Sunday night, after spending the day doing churchy things like meeting our branch president and attending the virtual branch for foreigners spread across the country, I hopped on an overnight train to my new home for the next ten months, Hefei. I was greeted at the train station by someone from the foreign relations department at my school, Anhui University. She dropped me off at my apartment and left me for a while.
That’s when it really hit me that I’m in China to live not just visit. This really scared me and I felt very alone. I’ll admit my homesickness and feeling a bit like a prisoner because I don’t know where anything is, how to speak or read their language and I had no friends anywhere near. I didn’t have my computer set up until that night so I couldn’t even email anybody.
That afternoon, I met some of the other foreign teachers, Birte a German teacher and Kim a French teacher who has taught here for six years. They are very friendly and willing to help out especially since both of them speak Chinese. It was with them that I had my first real adventure in Hefei, a trip to the police station to register that we are here. The woman helping us had never done it before and insisted that we had the wrong visas and she couldn’t help us, so someone made a phone call and got a higher-up to help us.
During this visit, I also got my Chinese name from Birte and Paul, our helper from the school. My name is Wang Kai Wen. I’m not completely sure what it means yet. Wang is a family name and is similar to Earl. Kai is the word for on like turning on the power. Wen has something to do with writing, literature, language and culture.
From there, Kim took us to a local supermarket. I was nearly lost in the market especially when it came to food. I have no clue how to make anything Chinese and it’s not like there are English instructions on the packages. I also had to get some things to outfit my apartment. The teachers who lived here before me left me practically nothing, no dishes, cleaning supplies or anything else, just the Lord of the Rings trilogy and a toothpick dispenser shaped like a pig. This didn’t help my loneliness or homesickness.
Over the next couple of days, I walked about the campus to get to know my surroundings. I live on the new campus of the university. It is a beautiful campus and very thoughtfully designed with gardens, plazas and grand architecture, however it’s a little unkempt. The greenery is overgrown in many places and full of weeds and some things have fallen into disrepair. But even with these slight imperfections, the campus has a certain beauty to it.
Even though it has been here for a few years now, they are still building and adding to the campus. Not far from my apartment are the new graduate student dorms and dining hall. I look forward to them opening because then there will be a dining hall just a few minutes away and not across campus.