In Beijing, a city that shares a similar aerial view to my hometown of Adelaide but is so vastly different in any way that it’s ridiculous – I did everything in a group. I ate with a group of twenty somethings who were all in various stages of their degree. We hunted for vegan meals with a desperate absurdity that confounded locals (what planet are you from if you don’t eat meat, milk or eggs? exclaimed a cafeteria lady, leaving my ego sorely bruised.) We visited cultural icons of China in a group. We were pushed aside by frantic Chinese locals as a group, smiled about it awkwardly and passed it off as a “learning experience”. We expressed disappointment and emotional turmoil as a group. We gabbered and shared stories in a group. It should be noted that this group had only met each other once or twice before our visit – but unusual and immediate circumstances bring out the human need for accompaniment, survival and mutual support that going on a study tour perfectly replicates and advocates.
Our bond is not forged strictly because we’ve been forced to adapt in the way we have – maybe part of it comes from the fact that we’re all creative, which makes us seek strong human interaction, which creates a unique and essential vulnerability in a person, which lead to our unity. Nonetheless, it’s been remarkable to see how different people on the tour have reacted to each other – and how after a week we’re comfortable to share things with each other that we maybe haven’t shared with anyone else. Also, none of us really knew how to contact each other on our Chinese sim cards…. so arranging times to meet and times to relocate was maybe essential to our social experience.
As the extremely, deeply intelligent and political people we are (I’m laughing quietly to myself as I write this but that doesn’t mean it’s not true…) our engagement with the texts we’re given means that we’re talking about it way after class has ended, we discuss the delivery style of our lecturers, we all fawn after the somewhat feminist lecturer who asks our opinion on everything. We aren’t called Gen Y for no reason. It seems even more fulfilling that in the absence of a western style tutorial based university set up that we’re used to, we replicate that after class, in conversations on the street. Instead of passing it off and enjoying our stay in China like tourists, we take the extra step and provide the missing piece to our learning experiences. We take responsibility to make sure what we learn here isn’t lost into the aether of quotes, syllables, and writing styles that we’ve been forced to memorise in other subjects. It becomes a unique experience.
There were moments on the tour where we thought we lost someone and half of us went into melt-down. Maybe it’s just because I’m generally a calm person, but I found this kind of thing assuring in a strangely morbid way. We care about each other. We’re the Breakfast Club of the Chinese continent. We sit in my dorm, which has become the BFSU common room, and talk about our dreams and woes, our parents, our expectations for ourselves, and squeeze ourselves together into a single bed while it’s all happening. We all believe that we’re special and unifying and important to the cultural structure of our world. You know what I say about us being Gen Y? Believe it.