Name: John Fox
Location of Study: Beijing, China
Program of Study: Notre Dame in Beijing (NDiB) (at University of Beijing)
Sponsors: Center for the Study of Languages and Cultures
A brief personal bio:
Currently a sophomore Chinese major, I grew up as the youngest of five children in a big Notre Dame family. In third grade, I was first exposed to the Chinese language and jumped at the opportunity to resume my studies while attending Notre Dame, and now, I hope to use my developing language skills to pursue a career in international business or relations.
Why this summer language abroad opportunity is important to me:
The SLA grant will allow me to really pursue my goal of achieving near-fluency by the time I graduate from Notre Dame. The NDiB program will specifically allow me to complete the critical third-year conversational level Chinese coursework over the Summer and put me in position to enroll in high level Business Chinese or Advanced Chinese courses my senior year. By doing so, I will be prepared to pursue a career in China or qualified to apply for positions in the FBI or Foreign Service under the Federal Government’s “Critical Language Special Entry” programs. As a Chinese major, reaching fluency is of the utmost importance to my academic and career goals.
What I hope to achieve as a result of this summer study abroad experience:
In going to China to attend the Notre Dame in Beijing program, I intend to push my language skills to the next level in an intensive course while immersed in native speakers. The course offers me the opportunity to advance a full year’s worth of study in a mere eight weeks; in doing so, not only will my conversational skills develop around native speakers, but I will be much more prepared to take advantage of a full Spring semester’s time in China. While I will not have too much opportunity to travel throughout China over the summer, by spending eight weeks in Beijing I hope to form a deeper connection to the city, and become more linguistically and culturally equipped to explore the country in the spring.
My specific learning goals for language and intercultural learning this summer:
- At the end of my summer study abroad, I will be able to speak, read, write, and listen at a level of proficiency equal to a full year’s worth of study beyond my current Chinese coursework at Notre Dame and receive the appropriate corresponding course credit offered by the program.
- At the end of my summer study abroad, I will be able to display comfortability with the language and culture of China so as to be prepared to explore and engage culturally so as take full advantage of my future semester in Beijing.
- At the end of my summer study abroad, I will be able to converse comfortably with native Chinese speakers on everyday topics that are essential to daily life.
My plan for maximizing my international language learning experience:
Notre Dame in Beijing will begin with a placement test, so during the first part of the summer, I will review my coursework from first and second year so as to ensure I will be placed in the third year level. My time will be very scheduled while in Beijing, with about five hours of class a day and individual tutoring and office hours and NDiB planned weekend excursions; however, I plan to research locations and restaurants to visit in Beijing over the weekend and in between my studies. I also plan on finding outdoor basketball courts at University of Beijing to increase my level of interaction with local students.
Reflective Journal Entry 1:
The first two weeks in Beijing for the NDiB program have been pretty hectic. Monday through Friday, class and schoolwork pretty much dominate my day – but that’s what I expected signing up for a class that moves at four times the pace it would at Notre Dame. That being said, things have started to settle down into a grove and I feel I have begun to adjust to life in China. I think the two biggest adjustments were to the food – its pretty hard to find ice, lean proteins, or dairy – and to the internet – which can be kind of spotty, even when using a VPN.
The first weekend, we took a trip to visit the Great Wall at Simatai. It was truly pretty spectacular, diving up and down mountain ridges. It was great fun to get to kick off my studies in China with perhaps its most iconic sight; particularly in a location out and away from Beijing’s hubbub and pollution issues.
The second weekend, we took a morning hike at Fragrance Hill, which proved to be surprisingly difficult. Naturally, the smog picked up and we were robbed of what is supposed to be a great view of the city; I suppose I will have to visit again on a cleaner and clearer day. Nevertheless, it was a fun outing to escape the city a bit.
I feel like my Chinese is improving but it is hard to know. As we move at such a quick pace, I am always a bit anxious about the upcoming vocabulary or grammar that I do not have down yet. But I suppose I have become more conversational in my limited free time spent out in the city and not studying the textbook or homework for tomorrow’s class.
Reflective Journal Entry 2:
This week was a shortened week of classes as we took a trip to Hangzhou and Shanghai. On Wednesday night, the NDiB group took an overnight train from Beijing to Hangzhou. The train ride, itself, turned out to be surprisingly fun; several of my classmates and I played some serious rounds of Spades before settling in for the night. Unfortunately, our day in Hangzhou was a bit grating – however, some of the place we visited were very interesting, especially an advertising and animation company. Our next two days in Shanghai were pretty fun – despite the Typhoon that decided to arrive at the same time. I especially enjoyed out visit to the “Coffee University” run by the Illy Corporation and the museum, which contain many artifacts from ancient China. It was also particularly beneficial to catch up with some alumni in Shanghai, including one of my older brother’s best friends, and chat a bit about working and living in Shanghai after college.
