Reiff, Samuel

Name:  Samuel Reiff
Location of Study: Beijing, China
Program of Study: CIEE
Sponsor(s): Justin Liu

A brief personal bio:

I graduated Rogers High School of Rogers, AR in 2011 in the top 5% of my class.  I am currently a freshman in Morrissey Manor and am pursuing a double major in both Finance and Mandarin Chinese.  My interests at school include personal fitness (weight lifting) and various sports.  As for my future, I intend to go study abroad summer 2012 and also for a semester during my junior year, both to China.

Why this summer language abroad opportunity is important to me:

The SLA grant is crucial to my future plans because without it, I would not be able to travel to China this summer.  It is important to me that I study abroad in China as much as possible because someday I intend to do international business, and learning Mandarin Chinese and Chinese culture through immersion would be an invaluable tool as a businessman.  Mandarin Chinese is one of my majors, and it is my goal to become as fluent as possible before I graduate from Notre Dame, so that I am useful to any corporation that would hire me.

What I hope to achieve as a result of this summer study abroad experience:

Very much related to why the grant is important to me, it is my goal to become a comfortable and skilled Chinese speaker, and to become educated on Chinese culture and customs.  I intend to learn enough about Chinese culture that I might be able to travel to China by myself and respect the ways of the Chinese people.  I am planning on getting school credit as well:  the equivalent of a year of Chinese class.

My specific learning goals for language and intercultural learning this summer:

  1. At the end of the summer, I will be able to communicate in Chinese with native speakers in everyday conversation as well as in intelligent conversations.
  2. At the end of the summer, I will be familiar with Chinese culture so that I could navigate China by myself with respect for cultural norms.
  3. At the end of the summer, I will be placed into Mandarin Chinese 3, one year ahead of what I would currently be placed in without foreign study.

My plan for maximizing my international language learning experience:

I will maximize my experience by engaging in a multitude of extracurricular activities, including volunteer work as well as recreational things such as sports.  I plan to be out in the Beijing community as much as possible, engaging with native speakers whenever I can.  Also, the program I am going with gives me many opportunities to go on field trips to see famous historical sites, allowing me even more exposure out in the community.

Reflective Journal Entry 1: 

Although I’m not very nervous about my upcoming trip, I am a little uncertain about how the next few days are going to go. I feel like my Chinese is pretty good for only have been studying for half a year. I know that speaking in China isn’t really going to be like a classroom setting. I am so excited to leave the country, as this will be my first time.

Reflective Journal Entry 2:

The last few days have left me exhausted. I have been very stressed out, and not being able to express my needs to most people is extremely frustrating. Once I got to the airport, the representatives from my program were not there to meet me right out of customs, so I walked around the BeiJing airport for twenty minutes like an idiot. I actually walked past them twice before they said anything to me. I was lost and trying to ask people where I was, and people would just ignore me. It was one of the most frustrating situations I have ever been in. Everyone had told me how welcoming and accepting chinese people are, but everyone at the airport would just ignore me or laugh at my chinese and tell me to go away. I don’t know why they laughed at me, I was saying everything correctly. The airport was certainly the exception to chinese hospitality, though, as everyone else has been very patient with what little chinese I know.

Reflective Journal Entry 3:

Class is finally in full swing. Our teachers only speak chinese (as they should). I think it’s also partly due to the fact that their english is awful in comparison to that of Notre Dame’s teachers. I am a little rusty from my break off school, but I am quickly getting back into the groove of things. I have already made a couple of chinese friends, all of which are also studying at BeiDa for the summer. I think having dinner with them a couple times a week will be good for my chinese as it will be their english. The other students seem to have studied quite a bit longer than the ND kids, but we are doing very well nonetheless. Next week I get to meet my host family, and I am very anxious.

