Name: Michelle Wadolowski
Location of Study: Beijing, China
Program of Study: Language Partner Program
Sponsors: Liu Family
A brief personal bio:
My name is Michelle Wadolowski, and I am a rising junior studying Economics and Chinese in the College of Arts and Letters. I am originally from New Jersey, but love being here in the Midwest at Notre Dame! This summer I am going to Beijing, China, for eight weeks to participate in a language-intensive program. I am so excited for this adventure to begin!
Why this summer language abroad opportunity is important to me:
The SLA Grant is giving me the opportunity to travel to Beijing this summer to improve my language proficiency, an opportunity I am extremely grateful for. Since I started studying Chinese at Notre Dame, I have only wanted to improve in my speaking, listening, reading, and writing abilities, and this summer abroad definitely gives me the chance to further progress in my Chinese studies. Additionally, I have never been to Asia before, and cannot wait to experience a different culture first-hand. I also want to learn about Chinese history, politics, and way of life, and there is no better way to learn about Chinese society than to immerse myself in Chinese culture. The SLA Grant will allow me to learn more about the Chinese language as well as expose me to a new part of the world.
What I hope to achieve as a result of this summer study abroad experience:
With this grant, I hope to improve my Chinese language skills and integrate myself into life in Beijing. I think this summer abroad will definitely be a challenge because the intensity of the coursework will require hard work and because I am stepping out of my comfort zone by living in a new place for eight weeks. However, by challenging myself, I hope to realize how much Chinese I can learn in a short period of time when I put in the effort. Moreover, I hope to learn about myself by seeing how I respond to a new environment. Being in China will open my eyes to a different culture and show me a different part of the world, and I hope living in a different country will teach me about the world around me and cause me to reflect on my own lifestyle and culture. I think this summer in Beijing is exactly what I need to learn more about Chinese language and culture, discovering more about myself in the process.
My specific learning goals for language and intercultural learning this summer:
1. At the end of the summer, I will be able to speak, read, listen, and write Chinese at a level that is two semesters beyond my current coursework in Chinese. I will be able to take Fourth-Year Chinese next fall.
2. At the end of the summer, I will be able to feel confident enough in my speaking and listening skills to carry on casual conversations in Chinese and not feel a need to revert back to English.
3. At the end of the summer, I will be able to return home and tell my family and friends about the Chinese way of life, including traditional customs and foods, hobbies and popular pastimes, and history and art.
My plan for maximizing my international language learning experience:
I plan to take full of advantage of my international language study by immersing myself in the city life of Beijing by talking to locals, eating in restaurants, and visiting historical and cultural sites. Furthermore, my program includes meeting with a Language Partner, so I will be paired with a student from a Chinese university and practice speaking and listening with her. This will allow me to improve my conversational skills, to become familiar with commonly-used words and phrases, and to learn about China from the perspective of a Chinese student. Also, my program includes a Language Pledge, so I will speak Chinese at all times. This seems a little intimidating, but will force my communication skills to progress because I will not rely on English while abroad in Beijing. When visiting different cultural sites, I will discover as much as I can about the history of China and try to understand as much as possible how China has developed and changed over time. Finally, I will learn from the different experiences and backgrounds of the friends I make while abroad, friends from both American and Chinese universities.
Reflective Journal Entry 1:
I’ve been in Beijing for about two weeks, and am already amazed by how much I have learned! In the Duke in China Program, we have classes every day that consist of a larger lecture, two smaller drill and discussion classes, and one-on-one instruction with a professor. We also have exams every Friday and participate in cultures activities like singing Chinese songs, playing mahjong, and doing calligraphy. I meet with a language partner four times a week and we talk casually about the differences between college life in America and China. We have program-sponsored trips every weekend, and last weekend I climbed to the top of the Great Wall! It was incredibly tiring, but the view was breathtaking and the long trek was definitely worth it! We also went to the Yinshan Pagoda Forest and climbed to the top of the mountain. Unfortunately, the pollution in Beijing was serious that day, so it was hard to see much from the top. The pollution in Beijing is something that requires getting used to, because on some days it can be very apparent and difficult to see far into the distance. However, after it rains, often the smog will clear and there will be blue skies. Another aspect of life in Beijing that requires adjustment is realizing how crowded of a city Beijing really is. For example, when walking across the street, cars do not stop for people, differing from the American custom of giving pedestrians the right of way. Also, the subway is very cramped, and you have to push your way through people to ensure that you can get on. I’m trying as much as I can to get into the city, but with the intensive classes this is sometimes a challenge. However, I’m definitely learning so much from my interactions with the locals and experiencing Beijing life.
