Name: Ji Eun Ryu
Location of Study: Beijing, China
Program of Study: China Summer Language Program in Beijing
Sponsors: Center for the Study of Languages and Cultures
A brief personal bio:
My name is Ji Eun Ryu and I am a freshman going onto sophomore to study business. I come from a family of four: my mom, dad, a younger sister and myself. For most of my life, I lived in a suburban area south of Seoul, South Korea. Ever since I first grasped the concept of culture, I have been interested in East Asia. I was always eager to learn about the region and its culture. The more I learned about them, the more I was able to learn about myself. Why I think in certain ways, I why act in certain ways, etc. Hence, I always wanted to learn more about the area. I believe that it is impossible to fully comprehend a culture (if fully understanding of a culture is possible, that is) without speaking the language, so in high school I took Japanese for three years. Upon entering college, I wanted to learn another East Asian language; I registered for first-year Chinese. Studying Chinese for the past two semesters have been enjoyable and I want to continue learning it. This summer, with the help of the SLA grant, I am going to spend two months in Beijing learning Chinese and Chinese culture.
Why this summer language abroad opportunity is important to me:
Studying in Beijing will be another step I take for my future plan. Combining my two major interests, business and East Asia, I plan to work at a firm as an East Asian specialist. It will be to my advantage if I could speak the languages and be familiar with the culture. Although I might be able to reach a substantial level of Chinese just by taking Chinese here at Notre Dame, going to China will allow me reach an even higher level. In addition to improving my Chinese, it will allow me to learn about Chinese culture, which I believe is not possible within just a classroom setting.
What I hope to achieve as a result of this summer study abroad experience:
Studying Chinese at Peking University in Beijing will be a meaningful in number of ways. While I have always been interested in Chinese culture, especially traditional Chinese culture and Chinese history, I have never been to China. In Beijing, I will see for myself all the historical sites and artifacts that I have only seen in pictures; I will be able to experience firsthand what China is like. While understanding a culture is not possible without learning the language the people speak, proper learning of a language, I believe, must be accompanied by some understanding of the culture. Understanding a culture and learning a language go hand in hand. Over the summer, therefore, I hope to obtain a better understanding of the Chinese culture as well as an improved Chinese proficiency.
My specific learning goals for language and intercultural learning this summer:
- At the end of my summer study abroad, I will be able to hold daily conversations in Chinese.
- At the end of my summer study abroad, I will be able to listen and understand Chinese spoken at the speed the native speakers speak.
- At the end of my summer study abroad, I will be able to read short passages about social issues.
- At the end of my summer study abroad, I will be able to express myself in short writings.
My plan for maximizing my international language learning experience:
During the program, I will be living at a residential hall for graduate students and international students attending Peking University. I hope to meet and make friends with people who have come from various places to study at the university.
While studying for the classes will be on my top priorities, once the day’s studying is done, I will use my time efficiently to explore Beijing. Beijing has a good subway system. Once I get used to Beijing, I will travel to different parts of the city using the subway lines. Rather than visiting only tourist attractions, I hope to go be able to explore the real Beijing.
Reflective Journal Entry 1:
This is my first time in China and spending just a few days here has allowed me to learn more about China than I had ever known. When I first arrived at the Beijing Airport, I was taken aback. It was surprisingly large and very modern. I had been told before coming to China what it would be like here; nevertheless, I was still surprised and throughout the whole trip from the airport to Peking University could not stop myself from commenting on all the new things I was discovering.
One of the things I noticed was that there are a lot of red and yellow billboards or store signs. According to my ?? (teacher) Chinese people like the combination of red and yellow. While China was still an imperial country, the emperor wore red and yellow clothes; the two colors were associated with the emperor. Hence, even to this day, Chinese people like the red and yellow combination.
Being in a completely new environment is both exciting and frightening. It is indeed exciting as it can be a great chance for me to learn about a new culture, interact with different people and learn how their views may differ from mine. From time to time, however, being away from what is familiar, being surrounded by people with whom I cannot even communicate easily can be scary. I just hope that by the time I leave Beijing, I had become accustomed to the Chinese ways of living.
