Name: Emily Park
Location of Study: Beijing, China
Program of Study: Study Abroad at Peking University
Sponsors: Center for the Study of Languages and Cultures
A brief personal bio:
I’m Emily, nicknamed Eap (like ‘leap year’), and I plan on majoring in computer science and minoring in Chinese. I was born in North Carolina, but immediately after I was born I moved to South Korea and grew up there. I went to New Jersey to study English when I was 10, and moved back to Korea and attended an international school. I’m really excited to go to China this summer!
Why this summer language abroad opportunity is important to me:
The SLA Grant is important for me because it’s supporting me to participate in a program that will help me become more fluent in Chinese. Also, I want to pursue a career in a field where creativity, communication, and innovation will be important, and I believe that experiencing and understanding a new culture and language will help me thrive in such environment. The Chinese language skills and the understanding of Chinese customs/culture I’ll learn this summer will also help me befriend more people throughout my life, even outside of school or work.
What I hope to achieve as a result of this summer study abroad experience:
After the summer study abroad experience, I hope to have learned more about Chinese culture and the way Chinese language is used by native speakers. There’s a limit to what I can learn about China and the language from textbooks, and I know this from my experience of trying to learn English as a kid in Korea. Therefore, I hope that during my stay in Beijing, I’ll have an opportunity to fully immerse myself in Chinese culture and to use Chinese in everyday situations. I hope that I’ll have less difficulty communicating with Chinese speakers and reading Chinese texts.
My specific learning goals for language and intercultural learning this summer:
- At the end of the summer, I’ll be able to speak fluently about diverse topics in Chinese.
- By the end of the summer, I’ll learn about aspects of Chinese culture that distinguish it from other cultures/countries.
- By the end of the summer, I’ll learn about and frequently use expressions used by native speakers that aren’t necessarily taught in books.
My plan for maximizing my international language learning experience:
The summer program in Beijing consists of lectures every day throughout the weeks, cultural activities–such as visiting historical sites or traveling to nearby cities–and special lectures about Chinese culture given by special guests. There will also be one-on-one individual sessions to train speaking skills, and office hours for us to ask questions about Chinese. I will stay at the Global Village across from Beijing University, so I will also have a chance to meet and interact with students from other schools around the world who are also seeking to study at Beijing University for the summer.
Reflective Journal Entry 1:
It’s been several days since I came to Beijing, and I would say that a few of the most awkward things to have happened include, but are not limited to: 1) my carrying only the 100 Yuan bills, which I believe are the biggest bills out there equaling approximately 15 USD; 2) my realization that in the past few years of learning Chinese, I never really asked my teacher how to say ‘excuse me’; and 3) ordering food–just praying that the servers or the people at the university’s cafeterias aren’t annoyed that this foreigner is just pointing at a name on the menu and simply saying “I’ll have THIS”. Anyways, in the first few days we all met our ‘language partners’ who are students of Peking University and were introduced to the teachers. It was hard to adjust, especially because the classroom and our dorms seemed too far away from each other and because it was my first time in China, but the teachers were really helpful when it came to teaching us new things.
On our first weekend after classes started we went to the Great Wall. Steaming weather, my wrong choice of outfit, and the fact that the Great Wall is actually made of a million tiny stairs–not an inclined smooth pavement like I expected for some reason–caused the climb to be a painful experience. But at least my friends and I suffered together, and our teacher told us some stories/legends associated with the Great Wall. Also, the teacher taught us the word ‘narrow’ to describe the stairs, immediately after which a Chinese lady asked us on our way down if the stairs got narrower up there and it felt awesome to have actually understood what the lady was asking about. It was weird to reach the bottom of the Great Wall so quickly after spending an agonizing time climbing up, but it was a very unforgettable trip up a historically significant site.
Reflective Journal Entry 2:
My friends and I had an opportunity to talk to a Peking University student. It seemed like the biggest problem she had was regarding education. Like in South Korea and unlike in America, high school students have a lot of pressure to excel in high school. My teachers also said that the test (gaokao) that students take to go to college requires the students to take multiple subjects unlike the SAT or ACT, which only tests students in three or four subjects, respectively. She also said that such aspect of America seemed ideal for kids and teenagers. From what she could tell us, it seemed that the education systems in America and China were significantly different. For example, in America, high school students also need to participate in various activities or advanced classes (for example, AP’s) and be a ‘well-rounded’ student. In China, college acceptance is more centered on the test score. It was interesting to hear from her about where she would prefer for her to children to grow up in and what kind of education they would receive. I think this explains the numerous ads and billboards around the city advertising cram schools that teach English and SAT. It was surprising to see these because although I’m used to seeing ads for English tutors/cram schools in Korea, I barely saw any SAT cram school ads; most people in my high school (an international school in Korea) just discovered cram schools through their friends/acquaintances, never through advertisements. I think the PKU student’s opinions, the cram school ads covering the subway stations, and my teacher’s comments in class reflect people’s thoughts on China’s current education system and explain why more and more Chinese people decide to study abroad.
