Renneburg, Carol

Renneburg, Carol

Name: Carol Renneburg
Language: Chinese
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:

I am a sophomore at the University of Notre Dame from Wellesley, Massachusetts who is currently studying Science Preprofessional Studies. I have studied Chinese since my freshman year of high school and I visited China in the summer of 2011 for two weeks. I enjoy reading, calligraphy, learning Chinese, volunteering, skateboarding, listening to music, and playing the violin. I am planning to declare a Chinese minor in the upcoming weeks and look forward to increasing my fluency while spending time in China.

Why this summer language abroad opportunity is important to me:

In my home city of Boston, Tufts Medical Center is located in the heart of Chinatown. My ultimate goal is to work at Tufts as a physician as my parents once did. My being fluent in Chinese would aid me in connecting with my patients and in understanding their health beliefs more fully. The SLA Grant’s facilitation of my embarking on this journey to Beijing is a crucial stepping stone toward achieving my ultimate dream of becoming fluent in Mandarin. My intention is to eventually incorporate both eastern and western styles of medicine into my practice as a physician. I hope to further share newer “best practices” of western medicine with and in China, perhaps through Partners in Health, a Boston-based health organization whose members volunteer abroad.

Wherever I work in the medical field, it will be within a teaching organization that will interface with Chinese people locally and with medical professionals internationally. It would be a huge honor for me to be the point person, the bridge, or the liaison, for seeking out new contacts, for establishing a better understanding of research from China, and for facilitating interactions between our countries’ health organizations. In this fashion I can help my own professional entity understand and communicate with the whole other remarkable world of innovative medicine in China.

Furthermore, I am hoping to investigate eastern styles of medicine, which will allow me to pinpoint a research topic that I could pursue further, either during or after my time at Notre Dame.
What I hope to achieve as a result of this summer study abroad experience:

With this opportunity, I expect to engage others in casual conversation daily in order to hone my abilities. I will devote myself to my studies and learn as much about Chinese culture as possible. Additionally, I plan to push myself to explore the area around Peking University. I have dreamed of becoming fluent in Chinese for years, and I expect that my speaking abilities will increase dramatically as a result of this study abroad experience.

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

  1. By the end of the summer, I will be able to engage in casual conversations in Mandarin Chinese with native speakers.
  2. By the end of the summer, I will be able to demonstrate significant understanding of Chinese culture and will be able to willingly venture beyond my comfort zone in terms of cultural and linguistic interactions.
  3. By the end of the summer, I will be able to speak, read, listen, and write at a level of proficiency equal to a full year beyond my current Chinese coursework placement at Notre Dame.
  4. By the end of the summer, I will have examined eastern styles of medicine, while also having identified a potential research topic for which I could return to China to pursue in the future.

My plan for maximizing my international language learning experience:

I will further my study of the Chinese language while immersing myself in not only the language itself, but also the rich, vibrant culture that I love. In the summer of 2011 as a rising junior, I had the privilege of taking a school trip to China. I spent several weeks there, one of them with a host family in Hangzhou, and travelled from Hangzhou to Shanghai, Xi’an, Pingyao, and Beijing. I fell in love with China and promised myself that I would continue to study the language until I one day became fluent. In the afternoons, I plan to find a friend with whom I can explore the area around Peking University, interacting with as many people as possible. I personally love teahouses, so on class days I intend to find a teahouse after class at which I can spend some of my time studying but also spend time interacting with locals, practicing my speaking skills with them as well as with my fellow Chinese language students.

