Water Evaporates, and Mattresses Break In

By: Valeri Schwager, Greenheart Exchange Operations Program Assistant

Working in the cultural exchange field has helped introduce me to people, who, as a collective, have a plethora of experiences abroad—who are fluent in different languages, who served in the Peace Corps, and so on. I too had the opportunity to study abroad, and I loved getting to explore a country different from my own. But as much as I enjoyed my experience abroad, it wasn’t without its challenges. It might sound weird, but I am thankful for the challenges that took place abroad, as they continue to help me frame and address problems that I encounter in my daily life in the United States.

I recently moved out of my parents’ home in suburban Illinois to an apartment in Chicago. For me, the move was an opportunity for so many positives. I would be shortening my work commute, which meant I would be able to sleep in and have a social life with friends in the city. Since I didn’t have a car at home, it would be much easier to get around on Chicago’s public transportation. Even though I would be spending more money to do these things, I was convinced that it would be worth it.

The move, however, didn’t exactly go as planned. Part of my bedframe was missing, and there were no furniture stores nearby where I could buy the missing piece. This meant that I would be sleeping with my mattress on the floor for the next week until I could go home and buy the replacement. I didn’t sleep well that first night, with my mattress feeling far too firm beneath me.

That night transported me back to the first night of my study abroad adventure in China, where I experienced a similar feeling.

My dorm room in China was furnished but still had its challenges. One was the bathroom. It had all the necessary amenities: a toilet, shower, and sink—save for any divider between them. There was no shower curtain, no bathtub to keep water from getting on, well, everything.

And then, there was the mattress.

The mattress was as hard as a rock.

But even with the shower situation and the hard mattress, life got better in China. I was able to use the language I had been studying since high school in daily conversation; I visited historical sites like the Great Wall, Tiananmen Square, and the Summer Palace. I even had the chance to explore the less touristy parts of Beijing, like my professor’s aunt’s house, which was hidden away in the traditional hutongs. I also met my professor’s friend from university, who taught my class how to make jiaozi (dumplings).

As I adjusted to life in China, sleeping on that mattress got a lot easier. I never figured out how to fix the shower issue, but even when the water got everywhere, it always evaporated later. Like my mattress in China, my new mattress at home feels much more comfortable now, too.

Change can be scary, but it also provides so many great experiences. Are you ready to change up your worldview? Apply for the Summer Work Travel program with Greenheart Exchange!