Next week, We have our midterm so I expect to have a week of buckling down on studies.
Reflective Journal Entry 3:
The midterm seems to have gone relatively smoothly and things have begun to settle back down from our trip to Shanghai. This week, beyond keeping up with the usual study load that keeps me locked down most of the time, we went to go see a performance at a traditional teahouse. The show was a bit corny, it reminded me of the luau shows in Hawaii aimed at younger kids; however, some of the performances were very cool. Beyond a cool Kung Fu display, a gentleman who performed shadow puppets stood out. It was a fun time hanging out and talking with teachers and friends in Chinese; however, much of the comedy section of the show was beyond my level. Tomorrow morning, I plan to go to the Forbidden City, before coming back to Bei Da for study and office hours.
Reflective Journal Entry 4:
Beijing 798 was awesome. Although it was difficult to get to, the modern art district has so far been my favorite place in Beijing. A friend and I decided to stay after the group was scheduled to head back so we got to really explore the shops and galleries, which open pretty late in the morning anyways. All throughout the area, really well done and artistic graffiti decorated the walls; and we found a really awesome record store full of vinyl records and a gallery that hand some landscapes that were a cool modern take on the traditional mountain and river scene. There even was an exhibition by Rolls Royce in one of the warehouses where I met a British woodworker who produces the inlays for the company. He was on the last leg of a promotional tour throughout China; it was really interesting to talk to him about how much effort Rolls Royce was expending in the market, which I think highlights the level of wealth of China’s wealthy. When I return to Beijing, I definitely plan on making an effort to bring my friends and family to 798; it definitely was full of character and vibe, which sometimes is lacking in Beijing.
Reflective Journal Entry 5:
This weekend was our free weekend – without plans for the entire group. So after Friday’s usual test my friends from NDiB and I made plans to visit the Lama Temple and the Forbidden City (again.) At the Lama Temple on Saturday, we were greeted by a small group of 9 year old who wanted to practice their English by serving as our tour guides. They had memorized a really thorough tour of the Temple, but their conversational skills weren’t that good so we spoke a lot of Chinese with them asking them about themselves. The temple was pretty remarkable, particularly a massive Buddha that was at least three stories tall. That Sunday we returned to the Forbidden City to get for a final time – it had just rained so some of the reflections made for beautiful scenery.
Reflective Journal Entry 6:
Next week is my last in China, with a final on Friday, before I head home on Saturday. I’m a bit nervous, not because of the Final, but because I worry a bit that when I return to Notre Dame that I won’t quite fit any Chinese class. Certainly my language skills have improved greatly, but I’m not sure if it has been a years’ worth of study; I know I will do well on this final and receive a good grade, but Chinese 4 could be rather difficult. Anyways, the talent show this weekend was pretty weird; I still haven’t figured out why the Chinese Department always insists on doing these types of gatherings. Though Nick’s juggling was pretty cool, and Margaret and Alex’s performance was solid.
Reflective Journal Entry 7:
At the end of the NDiB program I was a bit worried that my Chinese skills had not progressed enough to merit taking the Chinese 4 course. However, since returning to Notre Dame and interacting again with my peers, it seems that my Chinese truly has improved and I am not that worried anymore. NDiB definitely was worth it for the academic gains alone, however, I most value the friendships I made while exploring Beijing and its customs. Sure the coursework was stressful, but I feel I am now fully equipped to make the most of my second study abroad opportunity, when I return to Beijing for the spring semester (and likely intern in Shanghai for the summer). Since visiting Beijing, I do know that the air pollution is a serious problem that can not be ignored when considering my future; however, it is likely that I will be living or traveling to China frequently as I pursue a career in international business or political relations. When I return this Spring, I intend to live with a Chinese family so that I truly can push my conversational skills to the next level and familiarize myself more with the life of the average person in China. BeiDa, WuDaoKou and ZhongGuanCun were great places to first adjust to China, but it will be great to live outside of area with so much foreign presence. Although I learned so much while in China, I feel that I am more interested and intrigued by China than ever before. I doubt I ever truly will be able to say I ‘understand’ China; but I am excited to take classes in Modern Chinese Religion, Chinese Business, and East Asian Political Relations this semester.