Reflective Journal Entry 3:
We had an amazing opportunity to spend several days in Shanghai and Hangzhou. We left to the Beijing train station after our classes on Wednesday and got on a sleeping train. After passing by a few bridges, many utility poles and innumerable acres of fields, we arrived at Hangzhou, where it was raining. Luckily the rain stopped soon and we arrived at Topsun. We had a chance to visit their factory, various offices, and even got to see their camping-related products. For dinner we headed to West Lake, where the fog from the rain made the scenery very mystic. One of the most memorable dishes was the sweet lotus root stuffed with sticky rice. So good that this dish actually came out a few more times during our trip.
The next day, we headed to Shanghai. Our first destination was Coffee University. It was cool to see the differences between Shanghai and Beijing during the bus trip; I could definitely see more coffee shops in Shanghai, just like South Korea. After learning about Illy the coffee company and eating a bunch of gelatos since I don’t drink coffee, we headed to the alumni/ND family gathering, where we met the incoming freshmen.
On our last day, we visited the Yu Garden and the Yufo Temple. It would have been better if it weren’t raining, but the places were still beautiful in the rain. Near Yufo Temple, we had vegan meal, just like Buddhist monks do. It was interesting because the Buddhist monk-style meals I had in Korea were mostly bland, and the vegan menus in America, as far as I know, consist mainly of salads. But the meal we had incorporated a variety of mushrooms and many vegetables that aren’t necessarily green–like pumpkins. That night, my friends and I had McDonald’s, which was actually a very interesting cultural experience. Unlike the McDonald’s that I’ve seen in America, the place sold various desserts, like macarons, cakes, and different types of coffees other than Americano. Then we went to get a body massage. Not going to lie, it was pretty painful and halfway through the session I realized that I might have been replying ‘good’ when the masseuse asked me if it was ‘good or painful’. Afterwards we got pearl milk tea, which is another ‘survival Chinese’ for us.
On Sunday we headed back to Beijing. If it weren’t for the rain that poured on all three days we were there, it would have been nicer–but this is just another reason to go back in the future.
Reflective Journal Entry 4:
This weekend we headed to a traditional teahouse. I expected to try out an array of different teas found in China, but there was only Longjing tea–a type of green tea from Hangzhou–which was still great because we didn’t have a chance to try it in our Hangzhou/Shanghai trip. We watched various performances, like Beijing opera, martial arts, shadow puppet, dancing, and more. One of the most memorable performances was a lady singing, but I think she had a long bamboo stick with things on top in her mouth. It was supposed to be cool because the stick is supposed to restrict her singing, but she sang well regardless. But I’m still not sure if I understood it right; I was too far from the stage. This lady was also memorable because the song she was singing was about a boy who developed at such a fast pace, he learned to read and write when he was about three months old, got a job at eight months, and died at twelve months, or something like that. My teacher told me it was about the brevity and the swiftness of life. The Beijing opera was definitely unforgettable as well because, as we expected, we couldn’t understand anything. Not because our Chinese was bad, but just because of the way it was sung. Also, the title was something like ‘The Emperor’s Concubine Gets Drunk’, which I thought was funny. It was slightly disappointing, but only because I thought the opera would be about the concubine getting drunk and being clumsy in a comedic way. But she was talking to her servants the whole time, and at the end she drank and the opera basically ended there. We also watched Bianlian (literally means ‘change face’), which is a Sichuan opera of the performer swiftly changing their mask. I don’t think I’ll ever figure out what sort of witchcraft or alien technology was involved in this. Our teachers told us that in the real Sichuan opera, there are more masks used. So I guess I have no choice but to go to Sichuan in the future.
Reflective Journal Entry 5:
This weekend our class went on a trip to the 798 Art District. It was funny because 798, when read in Chinese (seven-nine-eight), sounds like ‘seven bar’, as in bars that sell alcoholic drinks. According to the guide, this place has a very interesting history. The district used to be filled with factories, until one day, the engineers from foreign countries left due to the reform. Later on, the place and the buildings started being sold to artists since the land was cheap and wide–good for artists wanted to open up a gallery or make installation arts. The place was really fun because we could definitely see how the factories originally stood–pipes sticking out here and there and some bleak, dull buildings that are now covered in graffiti. There were also a lot of restaurants that sold Western dishes, so I could see that this was definitely a place that the younger demographic liked to hang out at. My friends and I checked out a lot of galleries and little shops. The place was bigger than I anticipated, so we didn’t get to see every part of the district, but it was really fun to get to see that new artists or art students had a chance to have their own exhibitions.
My friends and I also went to Hongqiao market (pearl market). I had a really weird/funny interaction because I saw a shoulder bag with a red star drawn on it, and underneath it said ‘service for the people’ (a title of Mao Zedong’s speech). I thought it was interesting, but I was afraid to buy it because I wasn’t Chinese. But the guy selling it told me it wasn’t weird. I emphasized that I was American, but it seemed like he actually didn’t care what kind of person carried the bag because he was proud about what the bag represented, in terms of history. So I thought, well if a Chinese person doesn’t think it’s weird for me to carry it, then alright, so I actually bought it. I’m taking this to Notre Dame.
