Finding a new world across the globe: Josh Grelle spends his summer in China

Maelyn Schramm, Opinion/Editorial Editor

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     He has camped in the rainforests of Yunan, practiced tai-chi in the parks of China, and has absorbed an entire different culture from across the globe.  This past summer, senior Josh Grelle had the opportunity of a lifetime when he spent six and a half weeks living with a Chinese host family.

     Grelle originally planned to go to China to improve his Chinese speaking skills. He discovered a government scholarship called NSLIY – National Security League Initiative for Youth – that sponsors full ride scholarships for those who want to study a language.

     “I felt I was learning it but not as fast I wanted to, so I thought maybe if I went to the country and I got immersed in the language I would learn a lot faster,” Grelle said.

     After anticipating a reply for four months, Grelle found out in March that he received the scholarship. That summer, he began a new journey that opened his eyes to things he had never imagined while living in Chengdu, China.

     “I met my host family in the middle of the night at a crowded airport,” Grelle said. “There were so many people, and they were taking pictures of us, but I was excited to meet my new family and experience living in China. It was really different there. I experienced culture shock.”

     Often times, Grelle had to learn for himself the proper Chinese customs or how to act because their ways differ from American traditions.

     “They don’t process things the way we do,” Grelle said. “If there was something I did they didn’t like, they wouldn’t tell me so I just had to figure it out on my own. They wouldn’t be that abrupt about how they spoke to people.”

     Although Grelle said getting used to his new environment was challenging, he enjoyed learning about the Chinese culture and experiencing a whole new world.

     “Everything was a new adventure,” Grelle said. “I would go out every day and see something I had never seen in my life, eat things I had never eaten, lungs, liver – anything you can think of – brains. Everyone thought it was really funny to make me eat things.”

     American citizens come in many different races, but in China, the culture is less diverse. Grelle received many different reactions from people in China because Chinese are not accustomed to seeing Caucasians.

     “They would ask me for my autograph and take pictures of me, or I’d ride my bus to school and they’d pull my hair and be like, ‘Oh cool, brown hair!’” Grelle said.

     Grelle constantly received attention from curious onlookers. His light skin, brown hair and glasses misled some into thinking he actually was well-known movie star Daniel Radcliffe.

     “They’d go around and yell ‘Harry Potter! Harry Potter!’” Grelle said. “It was around the time the newest Harry Potter came out, so they were all freaking out.”

     Sometimes, Grelle missed his life back home. He mostly missed his friends and family, and being able to speak English.

     “I really missed my family,” Grelle said. “I didn’t realize how much I appreciated them until I was gone. My family in China was really nice, but they weren’t American. The little things were different. My Chinese family fed me breakfast but my American family doesn’t make me eat breakfast because they know I don’t eat breakfast. It was little things like that that made me miss home.”

     Even though he missed familiar faces, Grelle said he established many lifelong relationships with fellow classmates and his host family. He even celebrated Chinese New Year with his family via Skype.

     “We have a really close bond,” Grelle said. “You wouldn’t expect that. You live with these people only six weeks, but you’re like a baby in this culture. You don’t know how to do anything, so you really depend on them for survival.”

     While Grelle’s visit to China progressed, he gained more freedoms because he did not have to rely on others as much since he had become more used to the culture and language.

     “I would go around and study by myself,” Grelle said. “I would use Chinese to go around and buy things or whatever I wanted to do.”

     Overall, the trip to China served Grelle’s original purpose of immersing himself in the Chinese language.

     “By the end of the program, I noticed how I could speak a lot more fluently and understand other’s conversations even in their dialect,” Grelle said. “I didn’t realize it at first, but I was really improving my Chinese.”

     Grelle did not have any regrets of his visit to China, it  was an experience he will always remember.

     “It’s an eye opening experience. It changed my views of the world. I felt like I matured a lot in that short period and it was a really fantastic experience, I recommend it for everyone.”