Name: Robert Pak
Location of Study:
Program of Study: China
Sponsor(s): Liu Family
Name: Robert Pak
Name: Robert Pak
Location of Study:
Program of Study: China
Sponsor(s): Liu Family
I have officially passed the self-designed three day mark in Beijing. If all things hold according to my calculations, the rest of this trip will be a breeze. This does not necessarily mean it will be excellent, unfortunately. I do expect the rest of the trip to maintain a similar amount of momentum as these past few days.
I have met and am familiar with many of my fellow CIEE participants – other college students studying in China through the CIEE summer intensive language program. Classes officially started and the hassle of excessive orientations have ended. I, along with six other students, will now prepare to live with our host family. In honesty, the plethora of Chinese films I watched have helped with my smoother transition into China.
Unfortunately, my language ability fails in meeting the expectations of the Chinese citizens I encounter. Apparently I look more native than foreign to many – a deception I accredit to my Korean ancestry. Even to natives I appear native as they express shock when I divulge my ethnicity.
The majority of my peers are of European decent. Street vendors and walkers often look to me in hopes of clarifying miscommunications. On one such occasion, I had to clarify to a local elderly man that I could not speak Chinese, and contrary to my appearance my ethnicity is that of Korean. He was shocked. Although I generally dislike these instances, I did leave the encounter feeling better as, according to the man, I make a very pretty Chinese person. This has so far marked the highlight of my trip.
Other excursions include a visit to Tiananmen Square, a temporary employment at a Pekin Duck restaurant, and an attempted bartering. Tiananmen Square held no surprises for me, but shortly after a waiter spilled a darker sauce on my shirt at the restaurant we went to eat. My shirt was then washed and returned before the meal ended. During that time I was compensated a temporary employees uniform. A few days following I realized a bike would be exceptional for the next two months, if it came cheap enough. My attempts to haggle with the street-side bike seller resulted in merely the purchase of a cheaper bike (150 yuan = $25 about).
Aside from the pollution, bugs, and constant paranoia that with every purchase I make I am being jipped, things have been smooth.
Today I met my host family. They are both architects who have housed two other Notre Dame students, something I find very coincidental. I am excited to be a part of their family: a mother, father, and son in high school. Tomorrow we will move to my new house at 10 am – I better not stay up too late studying!
Although living with a host family will be of greater inconvenience than living at the dorms, I am excited. I recently found a pleasant study area which sells overpriced coffee. It closes at 11. I found many places in China close early. I accredit this to the strict government control of the ruling party. I see both reason and possible detriment in many of their policies.
Most of the Beijing locals I have met so far have never left Beijing – according to what my little capability in Chinese was able to understand. Much of what I hear about Beijing residents, and those of China, bring to mind a deplorable social circumstance. However, after some pondering I am struck by how alike corruption and inefficiency are in both the states and here. This all comes from what I have heard through the CIEE program and saw, not what I heard from other locals.
Though my abilities are limited, I am extremely hopeful that my time with a host family will have great benefits for me. I only have two months to immerse myself in the most modern cultural part of China. I am certain that my host family has so much to teach me. I only hope I can fully utilize this experience.
I am very pleased with my decision to study through CIEE. I still – at halfway through the program – feel that I paid a bit much, but the concern is slowly dissipating. Rather, two greater concerns have occupied my mind. The first regards my credit transfer. The second regards the general wellbeing of the planet.
I recently learned that my Sophomore year roommate took the same level chinese class I am currently taking. However, he tested into this class after only one year of Chinese, while I have taken two. This would mean that my progress in chinese could be nonexistent. I would have transferred into the higher level class, but the way the program is set up for this summer makes this ill advised. Instead of having a fourth level class available for students, the next available class is a fifth level class. Although confident in my studiousness, I doubt I could keep up with a class designed for students who have taken an extra year of my current studies.
I do not believe the current classes are easy. I do believe that I could sufficiently take the next level class that CIEE does not offer. This would not bother me greatly if it were not that I need to take the same test my roommate took to get credit. He tested into third year chinese; I need to test into fourth year if I wish to receive credits for this summer. I am attempting to cope by requesting more individual tutoring and trying to talk with more locals. However, I fear there is only so much I can accomplish without a professors guidance.
Secondly, the program director, Doctor Lucas, has done extensive research on China and its current state. Sadly, I have learned that not only China, but the world, is suffering from lack of capacity. Much of China’s extreme problems arise from the abundant populace. This is not a China problem. As the population of the world increases the world’s carrying capacity will not. Extensive pollution, aggressive restructuring of the land, and limited resources have and are growing as significant issues.
Further, my semester of Theology and Nature taught me the current water crisis facing the world. I am constantly reminded of how lucky Americans are for the available clean water every time I am forced to buy a water bottle or boil my water in China (side note, Nestle is everywhere and responsible for a lot of the water jugs circulating in Beijing). Before I was concerned about the water crisis and sacrilege of land that would be left to future generations. Not I am afraid for my own generation after witnessing how China’s development is destroying China – the land, water, and air.
