?