Reflective Journal Entry 2:
Hello again! Our midterm exam is this Friday, so class has been very busy. The schoolwork can be overwhelming at times, because every day we learn so many new characters, discuss a new topic, and study new grammar structures. Learning so much in such a short period of time definitely has its challenges, but each day I feel my Chinese level is improving. This week for one of our assignments we had to interview Chinese people about their standards for finding a wife and husband. At first it was a little bit awkward, but we talked to waiters in a restaurant and they were more than happy to help us and answer our questions. It was so great to be able to talk to locals and to bring our learning outside of the classroom. The Beijing weather has been getting hotter, but luckily this Saturday we had a beautiful day with blue skies when we went to Longqing Gorge. Longqing Gorge is about two hours from our campus, but it was so nice to be among nature and away from the hustle and bustle of Beijing. We had the opportunity to row our own boats on the water, which was so much fun. The scenery was incredible, with turquoise green water and mountains surrounding you on all sides. Now I’m finishing up preparing for tomorrow’s lesson and starting to review for our exam on Friday. After the exam, the program is taking us on a midterm trip, and I will be going to Xi’an for a few days. I’ll check in again after the first half of my time here is done! I can’t believe how fast it’s gone!
Reflective Journal Entry 3:
After finishing our midterm exam on Friday, I spent the weekend in Xi’an. We boarded an overnight sleeper train, which was surprisingly comfortable! We took the soft sleeper, so each room had four people with two sets of bunk beds and a small table. On the train we played cards and chatted with our teachers, which was a nice break from our hectic class schedule. We arrived in Xi’an on Saturday morning, and first went bike riding on the city wall. It was incredible to be able to look out at the city from the city wall. Before going to Xi’an, I had heard that it is an older city and has a lot of ancient architecture. While this is definitely true, Xi’an was unexpectedly modern as well. There are many high-rises interspersed among the more ancient architecture, and it is so interesting to see this mix of ancient and modern. On Saturday we also watched a traditional Chinese dance performance, which was extremely exciting for me because I had never seen traditional Chinese dance before. The costumes were very elaborate and the music was great! After the show, we drove through the city, and all of the older buildings had lights on them which was truly magical to see. The next day we drove out of the city to see the Terracotta Warriors. It is truly incredible that these warriors have lasted so long, but it was also a little sad because so many were destroyed or were not in good condition. I guess the best way to look at it is to think about how some are still intact after such a long time. We also went to a tea ceremony, and this was the first time I had authentic Chinese tea. Chinese tea is absolutely fantastic because it tastes so natural. These activities closed our short weekend in Xi’an, and at night we again boarded the overnight train back to Beijing. Xi’an is a very interesting city, and I am so happy I had the opportunity to visit!