My fear comes from what Doctor Lucas said, we are already screwed. One, China’s issue is sorely grave as China can no longer feed itself – it must import food to feed its people. If this country were to fall the rest of the world would follow because of China’s economic significance. America especially depends on China. Second, we are already at 7 billion people and there are still millions in developed countries who go without food. Countries everywhere depend on technology that requires limited resources and the increasing global population will not stem this competition.
My economics class taught me that as demand increases supply will adjust. I thoroughly disagree as the worlds resources are scarce. Assuming that more cows and fish can just be produced to meet demand ignores the complexity of the environmental system. Since coming to China I feel that I come across much more serious questions than I would have preferred.
The number of Notre Dame kids I have met on this trip goes to five. Three are also in Beijing for the summer: one is interning and two are studying through a Northwestern program. The two other ones are in Shanghai studying. I enjoy knowing that throughout this country of over 1 billion, and in a city of 20 million, Notre Dame connections can still be made.
On a less surprising note, but still very much worth mentioning, I found out that the CIEE program has attracted a number of other Notre Dame kids, whom I know. One was my roommate and the reason I applied to this program. I recently found out that the other, a former classmate from Morissey, came to China through this program (I knew he studied in China but did not know through which program). The other two are upperclassmen. One was a fellow high lander who lives off campus now. The other was my Chinese tutor Freshman year. Further, the Morissey kid and my previous tutor have both lived with the same family I am staying with – for our homestays.
If things continue as such, Notre Dame might take over Beijing.
I tested well on the midterms. I am not disappointed in this, I am glad despite my grades do not mattering. However, as with the homework, I find myself arguing with the teacher whenever I answered incorrectly. These moments I find embarrassing especially because the extra points do not matter.
A lot of the shift in mentality involved breaking out of my ND bubble – the ND mindset. I constantly forget that the most important purpose of my coming here is to learn the language and culture, not to test well. I am sure this should also be the case at ND, but I find it easier to justify grade mongering when my GPA will directly affect my career and graduate school possibilities (I realize this too comes to be unnecessary as I have to choose a major – coming into my third year.. whoo!).
I found myself tackling with the question of whether grades truly assist in the educational system. The purpose of school is to teach. The purpose of grades is merely to quantify the level of understanding a student has in a certain area of study. However, people – myself included – have come to idolize a letter/number stating that understanding in a subject is proficient rather than earning a proficient understanding.
I am absolutely confounded in the matter. Even without grades, any other measure of grading will invariably take hold of students’ and employers’ interests. People need to know how proficient their understanding of a subject is. However, by giving them a means of quantification, learning falls to second priority. Truly a pickle (administering a pass fail test to students – similar to the one I will take when I return – might solve this conundrum but this would fail to accurately monitor a students level of understanding or progress).
Shanxi, Hebei, and a midnight visit to the KTV. These mark my trip to rural China. Although the first to are locations, things specific that I saw when there made me greatly appreciative of my life. It also made me realize how much I did not understand.
Basically, the rural countryside has been ravaged by a number of ill advised, progressive, projects. The rural villagers, the ones without money or influence, suffer most directly; yet the world also bears these hardships. The destruction of the rural area due to mining projects and wind projects destroys the villagers food supply and China’s diminishing healthy environment. The severe environmental impact and living conditions of Chinese in the rural versus those in Beijing left an uneasiness in me.
In no way do I intend this to be a rant about horrible conditions in China. Every country in the world, with human occupants, harm the environment. The US is one of the greatest perpetrators. Further, disparity among conditions and opportunities for American citizens exist. However, it was in China that I could personally observe an extreme disparity in lifestyle among citizens of the same country – to witness such an extreme of environmental impoverishment.
The highlight of the trip, a more relieving memory, was a night time visit to a KTV – a karaoke place. While in Shanxi a few of my classmates and I went exploring around the neighborhood. Two China natives escorted us to a nearby KTV and there we sang. The singing was not great but a definite experience. Further, it was right after we had returned from a local hot spring so we felt adventurous.
Things I worry about as I return home from China: possible intestinal infection, the loss of my recently learned Chinese, and poor dietary habits. I am still very glad I participated in the CIEE program. I met some extraordinary people, a some good friends, and definitely experienced China in a way I never would have imagined. The food, the people, the weather, the pollution, the sites, everything I will remember – except Chinese, that one is iffy.
The food was often very oily and abounded with MSG. However, I also ate at restaurants that astounded me. A vegetarian place made all there food with vegetables but still managed to make it taste just like meat – unless the people lied to me, then I could see why it tasted so well.
The people were various. The Chinese people all mistook me for Chinese so I feel I have experienced China in a way very few Americans get to. This might also explain some of my less than extraordinary interactions.
The weather melted me. I very much dislike sweating unless I am working out, but in China one sweats by merely standing outside of the Air conditioned room (in Iowa this is also an issue but the wasteful use of energy for cooling diminishes this effect).
The pollution makes me not want to return. Only this truly exhausted me. Although I could wear a mask, the heat made this option less than desirable as a sweaty mask + sweaty face = much discomfort. I was also intrigued because many people seemed to not consider where the pollution went after it rained. Parents would take there kids outside to play on whatever patches of green remained.
Overall I am still glad I went. I would recommend the experience to anyone interested in China and the Chinese culture. However, for some such as myself, multiple trips to Beijing are not advised.