Mendoza School of Business

Study abroad storyteller: My future in the past

Published: May 8, 2023 / Author: Emily Wang ‘24

The Study Abroad Storytellers program is an opportunity for current study abroad students to share their stories with prospective study abroad students. Though they may come from different backgrounds, colleges, and majors, they all share an enthusiasm to grow academically and personally from this life-changing experience.

In this story, Emily Wang ‘24, a marketing major, writes about her experience studying abroad in Beijing, China while also connecting with her family and searching for her identity as a Chinese-American.


During the pandemic, China closed its borders. My grandparents, who I worried about every day, couldn’t be further out of reach. I desperately looked into study abroad programs in Beijing that might help me reach them faster, leading to my time here at Peking University.

Emily in China

Marketing major, Emily Wang ’24

For my first weekend in China, my uncle picked me up from the dorms, driving me through the neighborhood where I spent many summers. I counted the floors as I climbed, one, two, three. At the door, I tugged off my shoes and found my grandmother in the middle of the room, watering her plants. The second I held her, I melted in her arms, my tears dripping onto her coat. All my struggles with grades and visas—all of it was now worth enduring, to see her again.

That night, I went with my grandmother to the market behind her apartment. I traced the worn streets with an atmosphere that museums would envy. At the end of the street, I lost my breath, staring at the lantern-lit market that even my dreams could not fabricate. I imagined a parallel life where I had grown up here, and I imagined a future where I return to proudly introduce someone to this location branded in my memory and identity.

I helped my grandmother to the wall of intricate lanterns veiling our faces with a warm glow. In the center read a sign, “MOSHIKOU ROAD.” I opened my camera, snapping a picture of us both in front of the sign. When we returned home, she looked at the pictures and huffed, “Why did you include the road sign?” I laughed, realizing how mundane the sign must look to her, but for me, it symbolized another successful trip to see that road with her again.

In my return to this second home, I’m also searching for my identity as a Chinese-American. In America, I always felt that I must act “American,” or I risk misrepresenting people with faces similar to mine; my mistakes can affect and misrepresent the opinion of all Chinese people. I stand on stilts, trying to act American enough to fit in, but never having the attitude or personality to truly belong.

Here, unfamiliarity is my solace. I don’t know what is normal or what is socially desirable among my class of international students. We all stumble in our fog of social unawareness with no standing to judge each other. I feel brave asking questions because I am backed by my identity as a foreigner. Somehow my American identity simultaneously frees me in China while limiting me in America.

Here, I am the fast walker on campus. I would walk as fast as my legs could take me at Notre Dame, and someone would rush past me anyway. But here the pace is slower. Here, I can catch my breath before deciding what type of pace, what type of mindset I want for my own life.


Originally posted on ND Study Abroad.