Quinn, Margaret

Quinn, Margaret

Name: Margaret Quinn
E-mail: mquinn7@nd.edu
Language: Chinese
Location of Study: Beijing, China
Program of Study: Notre Dame’s China Summer Language Program in Beijing
Sponsors: Center for the Study of Languages and Cultures

A brief personal bio:

I am a sophomore at the University of Notre Dame with a major in English and minors in Chinese and Business Economics. I have served as a student leader for the Notre Dame Appalachia service seminar in the fall of 2014, and plan to return next fall. Apart from reading, I enjoy all things music-related. I am an avid runner and completed my first half marathon this spring.

Why this summer language abroad opportunity is important to me:

As a Chinese student, I wish to perfect and make fluent my Chinese language skills. China is growing in importance in the global economy and gaining a greater understanding of its language and culture will aid me in my success within the business world as I advance into a future career.Having the skill set and cultural understanding to more aptly engage in the Chinese market would set me apart from other job candidates, while making me a more capable employee in the marketing and consulting fields. Additionally, a stronger understanding of the Chinese culture would prove useful in my English major studies as I encounter Chinese and Chinese-American literature.

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

Perhaps most obviously, I hope to become more fluent in the Chinese language and dialect. This would more specifically entail a greater understanding of local vernacular, as opposed the the more formal language used in my textbooks. Additionally, I want to experience the rich culture that China has to offer. China’s history is one of the longest in the world and there are hundreds of significant and beautiful sites that I will be able to see during my stay. History is a subject I find interesting and one that always proves useful in enriching my literature studies. Going to these sites will immerse me in the history that I would otherwise only see photos of in books. Finally, I hope to establish connections in China that will allow me to pursue future interests in the country. These could be with locals, fellow students, and teachers. This trip serves as a starting point for me off of which I hope to gain greater ability and understanding for future trips.

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

  1. By the end of the summer, I hope to converse fluently in Chines with Beijing locals.
  2. By the end of the summer, I hope to engage in activities that are culturally significant in China, and that I otherwise may not have partaken in.
  3. By the end of the summer, I will have seen some of the world’s oldest and most significant historical sites.
  4. At the end of the summer, I will advance my Chinese proficiency to that of a third-year student, with a firmer grasp of locally and regionally used vocabulary and syntax.

My plan for maximizing my international language learning experience:

I will spend as much time as possible out in the city speaking to locals. This will mean trying to get away from other students in order to be around the language as it is spoken from native speakers. I will explore the city and its restaurants, historical and cultural sites, and shopping on my own to gain experience conversing with locals in order to purchase items, order food, or ask for directions.

Reflective Journal Entry 1: 

Hello from Beijing! It’s been a bumpy ride so far with spotty wifi, a stolen phone, and a broken adaptor. We spend each weekday in the classrooms from the early morning until our evening study session is over, so the intensive style studying has certainly taken some time to get used to. Luckily, on the weekends we get a little free time to explore the city, allowing us to interact with the locals of Beijing. The first weekend we went to the Great Wall of China together, which proved to be a breathtaking and fascinating experience. The local people at the wall were fascinated by seeing foreigners and many asked to take photos with us. Afterward, we ate local cuisine at a farmer’s house. This in and of itself was also an eye opening experience, as we did not recognize any of the dishes and we somewhat surprised to be served duck heads and feet! Overall the Great Wall experience has by far been one of my favorites, as it is nice to get out of the classroom and see the actual history and culture of Beijing.

Reflective Journal Entry 2:

Last weekend we got to visit Hangzhou and Shanghai. This was a bit of a vacation for us, as we got a break from our daily quizzes and homework. It was an incredible experience, thanks to the donor families who made that excursion possible. In Hangzhou, we visited the Topsun company. There, they explained to us the importance of the Chinese economy and what role it plays in the world. In Shanghai, we unfortunately arrived in the midst of a typhoon. We trekked on through the rain to see the Yu Gardens and a Buddhist temple. At the temple, we received traditional Chinese dishes, all of which were vegetarian in compliance with Buddhist custom. The dishes were beautifully presented, with vegetables carved out into various flowers and shapes. It is unfortunate that we could not see the Shanghai bund at night, due to the weather, but I hope to return at some point to spend more time in a city with such striking architecture.

