Hannah Nation serves as the blog editor for China Partnership. She is studying Church History at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and works part-time doing international outreach for her local church, Christ the King Presbyterian Cambridge.
Last week I gave you the first half of an interview with a Chinese international student I’m calling Peggy. If you missed it, I encourage you to go back and read it, and I hope you enjoy reading this second half!
For this interview, I spent time with a young woman I’ll call Peggy. Peggy is an achiever through and through. I meet many Chinese international students who dream of coming to America and making their mark. I see few of them live up to their own expectations – not because of any lack of talent involved, but rather because of the incredible expectations they set for themselves. Peggy is one of the few students for whom it seems possible to achieve the success she dreams of. She is gifted, yes, but mostly she is willing to drag herself through all sorts of extremely unpleasant experiences in order to accomplish what she wants. She is a true risk-taker.
But often behind a success is a story of true frustration and confusion. Peggy’s life has not lacked for either. With her permission, some of her most challenging and most important life experiences are shared with you in this first half of her interview. I hope they can help you understand why the gospel speaks so boldly to the Chinese soul – and why ministry with China’s people remains a complex and challenging field, despite the rapid movement of the gospel.
What is the saddest memory of your life?
Yeah, there is one. It has something to do with why I got interested in Christianity. In my sophomore year I started to prepare for the TOEFL exams and the GMAT.
In the summer of my sophomore year I went to Shanghai alone for an internship, but before that summer there was an exam that is important for the financial world – it is a pretty difficult exam – but it is pretty important for us financial students, so I participated in the level 1 exam that summer. And I failed. At the same time, because I devoted too much time on that exam, I did really really bad on my final exams at school.
So I was very very upset at that time because I had messed up everything. Especially since I was preparing to go abroad and my GPA was really important. But I couldn’t change that, right? You can’t repeat history. So during that summer I felt frustrated, but I still had the internship and went to Shanghai alone.
I lived in a very small rental house with people all around that I didn’t know. That was the most insecure experience I ever had, because everything was undecided. It just felt like everything you had been working on was not turning out the way you expect. But you have to continue because there is no back up. So during that time it was pretty hard. That internship was not something that I was really expecting, but I had to do it. And also the application essays and the language tests.
A lot of the time I just felt lost. Especially when I would stay in that house alone. I would feel like, “What am I supposed to do? Is this really the right thing that I’m doing right now?” So I held that thought in my mind and I stayed in that internship for about four months. My parents and my friends all told me to just end it quickly and they thought I could have something else to do; but I just felt like, no, actually maybe there is some reason for me to stay there longer and see what is going on. So I stayed there for about four months and during that time I also prepared for the test and the applications at the same time, but didn’t know what the result would be.
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But it did not turn out to be very good, because later I went back to my home and realized that I really missed something because all of my language tests still were not finished at that point. I was supposed to submit my application before the end of that year, so I only had months to go. I had to retake the tests and I felt great pressure because it is expensive and I couldn’t take it too many times. So I asked myself – am I really that qualified to go abroad or am I too weak? Is my language not good enough? I asked myself that many many times. During those two months I felt great pressure from this and I every time I talked with someone else, I just felt like, am I persisting in the wrong thing?
Everyone was telling me that my program, the MSF program, isn’t a quantitative program, so Chinese people have a bias against it. They think that if you are studying finance, you have to do engineering or financial engineering. That will make you more money in the future. I’m not that interested in the quantitative, and I want to do more corporate finance, so every time my friends would discuss this with me I felt very angry and frustrated. So during those two months, I hesitated a lot of times.
Later I had to finish everything within in that month. When I finally got the test results and finished my application, I felt so relieved. Though the results weren’t 100% satisfactory, I was able to proceed and go on to the next stage of my life. So during that winter, I waited peacefully for the results. I tried my best and was really exhausted at that time.
The thing I felt sad about was that there were a lot of things I couldn’t change, but I had to do those things. So if you ask me whether or not I regret that I stayed in Shanghai for that long, I would say I don’t regret it. But because I did it, I had to make some other efforts to make up for it. So whatever the results were, I had to accept them. That is the only attitude I had in my mind at that time.
During that winter, I saw that life is really tricky. I waited peacefully for the results and I got information from the schools [I wanted to apply to]. I also got some other internships in a better company in Shanghai. What made me the happiest was that the internship I got in consulting was exactly what I wanted to do in the future. It was exactly the kind of work I wanted to do. I feel like it was a gift from the God because I had been suffering such a hard time with myself and I didn’t give up and finally had this chance.
My parents did not want me to go there during the spring, because they wanted me to spend more time with them before I went abroad. But I still felt like I should go, so I left for Shanghai again and stayed there for another half a year. During the new internships it was like another adventure and it was much more relaxing than the year before. The experience was totally different. I learned to get myself more organized and also retook the financial exam, and I passed it. In my new internship, people recognized my abilities and I felt like I was really in a new stage of my life. Because I came through and stuck with it. Everything ended up better than that one year. That one year was the saddest year I have had.