Reflective Journal Entry 1: 

July 8, 2015.
I have been in Beijing for several weeks now, and I absolutely love it here. Every day we start out with four hours of lecture and drill classes, and in the afternoons we have either 30 or 40 minute one-on-one conversations with our professors. I feel as though I learn the most during the conversations with my professors. Instead of focusing on a topic that I don’t quite understand in English, such as investing and managing one’s money, I can try to talk about the things I am truly passionate about with my professor in Chinese and learn new pertinent vocabulary words. For example, just yesterday I discussed my love of both listening to and making music with Zhang Laoshi for approximately twenty minutes. I learned about the nuances of the phrases used to describe “using an instrument to make music” and “using a computer to make music.” I find that what I have been struggling with most during my time here has not been the food, or the oppressive pollution or heat. Instead, I have been struggling to increase my fluency and speak more quickly and more accurately. This program has been excellent so far in that there is more of a focus on improving our speaking skills rather than on translating from English to Chinese or improving writing skills, as we have done during the school year at Notre Dame.
I have found that one way that I can teach myself more colloquial instead of more formal Chinese vocabulary words is by reading comic books and magazines from the small convenience stores near our dormitories. Whenever I come across a word that is completely unfamiliar, I immediately use my online dictionary to look up the meaning and then make a note of the word, its pronunciation, and it’s meaning in one of my notebooks. I feel that I will be able to find even more ways to improve my vocabulary and speaking skills, but for now, the class work and comic books are outstanding in this capacity.

I think that one aspect that would greatly aid in my language learning is consistent conversation with a Chinese student. I haven’t had very much luck in doing so thus far, but I think it would be of great help to me!

Reflective Journal Entry 2:

July 18, 2015.
We officially have reached the halfway point of this program. Last week we went on a trip to Hangzhou and Shanghai for several days. Unfortunately, the entire time we were there, the weather was terrible. A typhoon hit Shanghai and made it impossible to explore or shop past 8 pm, which was unfortunate. Despite the bad weather, I still enjoyed our time there. I had forgotten how much I simply adore southern food in China! The last time I went to Hangzhou and Shanghai, my favorite food was lotus root, and sure enough we were given that dish on two occasions when we were in the area. Southern food in China tends to be sweet, while northern food tends to be salty.
On another note, I went to the hospital this week. I had injured my foot before our trip to Hangzhou and Shanghai, and I limped for over a week before I finally decided to go see a doctor. Unfortunately, it turns out the limping caused a secondary injury to my Achilles and I was placed on crutches for essentially the remainder of the program. Using crutches in China is probably one of the worst experiences I have had thus far in my life. The sidewalks are terribly uneven. There are holes everywhere that a crutch can slip into. Dealing with crossing streets and traffic was a nightmare before attempting to do so on crutches, but now I am simply petrified. Thank goodness there is a bridge that crosses over the highway next to our dorms that allows us to get safely onto PKU’s campus! Although, the distance between the dorms and class is pretty large, so my fifteen minute walk to class became a thirty minute struggle to class.
I also discovered that the security guard of the classroom building has a violin, so I have been trying to teach him how to improve his technique. He hasn’t taken lessons, so he was trying to teach himself. But when he learned I’ve played violin for more than thirteen years, he had me try playing his violin and I started trying to help him. It is truly a great way to practice violin as well as my Chinese. At this point, I am attempting to explain things about playing violin to him in Chinese and consult my dictionary regularly when I can’t think of certain words because this is a topic we have never approached in class before. But I feel as though this is helping me learn a lot, especially because even when I am speaking to him with words I have learned in Chinese, he helps me by correcting my tones, which is really helpful for me!
I also was able to connect with a language partner, although my real language partner returns in a couple of days and she and I have already been discussing a schedule so we can meet every couple of days to speak Chinese. I am so excited! I think this will really help with my language skills. My vocabulary and grammatical usage has improved thus far, but my speaking fluency has not improved very much. When I was in the taxi to the hospital with one of my professors, however, she said she completely disagrees with my statement that I am worried that my Chinese skills have not improved because I actually spoke to her for the entire hour-long ride in Chinese.

I look forward to further increasing my Chinese proficiency in the last weeks of the program!

