Zai jian, Beijing
From babes in Beijing to citizens of the world
“For third-culture kids who often relocate, starting over in a new environment should be easy… but I will never get used to leaving”
Dear Graduating Class of 2009,
This point of life launches us into an uncharted world filled with new responsibilities. We’ve all come a long way. For those of us who grew up in Beijing, we’ve witnessed this city grow from hutongs to compounds to Olympic grounds. I remember when I flew lantern kites at the Forbidden City and had my hair cut by a man with a mirror on his rusty bike. I remember when I threw wet clay on the ceiling in Grade 3 and stole the grape-scented marker out of the new Crayola box. But even though I’ve grown up during my 12 years here, I am not so different now – I throw oil paint across my canvas and occasionally sneak a smell of the new paperback books.
Saying goodbye to high school is easier said than done. Leaving this comfort zone frightens me as much as when, years ago, I saw older students walk down these very hallways casting their daunting shadow over my tiny frame. They moved slowly with an air of authority and competence. But now that I am coming to the end of my secondary education, I realize that their swagger was simply the result of hormones and carrying heavy textbooks. In time, I know all my current fears will be relieved; it just takes a little effort and experience.
I look forward to the last day of exams, when I will write my final answer, and slam my pen down with the flourish of a gold medal winner. I hope that moment will be worth all of the sleepless nights finishing biology labs, the late hours spent in art classrooms and the cups of coffee we drank the following mornings, trying to stay alert in class.
But in the midst of the excitement of graduating, we have to leave our dear friends. For third-culture kids who often relocate, starting over in a new environment should be easy – meeting new people and living in a foreign place is nothing new. But I will never get used to leaving, and saying goodbye to friends. I wish I could shrink all my friends, ship them with me to university and “just add water.”
I have left my mark at my high school – if you look under the antique chair in the Western Academy of Beijing (WAB) elementary school you will see my name carved into the leg of the aged wood. I will now leave my mark on Beijing by fully enjoying the final adventures before I am off to university in the US.
I can’t wait until the morning after my graduation from WAB, when my senior class stands together to watch the flag rising at Tiananmen Square. When school is finished, I want to spend an entire day at 798, slowly walking through the exhibits and meeting a few artists. This city has so much to offer – hopefully we will all eat a fried scorpion in Wangfujing before we leave this incredible place.
Most of us are moving away from Beijing, spreading all that we experienced here to the corners of the world. We will travel to exotic countries, learn new languages and meet people who will share their own stories. But none of them will have the same story as us, the Beijing graduating class of 2009. Kaarina Mackenzie
American Kaarina Mackenzie, who has lived in Beijing for 12 years, will graduate from the Western Academy of Beijing this month. She will begin her freshman year at Skidmore University in the fall.