Before I even went to college, I always had dreams of going abroad and getting beyond the east coast of the United States. Growing up, I had been on family vacations to Florida, journeyed to Spain with my best friend’s family, and cruised to the Caribbean. I still wanted to see and do more.
It was not until my sophomore year at Furman that I started to thinking about locations for studying abroad. What really got me interested in applying to one of Furman’s faculty lead programs was that a semester abroad didn’t cost more than a semester on campus. Furman covered almost everything! How could I pass down an opportunity like that?
As a Communication Studies major, I originally hoped to go on the trip to Edinburgh. Due to a high number of applicants and a small number of openings, I did not get offered the a spot to go. But, I kept searching. One afternoon, I received an email from the Study Away Office that said that there were openings to go on the Fall 2016 study abroad trip to China. I wasn’t sure I was interested. When I pictured study abroad trips, I pictured Europe… taking a class in the morning and then spending the afternoon exploring the streets and eating croissants.
I figured that I would apply, especially because I didn’t have anything to loose.
I got accepted.
August 23rd of 2016 finally arrived.
My bags were packed, and I set off for a 4 month long journey. I did not know the Chinese language, besides “Nǐ hǎo,” which means “Hello.” I didn’t even like Chinese food. I kept a positive attitude and went on the adventure of a lifetime.
Over two months into my trip, I visited Taiwan, Beijing, Shanghai, Suzhou, Yunnan, Yangzhou, and Nanjing. I traveled to more places in China than I had traveled to in the United States.
It was the end of October and our group had just arrived back in Suzhou after spending 10 days in Yunnan, southwest China. After class one day, my friends and I went to the noodle shop that was right next to our hotel. I made my friend order my meal, as I had to leave and go back to my room after sudden stomach cramping and aching pains.
I did not leave my bed or eat anything for the next day and a half. I was extremely freaked out because I LOVE FOOD. I knew that something was up. My professors wanted me to go see a doctor, but I was hesitant since the only way to see a doctor was to go to the hospital. I waited until the third day of my pains to finally go to the doctor. After the general testing and checks, as well as four long hours of waiting, they had admitted me to the hospital. My diagnosis was the beginning stages of appendicitis.
They could not get me into a hospital room for a while due to the fact that I needed a VIP service, which meant that I had to wait for a single room and a paid nurse to help me. In China, the hospital does not include nurses to help you. The rooms do not include toilet paper, food, or water.
After going to sleep that night in the hospital room, I woke up to a crowd of doctors pushing me out of my room and into surgery. I had absolutely no idea what was happening.
I woke up. Laparoscopic surgery had been performed, and I looked down to see gauze and tape all over my stomach. My memory is still extremely blurry from my time at the Kowloon Hospital of Suzhou, but I made it through with the help of my Furman classmates, as well as the Suzhou University Chinese students. Since the hospital was a 30 minute cab ride away from the campus, students and professors would come visit me and spend the night on the couch to keep me company and assist me. Not only was I in pain because they do not believe in providing pain medicine, but I was stressed because I was already a week behind assignments and classes.
7 days. That was how long I was in that hospital.
I thought I was on the road to recovery, but little did I know was that my body was not healing. My pain was getting worse and I was going down hill. I was in and out of hospitals for that next week and a half. The doctors kept saying that I should’ve been fine, but I knew that something was wrong at that point. Blown veins in both arms, 20 pounds down, and overwhelming pain… but I knew that I was going to push through it.
My professor, Dr. Zhang, as well as the Furman Study Away office made the executive decision to transfer me to a Western hospital that had advanced technology and to a hospital where English was fluently spoken.
I was off to Shanghai: 2 hours from our home base in Suzhou. Upon arrival, my new doctor looked at my previous tests, as well as new tests done there. He had confirmed that I had a horrible infection. My stomach was so swollen that it looked like I was pregnant.
Dr. Zhang spent the night with me in the hospital across the hall, but after that he left. Dr. Zhang, along with my Chinese professor, Zoe, visited again, but besides that I was all-alone. Finally on pain medication, I was feeling like some progress was being made even though the infection was not going away.
At this point, my parents were scared beyond belief. My mother was going to visit to take care of me in Suzhou, but she could not obtain a visa to China. 3 weeks and many calls later, she landed in Shanghai and came to the hospital. The hospital discharged me the next day, even though I was still in excruciating pain because my infection was slowly going away.
Two days later, it was Thanksgiving. I was on my first outing with the class, and we had a big turkey dinner. It wasn’t easy, but my Furman family made sure that I was enjoying my time back.
The next day, I pushed through the pain and made it to my first day of class in 4 weeks. It took me 45 minutes to walk to class, which was over twice as long as what it would normally take me to make it to the class building. Holding back the tears and the pain, I presented my final project to my Chinese Culture class. After class is dismissed, I ran into the bathroom and broke down. I knew that I did not have the strength or ability to handle my illness anymore, despite my positive mentality. I felt like my body was going to collapse.
I headed back to the hotel room with my Mom and we called the doctor from Shanghai to make the decision as to what to do next. He said that since I was not making improvement upon leaving the hospital that my next step was to go back the United States and seek better healthcare.
Less than 24 hours later, I was back on a plane to the United States and I was leaving what I called, “my new home.”
40 pounds down and I was leaving China.
After a few weeks of doctor appointments and scans, I was feeling a lot better. I spent my Christmas break and the beginning of second semester playing catch up on all the of the work I had missed. My Chinese professor from China was generous enough to spend an hour each day on video chat with me to make sure I could get credit for my classes and administer my tests to me.
Not only did I leave my appendix in China, but I left a piece of my heart there as well.
I share this story not to scare you away from going abroad, but to share my experience and how I made it through. Even though I still struggle physically and mentally from what I went through, I would still go back to China in a heartbeat.
I dream about exploring the streets, going to Starbucks every morning on Pingjiang Road, and practicing my Chinese to random people. It was because of the strong Furman community of 14 students and 3 professors in China that helped me push through my pain and struggles. It was the Study Away office that assisted me with the whole process of transferring hospitals, paying bills, and making sure that I was getting the best treatment and help possible. They were my support system, and still continue to be.
I share my experience as a way for others to not fear for the worst, because if things take a turn, I know that Furman will be there for me.
Because of this bump in the road, I have grown in ways that I could not have imagined.
Now it’s time to plan my next trip…