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Postcards from China, in which Rhiannon Kurtz’15 offers practical phone-home advice

April 24, 2014

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Name: Rhiannon Kurtz’15

Hometown: Madison, Wis.

Where are you studying abroad? Kaifeng, China

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What are the three most important things you packed in your suitcase? Why?

1. Anything OTC, like Benadryl, Abreva, tums......basically, if you think you might need it, bring it. Others might disagree, but if there's anything you should have too much of, it's toiletries (which includes sanitary products).

2. There's this nifty thing called a MagicJack that allows you to call home. Pay a yearly subscription (also around $20) for a phone number from the U.S., and make unlimited calls to anywhere in the States. All you need is an Internet connection and a USB port. Very very worth it, especially if you'll be gone for two semesters. I used it to call home for Thanksgiving and birthdays.

3. PICTURES FROM HOME. I can't stress this enough. While having your friends and family staring at you on particularly homesick days kind of sucks, being able to glance up and see familiar faces is wonderful for a quick pick-me-up. Honestly, everything else seems trivial, except maybe clothes.

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What is the most unexpected thing you have encountered so far during your off-campus study experience?
After a couple weeks, there isn't much that surprises me, and anyone who's been to China can relate to this. Most things that were once unsettling, namely the state of restaurants or public places, eventually didn't warrant surprise. One hundred middle aged women dancing to Lady Gaga on the street, for example; most foreign students after a while go past these scenes without batting an eye.

What is your favorite place in your host city/country?
I like the neighborhoods that haven't seen repair for several decades, but they're usually due for reconstruction. Kaifeng is pretty run-down, but it has a charm unlike the bustling crowds of Shanghai or Beijing. There are old neighborhoods where overgrown trees poke into piles of crumbling bricks, and on the remaining walls, spray painted in red, is the character for "demolish." It's an indescribable experience, to look down what seem like uninhabited alleys (except for the pile of trash outside the door and a line of clothes fluttering within the courtyard) and realize...I don't know, it's like walking past a known haunted house that still has people living in it. The feelings that accompany those places, for me, are a mixture of awe and pity--especially because the residents think of themselves as neither awe-inspiring nor worthy of pity. To us, to me, I ask, how could anyone live there? And to them, they shrug: how could we not?

What is the best meal you’ve had abroad?
That's really hard to answer. Pretty much every meal is delicious. I've been to a couple banquets where there are so many dishes that can't be identified, but are nonetheless tasty. One meal that stands out is last Thanksgiving: I went out with about 12 other exchange students and had roast duck for dinner. Needless to say, that was pretty incredible, and definitely one of the best Thanksgiving meals ever.

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What did you miss most from home/Beloit?
It'll be hard missing graduation, but it's really hard not having the normal network of friends and family. There were so many moments where I wanted to see what someone's weekend plans were, or walk across campus to a friend's dorm. And then there's the weird sinking feeling that they're super far away for the next several months. Not to mention the depressing lack of cheese here, which REALLY made me miss home. You don't know how much you miss cheese until you're almost crying thinking about a burrito you can't have.

What will you bring home as a souvenir?
Chrysanthemum tea and some black tea are on the top of my list.