Sam, Lai San



Name: Lai San Sam
Location of Study: Shanghai China
Program of Study: Shanghai program via Columbia University
Sponsors: Liu Family



A brief personal bio:

I am a sophomore from Colorado with an Economics major and a Chinese and ESS minor. At Notre Dame, I am involved in TEDxUND, the Center for Social Concerns seminars, SIBC, and the Center for the Study of Religion and Society.  I will also be studying abroad in Hong Kong in the spring.

Why this summer language abroad opportunity is important to me:

The Shanghai program through Columbia University fits perfectly with my career and academic goals, as it will allow me to gain an in-depth perspective of Shanghai business and society over the course of the ten weeks. I am an Economics major and a Chinese minor, and I am considering working as an analyst at an international company one day. Through this experience, I hope to gain cross-cultural skills and develop a knowledgeable perspective of China. As Shanghai is the economic center of mainland China, I believe that living and studying in Shanghai would give me invaluable insight into China’s transition into the modern world as it becomes an economic superpower. The program not only allows me to gain invaluable language skills through its formal language program, but also opportunities to fully immerse myself into the culture and business of Shanghai through developing personal relationships with local students, colleagues, and clients.

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

Through attending the summer program with the SLA grant, I hope to gain advanced language skills from direct immersion into Shanghai society from a linguistic, cultural, and business perspectives over the course of the ten weeks. Through this program, I will be receiving formal intensive language instruction, a real hands-on experience working as an intern at a Shanghai firm, and opportunities to develop relationships with local students and businesspeople. I see Shanghai not only as a place to gain significant language skills, but a chance for me to gain a well-rounded perspective of Shanghai society through my relationships with the natives, immersion into the environment, and engaging in conversations and activities with the locals.

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

  1. By the end of the summer, I will be able to communicate in Chinese with native speakers on a variety of topics, including economics, politics, and business.
  2. By the end of the summer, I will be able to demonstrate willingness to venture out of my comfort zone to immerse myself in the local environment.
  3. By the end of the summer, I will be able to identify the cultural nuances that shape China’s unique economic and business environment.

My plan for maximizing my international language learning experience:

First and foremost, I will be able to gain a strong immersion experience through the internship component, where I will be interacting with and developing relationships with my co-workers, clients, and managers in a professional setting for four weeks. Through this experience, I will be collaborating with my colleagues on projects and research. I will also be interacting with clients on a day-to-day basis in Chinese. This experience working alongside with business personnel would help me develop my Chinese language skills as well as gain familiarity with cultural nuances in the workplace.

Additionally, I will be paired with a local student from Shanghai who I will meet with regularly for the entire duration of the program. I will not only be practicing my Chinese skills with him or her, but also experience the local culture and environment, from discussions of current events, political, and economic topics, as well as participating in day-to-day activities of local citizens.

I am also planning on volunteering for a non-profit organization called Shanghai Sunrise on the weekends. Shanghai Sunrise aims to help Shanghai’s impoverished children and families with educational opportunities and office supplies, to understand the impact of businesses and economic development on the urban lower class.


Reflective Journal Entry 1:

I’ve been in China for a couple of weeks now, and so far, it has been a great experience. I have been viewing China as an outsider for a very long time before this trip, and it is refreshing to be able to view it as an insider. This trip certainly has its challenges. For one, my Chinese business class has been very demanding, but I feel adequately challenged. Furthermore, I certainly had difficulty adjusting to the city the first couple of weeks. During the first week, I was infatuated with the novelty of the city. Then the second week was when I started to feel a bit annoyed by the small things: for example, people who smoke cigarettes everywhere, the crowdedness, the pollution, etc. However, I am starting to like the city even with its flaws. My favorite parts of the city are the interactions with the local people. I went for a run in the park the first week I was here, and a friendly old man who was doing Taichi came up to me. We started talking about our lives: his in Shanghai, the changes he has seen over the years as well as my life in the States. Similarly, I was studying by a small park when a little girl and her grandmother came up to me and gave me a welcome to the city.

Reflective Journal Entry 2:

We had a travel break, so a couple of my classmates and I visited Huangshan in Anhui, China.