Reflective Journal Entry 3:

July 20, 2015.
I realized today in class that one of my biggest struggles is trying to adapt to the learning style required by this class. Although we are currently more than halfway through the program, a challenge that I have not quite been able to overcome is the repetition back of sentences as I have just heard them. Because I don’t necessarily understand what a sentence means as I repeat it when someone else has said the sentence, which is one of the most important ways in which the lectures are run, I have trouble remembering the order of the words or even the words themselves. I find myself constantly trying to translate from English to Chinese initially in my head and out loud. But when the professor corrects me, I must then translate her Chinese back into English and try to analyze quickly what I did wrong. Then I must repeat the correct sentence back to her in Chinese. But I feel as though I still have trouble performing this seemingly simple task. I would much rather see examples of sentences using certain words and grammar and then figure out how to use them correctly by forming my own sentences so that I can strengthen the understanding I have on word placement and usage. This method of learning that is being utilized in this program is truly a challenge for me and it frustrated me to a large extent earlier today during class. However, I’m going to keep pushing myself to be better! Tomorrow is a new day! I may be frustrated, but in a few days I will be able to meet with my original language partner, who is finally returning to PKU, so I will be able to practice my Chinese even more frequently. I am so very excited!

Reflective Journal Entry 4:

July 22, 2015.
I was speaking with a friend from back home in the U.S. today about my feelings regarding my study here in Beijing. I expressed concern about how I feel as though my speaking has not been improving, although my vocabulary and writing skills do seem to be improving. I told him that I want to be able to, when I return home, accidentally slip into Chinese without realizing it. I want to dream in Chinese. I want to be able to think cohesively and speak fluently. He informed me that one of the best ways to do so is to practice thinking exclusively in Chinese. Even small thoughts such as “I’m hungry” should exist in my mind as “????” ??????????? (I think what he said makes sense)?He himself is studying Russian at ND, and he studied abroad in Russia last summer, so he is no stranger to this process. I have been working all day to try to start this process; I wish I had fully registered how helpful such a tactic can be earlier in the program. He informed me that it takes weeks of this method of thinking before the second language comes naturally into one’s mind without forcing it. I have four weeks left to practice this thinking style in Beijing (because I am staying a few days after the program ends to spend time with my parents when they come out to meet me for their thirtieth wedding anniversary trip). I plan to try to continue to think in Chinese even after I return to the U.S. so that I can force my mind to think in Chinese.

In other news, my foot is feeling significantly better after I stayed in my room to rest it and used the crutches all of last week, so last night and all of today I left my crutches in my room and have been able to walk normally with little to no pain! I feel great!

Last night I went out to dinner with some international students — three Australian graduate students, one of whom I had met the week before because he saw I had crutches and had offered to help me if I ever needed him to, a student from Northwestern, a student from the Netherlands, a student from France, and a student from Switzerland. We took the subway and ate dinner at a French and Vietnamese restaurant near the bell tower in Beijing. The food was amazing and it was a fantastic experience. I was one of the few students there who had a decently high speaking ability, so I was mostly the one who communicated with the waiters at the restaurant, so I was able to practice my Chinese more!

My language partner arrives at PKU tomorrow and we are planning to meet for dinner; I am thrilled!!

Reflective Journal Entry 5:

August 8, 2015.
It is hard to believe I have just over a week left here in Beijing! My parents are coming to visit me at the end of the program, and we return to the United States of America on August 17.

The past couple of weeks have been absolutely fantastic here. Today, my friend and I ventured (once again!) to Pearl Market and ?? (Temple of Heaven). We had an absolutely wonderful time. We had not really planned out a huge part of the day, and we decided after purchasing gifts for friends and family members at Pearl Market and eating a wonderful hot pot lunch that we wanted to visit the Temple of Heaven one final time before we return home.

While we wandered from the Echo Wall to the rose garden, we took the time to stop Chinese natives and attempt to converse with them in Chinese and work on our cultural engagement activities! It was so much fun. We both received so many compliments on our Chinese, and I was absolutely thrilled to see that they actually understood what I was trying to say!! I mean, it was absolutely incredible being able to actually converse with natives for an extended period of time! Normally when I interact with people here, it is to say ???? if I bump into them (this phrase basically means “excuse me”), or to ask ??? (“how much does this cost”), or even to say ?????? (“that’s right, I can speak Chinese”).

