Photo essay: Study abroad in China

During the summer of 2014, I studied Mandarin Chinese in Beijing, China for 8 weeks. I’ll never forget this trip because I learned much more than the language I was being taught. I learned how to appreciate foreign culture, how to travel internationally, and how to navigate China as a Chinese American, to name a few. I’m happy to share more about my trip in the photo essay below.

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Anyang, China 2014

This first photo was taken in Anyang, China, a city I visited during my study abroad trip. After about an hour or longer of climbing the Wang Xiangyan Mountain in Taihang Canyon, we came across this spiraling staircase, which was probably two-thirds the way up the mountain. When I was climbing, I had one hand tightly clutching my over-the-shoulder purse and another hand firmly on the rail. I looked down maybe once or twice, but only for a brief second. It was a great achievement when I finally reached the top. Some of the students in the group chose to wait at the bottom, where there was a pretty waterfall to play in. I think this photo is a great representation of overcoming my fear of not only climbing this spiraling stair case but also of traveling to China. I was adopted from China when I was two and half years old, so I was afraid that returning to my birth country for the first time may be too emotional. Looking back, I would do it all over again.


Leighton Xiamen 1996

Xiamen, China 1996

Here’s a photo of my dad, mom, brother, and me when I was adopted in 1996 from Xiamen, China. My birth city is in southern, China, which I didn’t have a chance to visit during my study abroad trip, but I plan to visit the city sometime in the future. I made sure to focus mostly on my studies in Beijing , so when I make a trip back to my birth city, I hope I can really reflect on my adoption then.

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Beijing, China 2014 [Right: my Chinese roommate. Center: a fellow student from Texas. Left: the Texas student’s Chinese roommate]

The photo above is one of my favorites from my study abroad experience.The student from Texas (center) and I made “spaghetti and toast” for our Chinese roommates. They do not often eat this cuisine, so we were delighted to treat them to dinner. They had often cooked Chinese food for us when we were busy studying. I love how this photo shows how our cultures can be shared by good food and company, which is one of the most memorable things about being in China for me.

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Beijing, China 2014


Lastly, this photo of me was taken by a lake filled with lotus flowers at the Summer Palace in Beijing. This photo was taken close to the end of my program, so I think it’s a great piece to remember whenever I look back at my photos. Although Beijing was an enormous city, with bustling traffic, there were also some very serene spots that made you take a breath and appreciate the world. When I look at this photo, I can remember my amazing experiences in China as well as look to the future for more incredible opportunities.



Photo essay comments: I chose to focus on my study abroad experience since it’s still very fresh in my memory, and it was a huge decision and accomplishment in my life. It seems ironic that looking back, I often most enjoyed the time in China when I was in nature, either hiking or gazing at lily ponds, and here I am now, writing this story, on a couch, with my laptop, in the city. Of course, this photo essay is just a tiny part of my time in China. I found it interesting that when I was creating this post, I could attach more meaning to some of the photos than I perhaps thought about when the photo was taken. I think it will be important to consider what images represent right away to a viewer versus what it represents upon further inspection whenever creating writing material that includes images. Additionally, connecting images together in a narrative and being mindful of audience is also very important when using text and images together.

As always, thanks for reading!



  1. Christina! This is so great! I love how you laid it out, with having the photos in the middle of the paragraphs. It makes your essay easy to follow and successful overall! I appreciate you telling about your experiences abroad and overall it sounds like it was really positive for you. I love your remark that it is important to look at what a viewer’s first thought of a photo will be, because that could decide if they read it or not! Really well thought out.

    See you soon,


  2. Christina,

    your story is beautiful and the photo essay conveys it in a lovely way. The images you chose aptly tell the story of your re- introduction to China. I particularly agree that the spiral staircase is a visual of bravery. Your use of imagery was a great hook and story-telling tool! Well done!



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