Reflective Journal Entry 2:
I finally met my yuban. “Yuban (??)” means a language partner. Each of us participating in the NDiB program was assigned one Peking University student.
My language partner took me to a local restaurant near Peking University. The food was relatively inexpensive yet very delicious. As I am not yet familiar with the Chinese cuisines, my language partner picked out some of the dishes. The restaurant provided dishes from various regions in China. As China is a large country, the food that Chinese people traditionally eat varies greatly for each region. For example, one dessert dish that my language partner ordered is unique to Beijing. It was like Jell-O but a little bit firmer.
What I enjoyed the most at the restaurant was their signature “pear soup.” My language partner explained to me that it is a pear soup, but to me it seemed more like a pear tea. The restaurant is most well known for its dishes that use pear so my language partner had recommended the drink for me.
On our way to the restaurant after having lunch, we passed by a few street food carts that were stationed in front of the Peking University Northeast gate. There was a particular food that caught my eyes. It was e a giant pile made up mostly of nuts and dried fruits. Two or three of the food carts were all selling this. My language partner pointed out, that it is a snack not originally from Beijing but from another province in China. While it is easy to find them in Beijing, it traditionally is not eaten in the Beijing area.
While eating habits and local food differ greatly from one province to another and even from one city to another, it is not hard to find food from other regions in Beijing. The diversity of dishes provided makes Chinese food more interesting and exciting to try out.
Reflective Journal Entry 3:
The whole program took a trip to Hangzhou and Shanghai. Hangzhou, for a very long time, has been known among Chinese people as a heaven on earth. There even is a saying “In the sky there is heaven, on the earth there is Suzhou and Hangzhou.” (Suzhou is another city in China.) Hangzhou is known for its scenic view. In Hangzhou, there is a huge lake called “Xihu (??)” or West Lake. To walk around the whole lake, it takes more than three hours. The trip, however, was more focused on visiting a company that has its headquarters in Hangzhou. This company helped fund for this year’s NDiB program and the company had offered to show the students around on their factories and office buildings as to let us have a glimpse of what Chinese companies are like.
What was most noticeable was the presence of the Chinese government in the business. Social ideals were posted on the walls of the company’s seminar room. Along with the communist ideals were the pictures of the company’s directors and managers together with government officials. At the welcoming ceremony the company had prepared for the students, there were few local area’s government officials present and each gave short welcoming speeches.
The schedule at Shanghai included visiting another business that is sponsoring the program and visiting some of the tourist attractions. Throughout the whole trip, I’ve observed how developed China is. This trip showed me how vast China. It is not enough to visit a few cities then to say that you now know China. Each time you visit a new region in China, you learn something new about the country.
Reflective Journal Entry 4:
After the visit to Hangzhou and Shanghai I have been giving more thought to Chinese food culture. In China, food is an important part of the culture. When people meet, whether it is a hangout between close friends or a formal meeting between business partners, they often eat together.
While the most widely known and most commonly used greeting in China is “Nihao (??)” another way of saying hi is “Chi le ma(???).” The exact translation of this phrase is “Did you eat?” This phrase, however, is not commonly used among the younger generation. The phrase is more associated with the older generation. ???has to be used in certain appropriate contexts unlike ??. While ??can be used at any time at any place, there are certain time periods when saying ???may sound awkward.
While researching about China before my arrival in Beijing, I came across a phrase, “Mengmeng da.” It is used as an adjective to indicate that something is cute. When I asked a local living in Beijing, she explained to me that “meng” means cute and the phrase, “mengmeng da” is a derivative of the word. “Mengmeng da” is a cute way of saying “cute.” The phrase is used mostly by women in their teens or twenties. “Mengmeng da,” is not a phrase commonly used in everyday life; rather, the usage is often limited to the online.
Reflective Journal Entry 5:
There are many ethnic groups in China; according to the Chinese government, there are 55 ethnic minority groups in China. According to the members of the minority group I had interviewed, there is no discrimination between different ethnic groups in China. Chinese openly acknowledge that their population is made up of ethnically diverse people and people of different ethnicity mostly do not hold any grudge against people of different ethnicities.