Reflective Journal Entry 4:
This weekend, I was lucky enough to travel with two of my friends on the program to Shanghai. I felt so accomplished because we planned all of the arrangements ourselves, and it made me realize how convenient travel by train in China can be, but also how large China is and how much there is to see! On Friday evening we took a sleeper train, and this sleeper train was much more modern than the sleeper train to Xi’an. When we arrived in Shanghai on Saturday morning, it was already incredibly hot and muggy. I’ve heard that in the summer Shanghai’s weather is brutal, but experiencing extremely uncomfortable heat at 7:30 in the morning was not something that I was prepared for. We found our hotel, and then walked to the Bund and down Nanjing Road. These areas of Shanghai are incredibly modern, but it is interesting to note that right across from the Bund there is older European architecture, so the dichotomy stands out and is very interesting. The Bund’s skyline is so amazing to see in person, and we also decided to go up on the observation deck to look out over the city. Unfortunately there was a fair amount of pollution and it was cloudy due to impending rain, but it was still unbelievable to be so high up! We ate dinner in the French Concession area, and then when back to the Bund to see it at night. Although it was raining, seeing the lights of the Bund skyline was almost magical. The next day we went to Shanghai’s Old City. Before visiting Shanghai, I was under the impression that it was completely modern, but seeing this older, distinctly Chinese architecture reminded me that although Shanghai is modern, it still has Chinese characteristics. We went to a teahouse, and enjoyed our last moments in Shanghai. We boarded the high-speed train back to Beijing. Going on the high-speed train is definitely an experience. It is so convenient that you can travel from Shanghai to Beijing in about six hours. I also enjoyed seeing the different topography of China, because the train would pass through cities as well as mountains and farms. My weekend in Shanghai was incredible, and I cannot wait to go back when I study abroad there spring semester.
Reflective Journal Entry 5:
This weekend, everyone on our program went to a Kung Fu show. The performers had very impressive physical strength, and I can only imagine how intense their training was. However, the show seemed to definitely be catered toward foreigners because the performance was in English, and I think this took away from the authenticity of the show. Nevertheless, the show was very enjoyable. The next night, everyone in our program gathered to give performances of our own. These performances included reading Chinese poems, singing Chinese songs, playing Chinese games, and listening to Chinese music. This was a great way to get everyone together for one of our last weekends in Beijing. Also, throughout the program, we would occasionally go to KTV to sing karaoke. This was one of our favorite Beijing activities, and it is not the same as karaoke in America. In China, you rent a room with a group of friends and have your own TV and microphones so you can choose your own songs. Since you are only in a room with your friends, everyone can sing together and nobody has to be embarrassed about singing in front of people. I would love it if this form of karaoke became more popular in America, because it is a great way to bring a bunch of people together to have a great time! This week I have to prepare for an oral presentation and the final exam, so I definitely will be busy! I can’t believe my time in Beijing is almost over! The summer really flew by!
Reflective Journal Entry 6:
Reflecting on my time in Beijing, I cannot believe how impactful this study abroad experience has been on my life, not only academically, but also personally and socially. My confidence in my Chinese ability has skyrocketed, and I now feel so much more comfortable listening and understanding Chinese in the classroom and in daily life. The individual attention the teachers have given me throughout the program has really allowed me to focus on my weaknesses and pay attention to areas where I still need to improve. I am so excited to go back to Notre Dame in the fall and to keep increasing my Chinese proficiency. Living in China over the past two months has definitely highlighted some differences between America and China, such as the intense crowds using Chinese public transportation, the unhealthy pollution levels in Beijing, the quick service in Chinese restaurants, the cheap prices in China, and sanitation standards in China that are not always Western. Sometimes lifestyle disparities could be a little bit frustrating, but I do not think I would have appreciated my time in China nearly as much if I did not embrace the Chinese way of life as much as possible. The Chinese people overall were very willing to help me out, and while I never got used to being asked to pose for a picture because I was a foreigner, I never felt unwelcome in China. I knew I would be leaving my comfort zone by spending my summer in Beijing, but I cannot be happier with the experience that I had. It is so rewarding to know that I can go to a new place on my own and successfully live, study, and meet new friends. I know I will definitely keep in contact with the friends I have made throughout the program, and I was so lucky to meet such great students from various universities with different Chinese study backgrounds. This summer is one I surely will never forget, and I could not be more grateful to the SLA program for helping to make this summer study abroad possible. For now, it’s ??,??, but I cannot wait until I’m back!
Reflection on my language learning and intercultural gains:
Reflection on my summer language abroad experience overall:
How I plan to use my language and intercultural competences in the future: