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UNK exchange student learns to laugh at herself
Emily Wemhoff
Antelope Staff
Courtesy Photo
Emily Wemhoff and other exchange students pose in front a Chinese police station. Wemhoff said sometimes you have to take a moment to just laugh at yourself.
Courtesy Photo
Ben Cooney has his eyes on a scorpion kebab. Cooney is one of several exchange students studying abroad in Shijiazhuang, China.
Courtesy Photo
Emily Wemhoff is enjoying new cuisine, such as this vegetable pizza, while she studies abroad in Shijiazhuang, China.
Info graphic by Staff

What do you do when someone is talking to you and you have no clue what is going on? It's a common gesture to just stand there, smile and nod your head. There have been many times when I find myself doing this. In China, it’s every day, maybe every hour. I’m not exaggerating either. Most of us are Chinese illiterate, so trying to communicate with anyone here in Shijiazhuang is quite interesting.

Just this morning I went to a 365/24 (a little convenience store across the street from my dorm) to get breakfast. There was a man in there making some sort of breakfast burritos. I don’t know exactly what it was, but while we were waiting for part of it to cook, he kept talking to us in Chinese. He went on and on, and the only thing my roommate and I could do was just smile and nod. I believe he stopped talking briefly to ask me what I wanted on my "breakfast burrito," but I had no clue what to tell him, so I just smiled and nodded my head. It seemed to do the trick because two minutes later I had a delicious breakfast.

Unfortunately, this trick doesn’t always work 100 percent of the time. While shopping the other day with other study abroad students, several locals would try communicating with us, so of course we do the usual gesture. Only this time, they must have seen past the smile and nod, and instead seen confused, blank stares. At this point, the only thing left that we can do is laugh. So we start laughing and then the locals start laughing. None of us know what we are laughing about which make us laugh even more. During this whole laughing phase, I realize I’m still smiling and nodding my head.

If I’ve learned one thing so far during my semester abroad in China, it’s learning how to laugh at myself. Anyone who visits another country, especially a country like China, has to know how to laugh at themselves because it is inevitable not to look ridiculous numerous times. I laugh at myself all day. Whether it’s trying to pick up my food with chopsticks (surprisingly I’ve caught on quickly), ordering lunch by pointing at pictures, trying to cross the street and getting stuck in the middle with cars only inches away from me, or trying to talk to the locals, I’ve learned that even though it can get frustrating, the best way to deal with it all is to simply laugh. I’ve found humor in every situation. It’s a good life lesson to use while traveling, experiencing new things and even just living my daily, normal life back at home.

Sometimes life gets too serious. Sometimes I find myself smiling and nodding at my own life, not really knowing what I want to do or where I’m going to end up, but I realize that the instant I laugh, life is an adventure. No one knows exactly what each day is going to lead to. No one can really plan their future because life usually doesn’t always follow “Plan A.” Life is always “Plan B.”

So when life doesn’t go according to plan, smile big, nod your head “yes,” and laugh.

Check out more of Emily's adventures in China on her blog at


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