My China journey began in the year 2015 when I came to China for the first time with a tentative plan to spend one semester here, and then decide if I wanted to stay longer. I had come to China on CSC scholarship for my PhD, but at that time I also had another scholarship offer from a university in another country. The semester there, however, would have started in the year 2016 in February. So, what initially started out as a one semester plan, turned into almost 7 years and counting.
2015 年，我的中国之旅正式起航。那是我第一次来中国，暂定呆一个学期，然后再决定是否要继续留在中国。我是拿着中国留学基金委 (CSC) 的奖学金来华读博士的，当时也有另一个国家的大学给我提供奖学金。然而，那个国家新学期是 2016 年 2 月开始的。因此，最初只打算在中国呆一个学期，但如今已过了将近 7 年。
If I were to pen down one single reason of why I chose to stay, it would not be possible. Was it the people, the opportunities, the city itself, I could not pinpoint, but what I can say for sure is that it was definitely more than one reason that extended the China chapter of my life. One big reason was me having another home away from home in Shanghai as my sister also had started her PhD at Shanghai Jiao Tong University. And oh, did I mention I also met my now husband in China, for that this country will always have a special place in my heart.
I got enrolled at University of International Business and Economics for the International PhD program. I went through all the emotional highs and lows that come with moving your life to another country altogether. I already had done it one time at the age of 16, when my family made the move from UAE to Pakistan, but nothing could have prepared me for how different the life in China is compared to the other two countries I had experience of. Little did I know that the differences would become the reason for me wanting to extend my stay.
我被对外经济贸易大学国际博士项目录取了。我必须来到另一个国家，经历在异国他乡生活带来的所有情绪上的高潮和低谷。我 16 岁的时候就经历过一次了，当时全家从阿联酋搬到了巴基斯坦。但中国与阿联酋、巴基斯坦相比，存在着巨大的差异，我没有做好充足的准备来面对这些差异。万万没想到，这些差异竟然成了我想留在中国的理由。
Upon arrival, I immediately found myself caught in the whirlwind of the crazy Beijinger life as a Laowai. I was not familiar with the culture, hardly spoke a work of the language, got lost every single time I went out. Consequence: the very third day in China which happened to be my birthday I sat in front of my dormitory building and cried because I was feeling overwhelmed. I got a call from my mum, and she gave me all the courage that I needed to take this as a challenge and enjoy every second of it. I took the advice to heart and from the very next day I started immersing myself in the life around me as much as I could. I would randomly take a bus and get off at any station and try to navigate my way back with the help of people on the street. I joined all the student activities that were happening on campus. I still have very fond memories of the first big competition called “hanyu qiao” I took part in. In the competition you compete against 9 other teams comprising of one Chinese and one foreign team member. Me and my teammate ranked second in the competition and won the title of the most popular team.
一到北京，我这个老外就被卷入北京人疯狂的生活中。我不熟悉中国文化，几乎不懂中文，每次出门都会迷路。结果，来到中国的第三天，正好是我生日，我坐在宿舍楼前哭泣，因为我感到一种挫败感。我接到了妈妈的电话，她给予我勇气，让我把这当成一种挑战，享受每一分每一秒。她的话我牢记在心。第二天，我就开始尽可能地融入周围的生活。我会随机搭上一辆公交车，在任意一站下车，然后询问路人，尝试自己走回去。我积极参加学校举行的所有学生活动。我还记得我参加的第一个大型比赛“汉语桥”。比赛中，我与其他 9 个团队竞争，每个团队包括一名中国队员和一名外国队员。我们团队在比赛中获得了第二名，并荣获“最受欢迎团队”称号。
The second year in China I joined multiple student associations. I joined the Publicity Department of International Student Union (ISU), which next year I became the head of department and ultimately, got elected as the vice president of the whole ISU. The second association I joined was the International Alumni Association (IAA). I started out as member in the Branch Management Center (BMC) and handled the 5 country branches that were assigned to me, later I got promoted as the Director of the BMC overseeing the work of the 27 country branches under the IAA. Currently I am linked with the association as an advisor. I also joined International Volunteer Association through which I got a chance to further immerse in the Chinese culture, as some of the volunteer program would allow us to visit old home, schools in small towns, this gave me a chance to get a glimpse of not only how the life worked for the people my age but to also see how the old and young generation are living their life in China. It is with the help of these association that I was able to experience Beijing, forge lifelong friendships and carve my little home in the crazy big city.
来中国的第二年，我加入了许多学生社团，比如国际学生会 (ISU) 的宣传部，第二年成为该部门的负责人，最终被选为 ISU 的副主席。我加入的第二个协会是国际校友会 (IAA)，一开始是分会管理中心的成员，负责管理 5 个国家的分会，后来晋升为分会管理中心的主任，监督国际校友会下 27 个国家分会的工作。目前，我以顾问的身份与校友会保持联络。我还加入了国际志愿者协会，进一步沉浸在中国文化中，因为我们通过一些志愿项目，参观老房子和小镇上的学校，让我有机会了解同龄人是如何生活的，还能看到中国的老一代和年轻一代是如何生活的。通过这些协会，我才得以体验北京，建立起终生的友谊，在这个疯狂的大城市里建立自己的小家。
In my third year I wanted to extend my reach to youth lead and youth leadership association existing outside of my university. That is when interviewed to join the SCOLAR Network. The reason I had chosen to associate myself with SCOLAR was based on having attended one of the events organized by them. After joining I got the opportunity to attend/organize multiple events.
第三年，我想接触大学之外的青年领导和青年领导协会。我通过面试加入了上合国家青年平台 (SCOLAR Network)。我加入这个平台的原因，是因为我参加了他们组织的一次活动。加入后，我有机会参加并组织多场活动。
2019 was the year which put a hold on the life of so many people. I went back to Pakistan at the end of the year to spend my semester break, little did I know that I will not get a chance to return back to campus to attend my graduation. This time was the hardest in my China journey, as I had to coordinate all the details of my final thesis online, attend my graduation online and even pack the whole content of my life in Beijing: my dorm room all the way from Pakistan via video call. It was a sad thing to be robbed of the chance to wear the red gown and be at the front of the graduation ceremony, but like the rest of the world all I could do was to sit and wait for the situation to get better. As I had intention to continue my life in China even after graduation, so I started applying for jobs online instead of just waiting. I was very fortunate because after only two interviews I landed my current job. Returning however was another struggle because embassies were closed and there weren’t any flights. It took me half year to process my visa and relevant documents to be able to fly back. Currently, I am working as a process manager in Shanghai and awaiting the next adventures in my new home away from home. To sum it all up it sure was one hell of a ride with multiple ups and downs, crazy adventures, and lifelong friendships.
Thank you China for all the memories!