I don’t know if you know this, but the TOEFL exams have only a limited number of spots each week. So sometimes it was very difficult for me to register. I had to rush to another city alone to take the exam. I guess that was something that made me feel really bad, because I was there on the train alone. I had to spend the whole night on the train. I didn’t know where I was headed to and I also didn’t know what the results would be. I felt so bad. But I stayed in a small hotel alone and I thought about a lot of things [that night]. That was really a time when I would pray, “Just let me pass.” I was really sincere. I tried to be more sincere with myself and with life. There were a lot of things I realized about sincerity and being honest with myself.
I also felt like no one was going to understand me at that time. Because my parents couldn’t totally 100% understand my situation. They can only support me through financial methods. I got pressure from other perspectives – from my friends. Not all of them are going abroad and they also have their own perspectives. The most difficult part was that no one was going to be there to understand. The only thing I could do was to deal with it myself.
What events in China have most impacted you?
This question is a little difficult for me. You know, Chinese people are not that concerned with politics.
The first thing I would say is that there was an earthquake in Sichuan in 2008. That was a real disaster. I still remember when it happened, because I was late for school that day. I was standing in the back of the classroom. Because I was standing, I felt the very obvious shaking of the ground. That was the first time I really felt an earthquake. Later when I went home I saw the news on TV and realized that so many people died. That was a big earthquake and the whole area in Sichuan was destroyed. It took a very long time for them to recover.
There were also a lot of stories from that event. So I felt very bad. Because people died there, I felt very sad every time I saw those things. It really happened around us. I have seldom encountered death, except for my grandfather – he died when I was in elementary school. That was the only person I know who has died. So that earthquake made me really realize that this happens around us. So that is the first thing that comes to my mind.
That day when I went home I talked with my mother. My mother said she was watching the TV at that time and when the earthquake happened, she did not run out! So I felt so angry at her. I said, why didn’t you run you? I talked with her for more than a week about that situation. I told her she should be cautious, even if the earthquake was not right in our area. It made me feel really worried and anxious about that situation.
You know there was also another very serious event concerning the food quality in China. When I was in high school there was an issue with the milk powder and a lot of babies got a big head because they drank that milk powder. That was revealed by the newspapers one day. It made a very big social impact because people started to realize how serious the [food quality] condition really is. So though I was in high school at that time, everyone started to be very conscious about the food quality. Suddenly, overnight, everything around seemed like poison. People on social media told us to concentrate more on food quality, and so I felt like everything, including the rice and vegetables, were poisonous and artificially tainted. It was so horrible ever after that.
How would you describe your attitude towards life?
Generally, I am pretty optimistic. But there are also times I can feel a little bit weak. But I’m learning to control my emotions. My father has always been unsatisfied with me because he thinks I have not experienced great failure in my life. But though I disagree with him, I still feel that to some extent he is right. But it’s very natural because every time you face something that makes you feel sad, you need time to make yourself adjust to it. If only I can energize myself again, I think it’s good. So I’ve been trying to shorten that period and to adjust quickly and become positive and optimistic about life.
What does your father think you need?
He thinks I need to experience more failures. When you were a little girl were you ever beaten by your parents if you did something wrong? My parents very seldom beat me very hard, but almost all of my friends were beaten very hard. So my parents are very proud of this fact actually. They think I am so lucky. Sometimes I’m very angry and I think, isn’t that the right thing to do? Why are you so proud of it? I think my family is on the right track, but my friends are not, so I don’t really think this is something to be proud of. But they think that way, so I just think, ok, whatever. But my father thinks he should have been more strict with me when I was a little girl. But actually, I totally disagree.
How did you become interested in studying Christianity?
The most important start was when I was preparing for those tests and had to think further about my future plans. At that point I had no one to share my feelings with so I had to talk to myself, and sometimes, I would think to the God. So that is probably the start. I don’t know if this is different from actual Christianity, but for me, thinking about God is like talking to myself, to another me. So I think that was the start. I needed to be more honest with myself and be more conscious of what I am doing and the responsibility I’m going to take for it.
What do you find difficult to accept about Christianity?
The most difficult part is the existence of God! Because I don’t believe in that. It’s hard for me to accept there is a God out there. But except for that, [everything else is] fine.
What is the most difficult thing about believing there is a God?
Science! I don’t know, it’s hard to say. I believe in science because I was educated to believe in that. I’m not sure… at present it’s just so hard for me to believe there is something. It’s like the fairytales in China. It’s a little bit similar to that. Another thing – and I don’t know if this has anything to do with my personality – but sometimes when I am trying to believe that there is a true God, I feel like, oh, is this to tell me that I should trust in another person? And sometimes that makes me feel weak, because my intuition is to focus more on myself. So I’m just a little bit insecure about that part actually.