Reflective Journal Entry 3:

Every day after class, my friend Jenn and I go to the on-campus gym. There, we have recently befriended one of the staff trainers. Because he speaks no English it has proven quite a challenge to communicate with him regarding topics that we don’t cover in class–like muscle groups when he tries to explain to us different exercises. His Beijing accent also adds to the difficulty of correctly understanding him. We usually slowly work our way through each conversation as he tries to find other words to describe what he means, or uses our phones to show us the words in an online dictionary. To our surprise, we fully understood him with no trouble the other day when he brought up the topic of politics and government. These are issues that we frequently discuss in class, although they haven’t proven very useful on the streets during our day to day lives. Speaking with the trainer over the course of the past few weeks has really opened our eyes to how much our language skills have improved, considering that our initial conversations with the trainer consisted of many hand motions and misunderstandings.

Reflective Journal Entry 4:

This weekend, we attended performances at a traditional Chinese tea house in Beijing. The performances included Peking Opera, Tea Ceremonies, Kong Fu, and Vase Juggling. It was really interesting to learn how the Opera singers adopted their signature style of singing–when they used to hold performances outdoors, the audience was often rowdy and noisy. In order to be heard over the crowds and the orchestra, the mic-less singers had to adopt the Peking Opera’s now-signature high and piercing pitches. Kong Fu was very popular, especially among the many small children who attended the performance. Overall, the artistry was impressive and did a good job of showcasing different aspects of Chinese culture from every region.

Reflective Journal Entry 5:

This past weekend a few classmates and I went to the Forbidden City and the Lama Temple. Both sites have traditional Qing and Ming dynasty architecture, proving to be quite picturesque despite the pollution. At the Lama Temple, a group of young girls studying English offered to act as our tour guides so they could practice. This was great for us, because in return, we spoke to them in Chinese while receiving a great deal of history regarding the different rooms in the Temple. The weather here has been a bit drab lately, with sporadic thunderstorms and gray skies, but our teachers likely think this is a good thing since it keeps us indoors and studying. :) We are quickly approaching our final week which will include a test that will cover what would be a year’s worth of material at Notre Dame. I did not think the language studying could have gotten more intensive, but I have been proved wrong. I am sad because I know this past weekend was our last opportunity to go out and about in Beijing, as the next two weeks will be spent studying with classmates to prepare for this daunting final. Our weekend excursions have been unforgettable, however, and I hope to return to China to see the sites that we didn’t have time to see!

Reflective Journal Entry 6:

It’s our last week here in Beijing, and although I will miss my teachers and the cool Chinese architecture, I am excited to be returning home to see my friends and family! Our last weekend will be spent preparing our suitcases, studying for our final, and relaxing after spending seven weeks jumping from sight to sight and studying intensively. This trip has consisted of several memorable moments when things were mistranslated, two jars of peanut butter when rice lost its appeal, and over 1,100 new vocabulary words studied and hopefully not all forgotten. It’s been fun, China! 再见!

Reflection on my language learning and intercultural gains:

This fall, I will continue my Chinese studies at Notre Dame. I hope the classes will prove to be easier, now that I have gone through intensive studying in Beijing. Senior year, I hope to take Business Chinese to learn terms that could prove useful should my job ever require me to use my Chinese skills. I would like to go back to China, specifically Shanghai as well as the beautiful countryside that we did not get to see. Hopefully I can work a year or so in Shanghai to get a better understanding of the business culture in China now that I have a language skill set that will allow me to more easily get around China on my own.


Reflection on my summer language abroad experience overall:

My overall experience was certainly a tough one. We spent every weekday in a classroom, from 8 AM to 9 PM once one on one tutoring ended. I definitely felt let down after my first week, thinking that it wasn’t an ideal situation for study abroad. I wanted to be traveling and exploring on my own, not be sitting in a classroom memorizing vocabulary all summer! I must say, however, that my language skills would not have improved so much without the intensive studying. I found myself using my new vocabulary on the weekends when I was out speaking to locals. Overall, I think this experience, though tough, was necessary in improving my Chinese speaking abilities.

After eight weeks of studying, I found myself alone in a cab on the way to the airport. It seemed like it was going to be a quiet ride, until the cab driver started talking to be about halfway through. I thought, “There is no way I will be able to understand him.” Cab drivers in Beijing were difficult to understand, even for native speakers. They speak extremely quickly and have a thick Northern accent. This driver made an effort to speak slowly and clearly, since I am quite obviously not Chinese. We chatted the entire way to the airport and I was thrilled because I know that I could not have had that conversation eight weeks ago.



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