Huangshan offered a different perspective of China. We took a hard sleeper train to Huangshan. Although I have taken trains in the US, taking the train in China was definitely a different experience. On the hard sleeper, we shared a “room” with 2 other travelers. Each room had 6 bunk beds, and there were no doors. Nonetheless, the hard sleeper was somewhat comfortable, and my classmates were able to sleep reasonable well. We stayed at the base of Huangshan mountain the first day and visited Hongcun Village, an UNESCO World Heritage Site. On the second day, we climbed the Huangshan mountain and stayed at the summit. We shared a bedroom with three other travelers. Our roommates were nice and friendly. A daughter and her mom were traveling from Hangzhou, and a girl from Korea was traveling by herself. We descended on the third day and hiked by a waterfall. Then, we finished our trip by visiting the city. This trip was a lot of fun, though we had our challenges. We encountered a few businesspeople who tricked us into buying things at unreasonably high prices, and I had difficulty communicating with some of the local people about directions, reading maps, etc. However, some of this is expected in China, or pretty much anywhere we travel to as a foreigner. Overall, Huangshan was a good break from Shanghai. The air was fresh and not as polluted, and I felt that I was able to see a more authentic part of China and a rural lifestyle without all the economic developments. The pace was slow, and the views were beautiful.

Reflective Journal Entry 3:

We have started the internship component of the summer program. For the first two weeks, I am working in the sales/customer service division of China Telecom. China Telecom is a state-owned telecommunication company and accounts for about 10% of telecommunication services in China. China Telecom has multiple locations in Shanghai, and in our division, customer service and sales occupy the first and second floors. The average age of staff is 27, and most employees take turns selling products and offering customer service. Most of the customers speak Shanghainese, but if we speak to them in Mandarin, the majority of them will respond in Mandarin.

It has been interesting to be able to interact with the customers and co-workers. For the most part, my interactions with the customers are brief, as I have mostly been greeting customers who come in and then directing them to the correct places. I have also translated services for a few international customers, whom I have been able to have longer conversations about their stay in Shanghai and their home countries. In my free time, I interact with my co-workers. We talk about their work environment, their lives outside of work, and other current events and issues that are happening in China and around the world. Overall, my co-workers have been very friendly and willing to teach us about the different services and products at China Telecom.

Reflective Journal Entry 4:

Shanghai may be similar to New York City or other cities in terms of appearances, such as tall buildings and skyscrapers but it is nothing like these Western cities once you get to know the culture, people, and nuances of Shanghai.

For example, my language partner told me about the “Chinese dream”. To a lot of Chinese young adults, their hope in life is to obtain a good education, graduate from college, get married, buy a house by the time they get married, have children, send their kids to good schools, and afford their parents a nice vacation to somewhere out-of-the-country. This dream differs somewhat from the “dream” among American young adults. While some Americans envision this kind of life, a lot of American young adults, including my friends and I, have the opportunity and freedom to pursue our own interests and desires, whether that is living in a different country, traveling, etc.

Another major difference between Shanghai and a Western city like New York City is the conflict between modernization and trying to hold on to its roots and traditions. Obviously, this conflict exists in a lot of situations, but especially in China. China has thousands of years of history and tradition, yet it is modernizing at a very fast pace. Hence, Shanghai is a juxtaposition of traditional ideas and local shops but also Western brands and ideas.

Reflective Journal Entry 5:

Because our job requires us to mostly stand and greet customers, we have a lot of opportunity to interact with our co-workers. Our conversations consist of their activities outside of work and their lives in Shanghai. For example, they meet once a week to play soccer. Others like to read novels. Most of them, however, have to work and take care of their families, so they do not have much time for hobbies. We also discuss contemporary issues in Chinese society, like marriage, divorce, and education. They also taught us a little bit of Shanghainese, such as “hello” and “goodbye”. “Hello” in Shanghainese is “nong hao”. This was a bit useful, as many of the customers speak Shanghainese. I also learned a little bit of slang from my co-workers. A very popular slang in Shanghai is “No zuo no die”, translating to “No do, no die”. From my understanding, it means dealing with the negative consequences from a situation that you put yourself in.

Reflective Journal Entry 6:

For the second part of our internship, we worked in the Internet Data Center at China Telecom. The types of services that they offer are MPLS VPNs, wireless Internet, and ATMs. We translated a couple of documents for them as well as did research on international mobile carriers. This experience is very different from the customer service/sales division. We sit in a cubicle for the most of the time and conduct office work. However, our mentors also take us to other places to explore the city, such as a jazz concert and famous landmarks.



Reflection on my language learning and intercultural gains:


Reflection on my summer language abroad experience overall:


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