Sophomore Catherine Ryan's family sponsored this well in Cambodia.

CAT TALES: Sophomore spends 2 years exploring Asia

From China to Myanmar and Cambodia, sophomore Catherine “Cat” Ryan has had her share of worldwide experience.

After finishing seventh grade, Ryan and her family moved to Beijing, China, so that her father, David, could build a new organization for Intel’s health and life science division.

The plan was to stay for a year and return just in time for Ryan to start high school at Country Day.

However, her father’s work contract was extended, so Ryan spent her freshman year at an IB school in Beijing.

The school’s abundant vacation time meant that Ryan could travel a lot during those breaks.

“Most of my friends would fly to Shanghai (740 miles away) on the weekends, just like people at Country Day would go to Lake Tahoe,” she said.

During her two years in the Far East, Ryan and her family traveled to many of China’s provinces, in addition to Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand, Cambodia, Myanmar, Bali, Australia and New Zealand.

“I got to go to most of the go-to places in Asia,” Ryan said.

“In the previous 14 years of my life, I’d never gone to Asia. In two years, I conquered that whole area.”

When the Ryan family traveled to Myanmar, Ryan was grateful that her family was let in. If they had flown from the U.S., she said, they wouldn’t have been granted entry because they are American.

Ryan found the cities in Myanmar less crowded than those of China and enjoyed the peacefulness of the towns.

“The temples in Myanmar were just pure wonder,” she said. “No photo could equal what it looked like.”

Ryan also enjoyed visiting Cambodia, as she saw villages there in addition to the large tourist cities.

Through their tour guide, who had a side organization that builds wells in impoverished villages, the Ryan family donated several wells to a village in the Siem Reap province in Cambodia.

This experience taught her to give, she said.

“Since (donating the wells) helped a family live, it was priceless,” she said.

In addition to international travel, Ryan was able to roam locally back in China.

“There was an amusement park right across from my apartment, and my friends and I would always go,” Ryan said. She would also take 30-minute walks to the Western mall, Sanlitun.

“They had a ‘fake market’ there which had seven stories,” Ryan said.

“(All of the products) there were knock-offs, though they were really good quality. My family owns several fake purses from there.” She and her friends would also go to the Western mall for brunch on weekends.

Ryan also really liked the public transportation in Beijing.

“It was so cheap; it’d be like $3 to get from Roseville to Fair Oaks,” she said.

Freedom made her more responsible, she said.

“Not everyone in the world is going to help you,” Ryan said. “When I was in China, I took it for granted. I’ve had people cheat me for money because I wasn’t careful.”

Her family also had a driver from her father’s work if they didn’t want to walk or take a cab.

Ryan would usually take a cab or be driven by the driver to one of the two schools she went to in China: International School Beijing for eighth grade and Beijing City International School for freshman year.

One of Ryan’s favorite school events was Acamis, a sports competition in which she played volleyball and soccer. And that involved traveling, too.

For volleyball, her team flew to Hong Kong.

Ryan also visited one of her friends from Acamis in Bangkok, Thailand.

While traveling, the Ryan family sometimes had difficulty adjusting to the language barrier in China.

“There was a cultural misconception that everyone there spoke English,” Ryan’s mom, Patty, said. Nonetheless, the family was able to pick up some “survival” Mandarin during their stay in Asia.

“Getting the chance to learn Mandarin and succeed with the level of ‘terrible’ that we accomplished was a big achievement, as it’s very hard to do,” Ryan’s dad said.

The strict government in China also changed Ryan’s political views.

“I don’t necessarily like how their government works, but it works for such a big country,” Ryan said.

Ryan said she appreciates China’s reduction of fuel emissions and other pollutions.

“You can only drive on certain days,” she said.

And she changed her opinion of same-sex marriage, she said.

Though China tries to restrict social rights, Chinese same-sex couples were obvious in the streets.

“I knew that same-sex marriage is a right, but I didn’t care enough to do anything about it,” Ryan said.

“It shouldn’t even be called same-sex marriage. It should just be known as ‘marriage.’”

“After living in China, I stand for my own views. I’m even going to the San Francisco Pride parade next year.”

Now that the Ryan family is back in the U.S., Ryan is considering a year of college abroad. She’s also planning her next trip.

“My ancestors are Irish, so traveling to Ireland would be a great way to see my family’s roots,” she said.

Previously published in the print edition on Oct. 28, 2014.

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