The school dining hall in Peking University, for example, serves food for different minority groups. It prepares dishes in the style of the minority groups; for example, there’s a section that serves food especially for a minority group that does not eat pork. Private companies also put in effort support minority groups. There is a company that makes dairy products, and on their products you can find a mark with the name of a certain minority group. That mark is indicating that the business supports that particular minority group. From the interviews and from what I have observed, Chinese people do not discriminate based on an individual’s ethnicity.
Reflective Journal Entry 6:
This week, I went to Yuanmingyuan. Yuanmingyuan is a summer palace used by the imperial family. In Beijing, there are two summer palaces. The one that is more known to the tourists is Yiheyuan. Yuanmingyuan, however, was the original summer palace, built before Yiheyuan. Yuanmingyuan is bigger than Yiheyuan, however, most of it is in the ruins. Yuanmingyuan has a lot of historical importance. Yuanmingyuan was the first westernized architecture in Beijing. Unfortunately, when the western countries came to China their military forces destroyed most of Yuanmingyuan. Now there are only ruins to be found. Even from the ruins, you can see how big the place must have been before it was destroyed.
Later, I had a conversation with a local Chinese. She told me that despite having had lived in Beijing for a long time, she has not yet been to Yuanmingyuan. The reason is that she believes she, knowing the tragic history behind the ruins of Yuanmingyuan, would find it uncomfortable and depressing to be there. It was interesting to note her choice of action; it is apparently different from those of many other Chinese people whom I saw at Yuanmingyuan. Their ways of responding to history varied.
Reflection on my language learning and intercultural gains:
During my stay in Beijing, I was able to gain more than I had expected to gain. My Chinese has noticeably improved during the two months. I was not able to achieve all the language learning goals that I had set before my departure; it is still difficult for me to have daily conversation with the locals. The difficulties mostly come from the fact that outside the classroom setting, people speak very fast and the pronunciations are often unclear. As for writing, there have been more significant changes. I am now able to use not only everyday words but also advanced vocabulary to express my thoughts and feelings. Learning a new language, especially intensively, was not an easy task. Two different languages do not always have corresponding words and sometimes it is impossible to convey all the connotations a word may have. While a person may take this fact for granted, in the actual process of learning the language it is easy to forget this. I often found myself frustrated while learning words or grammar phrases that had unique or unusual connotations.
Reflection on my summer language abroad experience overall:
During my stay in Beijing, I learned to be more accepting of other people. At first I struggled to adjust to a strange new environment. At all times, I had to be careful not be disrespectful to another culture. Sometimes, I would have immediate reactions to things that might come across as offensive to Chinese people. Taking extraordinary Chinese cuisines as example, there were some dishes that did not look appetizing to me and I would unconsciously frown. As I may, without intending to, hurt other people, I always had to watch out for what I say or do. It was not easy monitoring myself all the time. While this summer was a chance for me to learn about a new culture, it was simultaneously a chance for me to reflect on my own already held beliefs and values. There had been beliefs that I had believed to be indisputably true or right. It turned out, however, that they had been influenced largely by the culture in which I grew up. In comparison to the new environment and the culture that I found myself in at Beijing, I was able to learn more about my own culture. For those who are planning to study abroad, expect to be challenged. It may be more difficult than you expected it to be. Nevertheless, do not be scared. Do not be afraid to go explore the new city. Do not hesitate to get to know a new culture and people who may at first seem to have nothing in common with you.
How I plan to use my language and intercultural competences in the future:
Studying abroad has allowed me to become more daring. Before, I was reluctant to be in unfamiliar settings. The fear of not knowing something was too great for me. This summer, however, I successfully made it through the two months at Beijing despite the fact that I barely spoke any Chinese when I first arrived there. Now, I am more willing to give it a try and visit various regions of the world. Being in a new environment is not as scary as it once had been and as the result of such change, I am yielding towards finding a job that will allow me to travel around often. More specifically, my interest in East Asia has grown. China is a big country, and there are a lot of opportunities for Western companies. In the future, I want to utilize my language skills and my experiences to specialize in East Asian market.