Reflective Journal Entry 4:

This last week of classes was pretty intense. Midterm testing is slowly creeping up, but I’m not too concerned. My listening skills have skyrocketed; I have already had noticeable improvement in speaking as well. As a program, we have already explored much of Beijing’s culture, such as the Summer Palace and the Great Wall. Both were absolutely gorgeous, but the Summer Palace was more so because when we went to the Wall, the visibility wasn’t the greatest. I’d like to revisit the Wall again some time in the future. The architecture at the Summer Palace was stunning, but the weather was pretty hot. Every single day is hot. Also, Beijing is getting an abnormal amount of rain this year, my teachers say its very odd. I get to meet my host family tomorrow.

Reflective Journal Entry 5:

My family is so welcoming. It turns out that they have also hosted other Notre Dame students, both of which I know. I have a little brother, mom, dad, and older brother’s cousin. They speak so fast that I felt like I was starting all over again. John, my brother, speaks english pretty well, but I am going to try not to use him unless I absolutely have to. My family appears to be pretty well off. We live in a very nice apartment. They (my parents) are both architects, and mom works in a building she designed at QingHua University. Every week she travels to ShangHai for a big project she is working on. So far, they seem to be pretty worldly; they have been all over the world, including America. I’m excited to be living with them, but I often don’t know what to say to them.

Reflective Journal Entry 6:

Having been in class with students from many different colleges, I realize that Notre Dame’s chinese program is far superior to most. Almost all of these students have been taking chinese for many years, and all of my ND classmates and I are at the top of our classes. Class drags on some days; we have four hours every day. I am getting more confident with my speaking abilities. I can barter with anyone, and the few situations where I am completely lost in conversation are only with cab drivers who have horrible Beijing accents. I can’t believe that I’ve already been here for more than a month. I have done very well academically so far, and I am confident I can get into Chinese III when I return. I am about to go swimming with my family, and they keep insisting that I will need a swim cap to go swimming. I feel so goofy, but I guess I’ve got no other choice.

Reflective Journal Entry 7:

Although I’ve enjoyed China so much, I am very ready to go home. I miss breakfast food in America the most. Finals are soon, but I’m not worried. I’ve studied pretty hard, and things stick now. Looking back, I never really had a single moment when I was super culture shocked, but I definitely noticed cultural differences. I would say that it was more spread out, and I just only passively acknowledged it. I am certainly going to miss my chinese family, but I wouldn’t say that I am a full family member. I think it is partly because I can’t really communicate with them in an intellectual way. I did bond with them however, from watching the olympics to going to see movies. I’d like to come back and take them out to dinner when my chinese improves.

Reflection on my language learning and intercultural gains:

In my opinion, actually going to China is the only way to effectively learn Mandarin Chinese in a way that allows a speaker to wield the language in all aspects.  Classroom learning helped for sure, but I found that once I arrived in China, my speaking was not up to par (or on the same level as my reading for example).  In only two months, I made huge leaps in listening and speaking skills, enough to allow me to pass Chinese II straight to III.  Culturally, China is becoming more westernized.  Having said this, I think I learned a very much about China’s vast history.  I really didn’t notice too much of a culture difference as far as every day mannerisms go, but this could be attributed to my lack of understanding of how things are SUPPOSED to work over there.  I think that because most people assumed (correctly) that I am american, they excused my ignorance about their way of life.  Overall, I think I surpassed my original goals.

Reflection on my summer language abroad experience overall:

I would say that study abroad hasn’t really changed my worldview, rather than it made me consciously think about how little people really need to get by.  Being overseas for only two months made me think about how wasteful american society can be as a whole.  Everyday, we use things like air conditioning, dryers, and cars without giving it a second thought.  In China, to do so would be extremely wasteful, as they are not things one NEEDS, but something we all WANT.  I highly recommend the SLA grant, as it allowed me to boost my language in such a short time.  I think everyone should study abroad at least one time in undergrad studies, but particularly in a place where they are forced to learn a new language.

How I plan to use my language and intercultural competences in the future:

Because my majors are finance and chinese, I plan to go into international business.  If I do as planned, I will probably return to China many times (possibly even live there).  Therefore, I will use my chinese and cultural education regularly.  I really don’t think that my trip to China changed my life in a huge way, but I do believe it helped prepare me to be on my own in unfamiliar places.  This is a crucial skill in my opinion, because I believe that said situations encourage us to grow.