Reflective Journal Entry 6:
I had a chance to talk to several Chinese at a park today for our assignment. My topic specifically was about the relationship between China and the US. I was only able to talk to three people, but their opinions all seemed interesting. One was a former professor at Peking University who retired, one was a science researcher, and one was a former pianist. All of them seemed to have positive opinions on the relationship between China and America. The former professor said something about how Obama was a good president, but the governors always seemed to try to stir up a fight. I think this might have been something about disputes between parties. The former pianist had positive views on America because of her religious beliefs and the nature of her job; some of her piano teachers were American. In addition, her parents were doctors, so the influenced her family in many aspects. The former professor said the increase of Chinese people going to the US to study was a good thing, since it encouraged cultural exchange. However, the science researcher replied that there needed to be a balance. All of them seemed to agree that China and America are in, and should continue, the friendly relationship. It was interesting to hear opinions on China-US relationship, especially on social aspects.
Reflective Journal Entry 7:
Looking back, I think learning names of different food was the most challenging. I did manage to pick up on some things I hate (like tomato, cucumber, and mushroom) and things I love (like the previously mentioned pearl milk tea or some dishes I liked in the dining hall in Peking University). There were even some incidents when I ordered the wrong thing. Once, I couldn’t even ask the worker at the dining hall to give me less ketchup because I didn’t know how to say ketchup. But I’m glad that over the last few weeks, I got to learn some authentic Chinese dish names. My friends and I keep talking about how these dishes should be the one spreading in America, not things like orange chicken or General Tso’s chicken. For example, there was this really cheap dish in the dining hall and several restaurants around campus called banmian. They just added some condiments (some sauce and something like pickles?) to a bowl of noodle, and it was really good. It kind of has a peanut-ish taste. I think this is a pretty popular dish because there’s a long line for it almost every day in the Peking University dining hall. Also, it’s relatively cheap in all the off-campus restaurants I’ve been to, so I think this is like a go-to dish in China. Also, my friends and I all found it amusing that all the noodles are hand-pulled. There’s a person responsible for pulling noodles every moment. It was cool because this is a dining hall inside a campus, where hundreds, maybe thousands, of students come every day to eat and they still don’t use a machine, which might be quicker.
Reflective Journal Entry 8:
Today is the last day of the program. Eight weeks passed by really quickly, and it’s weird to think that we’ll be going back to classes other than Chinese next week. Also, we won’t be seeing the teachers at Peking University. Of course, we can keep in touch with them because China has an app similar to Facebook where people can upload photos and statuses, but it’s just not the same. After our final test, we had meal together and received diplomas from Peking University. Then, of course, we had to say goodbye. The entire experience was really unforgettable for me, largely because I had a chance to be integrated into Chinese culture. Unlike a tourist visiting China, we were able to live a plain, everyday life in Beijing. I’m glad that I joined this summer program, and I wish to visit other parts of China or meet up with the teachers in the future.
Reflection on my language learning and intercultural gains:
Throughout the program, I realized that interacting with a native is really the best way to improve one’s language skills. The one-on-one sessions with the teachers were extremely helpful because the feedback was immediate, unlike homework or essays which can take a while for the teacher to look at and grade. I didn’t really experience much cultural difference, but I did realize that China as depicted on movies or the news is really different from how people really are. I think I definitely met my goals of improving my speaking. Although what I say might not be 100% grammatically correct, I can understand more of what other people are saying and reply appropriately. Also, from reading the textbook and listening to people speaking, I was able to distinguish sentence patterns and words used frequently when talking from those used when writing.
Reflection on my summer language abroad experience overall:
The summer experience changed me because it changed my perception of China. Some stereotypes or ideas are true, like the pollution and things like that, but in my opinion, people were way nicer than what I hear from the news or media. It was also interesting how the students we befriended offered to treat us because we were ‘visitors’, and that we could pay them back by treating other foreigners once we got back to the US. The fact that several different people (who don’t know each other) said something like this really surprised me and changed my views of what it means to be courteous or kind. If I were to give an advice to someone preparing for a summer language study, I would tell them to go out and do the things that local people do rather than the touristy things. For example, don’t necessarily go to the #1 restaurant suggested on Google or something, but go to a family owned restaurant or something. I think this can help a language student to more deeply understand a culture.
How I plan to use my language and intercultural competences in the future:
I will use my SLA Grant experience to enhance and further my studies in Chinese. I am currently enrolled in Chinese 4, and I plan to take literature classes so I can get a minor in Chinese. I hope to learn about diverse, challenging topics in Chinese 4. I also hope that my Chinese will be fluent enough to use it in a business setting. I hope that the SLA Grant experience will help me build more relationships in the future, both in academic and professional settings.