Opinion / Specials

Call me stubborn, but I knew what I wanted and grabbed it

By Duan Yimeng ( Updated: 2015-07-01 14:33

Call me stubborn, but I knew what I wanted and grabbed it

An edited photo shows the author when she was in Italy. [Photo provided to] 

Often nicknamed “Old Duan”, my real name is Duan Yimeng. I am a Hutong girl, born and bred in Beijing. I majored in English Intercultural Communication and had a multicultural college life at my beloved Beijing International Studies University, known to many as “Er Wai”. I temporarily suspended my schooling to join an overseas internship in southern Italy’s Bari, teaching Chinese and English in a private school located 100 meters away from the Mediterranean Sea, after which I set out on a whirlwind trip around Europe, taking all of these as my once-in-a-lifetime gap year experience in 2013.


The main obstacle I might have been confronted with was myself. I was extremely lucky to have such supportive parents and a you-can-do-anything-you-want college because usually parents and school are the main objectors. So there was only one obstacle left and that was me. If I didn’t want to go, no one would make me. If I wanted it but failed to make it come true, that means I didn’t work hard enough. Only when you work hard enough and don’t know how to work harder can you say: “I have done all my best”. That’s why I said if there ever was a main obstacle, that would be myself.

I didn’t want to spend my whole gap year on crazy travel because I planned to do something meaningful. So I chose to join an overseas internship first before I set out on my European journey. However, this internship took nine months to apply for, which was extremely arduous and almost defeated me. Most candidates would give up during the long application process and the difficult interviews that both mentally and physically exhausted my willing heart. For me, I sent out 79 applications within nine months, 30 percent no reply, 30 percent said no, 30 percent I didn’t want to go there. Europe was my only dream place and there was not a second choice. But Europe was a hot destination that attracted candidates from all over the world, which made it even harder to get an offer. I told myself that either I went to Europe or I didn’t go anywhere. I knew I was being stubborn, but that’s who I am. When I focus on and stick to one thing, there is no second choice anymore.

Not entirely sure about the gap year plan, I didn’t tell anyone about it except my parents and my closest friends. They witnessed my struggles during that unforgettable nine months. It left me to prepare two paths: one is forget about my gap year and finish my college just like the others the other is continue to work hard to make it come true. Within one month, I had to deal with my graduation thesis, six essays, three exams and a 300,000-word book that I had taken up before my gap year plan was initiated. The book was about learning American slang from the TV series The Big Bang Theory by the way. At the same time I had to make sure that my gap year plans were still progressing. All the tough tasks even put me in hospital at the end of December 2012. Yet, I still hung on, didn’t give up, not even let the thought of giving up sneak into my head.

Finally, as they say “God helps those who help themselves”, I received an offer from Italy on a beautiful February night. This offer became my wings to take me to Europe. I guess no one can refuse a chance to visit Italy. So I said yes. After all those twists and turns, I eventually made it. If it is meant to be, it will be.

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