Back to Where it All Began | IES Abroad (2024)

As I mentioned previously in some of my blog posts, one of the main reasons I chose China out of all the other places I could have studied abroad was because China is where I was born. I thought going back to my birth city was my personal quest and something I needed to do alone. I gladly would have enjoyed the company of my IES Abroad peers, but what I desperately wanted was to explore the city on my own. I hoped to find peace and answers to the questions I've always had about my birth family and where I came from. For this DIY travel weekend (Tomb Sweeping Weekend) I went back to Wuhu, my birth city.

Luckily one of the professors who teaches Sociology did his research in Anhui Province, where Wuhu is located, and he told me the fastest way to Wuhu would be on the high-speed train. He was right- it took around 5 hours from Beijing to Nanjing and then only 30 minutes from Nanjing to Wuhu. I traveled by myself- something that was terrifying in itself though everyone assured me I would be okay.

So my adventure first began on the high-speed train. It was really easy to find where I needed to go- just go up the stairs or escalator for the train connections and down when getting off the train to leave the station. I sat next to the nicest man going to Nanjing. We both didn’t understand each other- so we communicated in both Chinese and English. It is times like these that a dictionary on your phone comes in handy! He wanted to know if America was dangerous and I wanted to know why he couldn’t say he loved his boss. Whenever he left his seat, I would always say 再见 (goodbye), which always made him chuckle. When it was time for me to get off the train, he explained you only say goodbye when you won’t see someone again.

Taking the train from Nanjing to Wuhu was very exciting. I hadn’t been back to Wuhu since I was 10, so I eagerly stared out the window. Another man helped me again when I handed the train staff my ticket, as I had thought they were checking passengers’ tickets. He explained that you only give them the ticket if you want to transfer to a different location.

When I finally got to Wuhu on my first day, my mission was to find a taxi and get to my hotel. It was super easy as there was a line of taxis waiting to pick up passengers outside the train station. Luckily, my roommate had translated the name of the hotel into Chinese beforehand, so I didn’t have any trouble.

I thought the hotel was really nice, although one of the hardest things was that only a few of the staff members spoke English. It turns out that I was one of the few foreigners staying in the hotel. But on the bright side, I definitely spoke a lot of Chinese!

My parents arranged for me to go around the city with a tour guide. Some of the things I saw were my founding site, the new and old orphanage, various parks in Wuhu, and some places to shop. I thought Wuhu was so green and beautiful. Back in Beijing, everything was just starting to bloom again, so it was nice to see grass and flowersthat had already bloomed in Wuhu. I really liked the tour guide and I learned a lot about life in Wuhu and her perspective of living in China. Just like I had expected, not many babies are adopted in Wuhu. Of those that are, most are adopted domestically. When we went to the orphanage, I was amazed at how well it was maintained. I had learned from my tour guide that once children turn 14, they can’t be adopted which is really interesting. Being adopted at 5 months like I was is a rarity in itself as I was so young.

After the tour ended, I had some time to walk around the city and reflect on my experiences by myself. I always wondered what the town looked like 21 years ago. Now, everything is booming. I see the effects of modernization and was told the street where I was found is now part of the new town. Everything is new- apartments, stores, and buildings. I thought of what it must have felt like to have to say goodbye to your family and know that even though it was hard, sometimes everyone has to make hard decisions.

I also realized I had spent a lot of time idealizing and fantasizing how great Wuhu would be. I thought I would be welcomed into the city and find all of the answers to the questions I had within days. However, like all things, reality can be different. The locals there often misunderstood me and I felt out of place. I missed my family back in America more than ever while I was there. Despite how I felt, I knew that this was something I needed to do. I was very fortunate to have been able to study Chinese for so long and so fortunate to grow up in a supportive environment with a loving family. And if I do go back again to where it all began, to where I was born,I’ll be sure to bring the people I love along for the ride.

Back to Where it All Began | IES Abroad (2024)


What does IES Abroad stand for? ›

The Institute for the International Education of Students, or IES Abroad, is a non-profit study abroad organization that administers study abroad programs for U.S. college-aged students.

Is IES Abroad non-profit? ›

IES Abroad is a 501(c)3 not-for-profit organization. That means we rely on the generosity of donations from people like YOU to help fund scholarships that make it possible for students with financial need to study and intern abroad.

How do I contact IES Abroad? ›

Call us at 800.995. 2300 to speak with your Representative or send an email to and your Representative will respond to you.

How much does IES Abroad pay? ›

The average IES Abroad salary ranges from approximately $40,864 per year (estimate) for a Customer Service Representative to $153,367 per year (estimate) for an Assistant Vice President.

Who is the CEO of IES Abroad? ›

Gregory D. Hess, Ph. D., is President and CEO of IES Abroad, a not-for-profit academic consortium of 270 top-tier American Colleges and universities, with more than 240 additional partner universities worldwide.

How does IES Abroad work? ›

After applying to an IES Abroad program, your student will be assigned to a Program Advisor who will help them prepare for their study abroad or internship experience. Your student's Program Advisor assists with program-specific details such as visa requirements, housing options, travel to their host city, and more.

Is IES part of the US Department of Education? ›

The Institute of Education Sciences (IES) is the statistics, research, and evaluation arm of the U.S. Department of Education.

Where is IES study abroad headquarters? ›

From our headquarters in Chicago to our 30+ global locations and the staff on-site, we all work toward the common goal of providing life-changing, opinion-altering study and internship abroad opportunities.

How much does it cost to go to a foreign exchange student? ›

You can expect to pay about $600 per week for an exchange program. Add to that the cost of your travel, which can be equal to the cost of the exchange itself, your visa expenses (if any), and insurance. You'll also need some pocket money and may have to pay for some meals.

Is international student exchange legit? ›

Founded in 1982, our certified 501c3 non-profit organization has provided quality exchange programs for over 30,000 exchange students.

What does CIEE stand for? ›

In recognition of this strategic shift, in 1967 the Council on Student Travel changed its name to the Council on International Educational Exchange (CIEE).

What is the full name of IES Abroad? ›

What does IES Abroad stand for? Our full name is the Institute for the International Education of Students.

What is IES in school? ›

The Bachelor of Arts in Integrated Educational Studies (IES) provides a dynamic, liberal-arts curriculum for those students interested in inquiry and education as a source of transformation and liberation in a diverse society.


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