After spending approximately 2 months in China, my global perspective transformed dramatically. Being able to navigate different cultural landscapes and understand a drastically different culture is my biggest takeaway from this program.
My biggest difficulty in China was understanding the notorious “er er” intonation from Beijing locals. Most people who don’t take Chinese don’t know that there are many different accents and dialects, not unlike English. For example, “where” in Mandarin can be pronounced ” na li” or “na er.” Based on the intonation and context, you are supposed to understand the other person. In Beijing, people use the “er” sound for many words. In a classroom setting, unless your teacher is from the Beijing area, they won’t use this pronunciation, so it can be very hard for foreigners to get used to it. After 2 months in China, I have finally overcome this difficulty, and can casually speak to Beijing locals. I have definitely met my goals during this program.
As a result of this experience, I have gained insight as to how Chinese people spend their daily lives, what they eat, but most importantly, how they think. In the future, I want to work closely with Chinese companies, so I need to know important cultural nuances. For example, gifting a Chinese person a clock is a huge cultural taboo. Knowing little things like that will definitely give me an advantage in a competitive business atmosphere. My advice for someone who was considering applying for an SLA Grant or preparing to start their own summer language study is to try as hard as possible to learn things that could help for your future job, not just fun trivia knowledge; it could prove invaluable in the future.
I guess the ultimate question is, where do I go from here? Well, I believe that as long as I keep studying Mandarin, using WeChat to communicate with my new Chinese friends, and continue practicing with my classmates, I will maintain my oral fluency. In the future, I plan on going to law school, and then eventually, pursuing a career in corporate law. Where does Chinese fit in this, you might ask? I would like to help build bridges between American companies and Chinese companies through law and business. This is why I am double majoring in Finance and Chinese right now. My experience this summer allowed me to learn cultural nuances that will undoubtedly help me in my future endeavors.