Here is what I found:
The older individuals with whom we spoke stated that they believed that in America, the people and lifestyle is very different from here in China. He stated that he had not been to the United States before, but he would really like to go visit. It is a young country, but very strong and with many young people. He told me that after I graduate from college, I should return to Beijing and find a handsome boyfriend and get married. One of the younger men with whom we spoke stated that he thought of America as a very fast-paced society, where happiness comes first. One of my friends here is around my age. She says that she thinks of everyone in the U.S. as being rich and having a huge amount of freedom. For example, she and her friends don’t really choose their own majors in college. Their parents raise them for a certain major and a certain field and then the children (usually) feel an obligation and have a huge amount of academic pressure placed upon them by their parents to follow through. Yet she knows that in America, students’ families largely don’t place that same amount of pressure on the kids and we have far more independence.

The older man stated that his favorite festival in China is ?? (Chinese New Year). When I asked him why, he mentioned that it is one of the holidays during which families come together. But the answer of his that I did not expect is that one of the reasons he loves ?? so much is because it is a public, national holiday that each and every minority group celebrates. Everyone comes together, regardless of their differences, and can celebrate together and participate in a myriad of activities! One fact that I learned about separately is that fireworks are mostly reserved for this holiday. One of the other individuals with whom we spoke stated that he loves ??? (Lantern Festival). It is a beautiful holiday and the special food that they eat on that holiday is delicious (the food is called ??).

According to the older man, he does not know much about slang terms such as ???, but people on the internet often use it. He said that he knows it has a very good meaning, but he can’t explain it. One of my friends here is around my age and says that her friends often enjoy using that term as well as phrases such as ?????????, but she personally does not like using such terms. She thinks of slang terms like this as pretty pointless, although her friends believe they are quite fun and useful, as well as very cute. Another younger man says that people on the internet tend to use these slang terms, and it matches their personalities. In other words, these terms allow them to better express themselves. He said that more recent terms such as ??? emerged after 2009 and are usually only popular for a few years before they fade away again to be replaced by others.

The older gentleman also mentioned that he likes southern food in China, but Beijing food is the absolute best. He mentioned a kind of food of which I have never heard before, called lucai. Lucai is a relatively salty food (which matches well with northern tastes, which is probably one of the reasons why this man loves it so much! We recently learned that northerners prefer salty food while southerners prefer sweet food), and is apparently one of the most widespread styles of cuisine in the country!

I plan to talk to more people in the next few days. Although it is still frustrating to not understand everything that is being said to me, it is absolutely thrilling to finally be able to carry on a 15 minute conversation with locals! It was a bit frightening, but it is really quite encouraging to hear these people saying “?????????????????“ (Your Chinese is especially good! You speak Chinese pretty well!”)

Reflective Journal Entry 6:

Reflection on my language learning and intercultural gains:

We were taught in a fashion that is more focused on memorization and repetition of sentences than on creative application of phrases and grammatical structures. This method of teaching is distinctly Eastern in nature, so I was interested to be able to learn using a method that is so different from the usual Western styles of teaching that emphasize creativity and independent mastery of material. It was simultaneously interesting and challenging. After memorizing between 30 and 50 characters a night, I think that I now have a greater grasp of how to best master the different characters for Chinese. I now believe that I have learned enough characters that most of the new full two-character words that I learn actually have at least one character that I have learned before– this makes studying the language much easier for me. In addition, in terms of intercultural gains, I think that I am now more fully able to comprehend some of the nuances of Chinese culture, such as how to appropriately interact with someone my age versus older individuals. Visiting places like the Temple of Heaven and other such places reminded me of information I had learned the last time I was in China, such as why when there is a lion statue on either side of a doorway in traditional Chinese architecture, one lion has its paw on a sphere while the other lion has its paw on a cub (the sphere represents the world and therefore power. That lion is male. The other lion is female because it manages the offspring). In addition, I learned during this trip to Beijing that the Bird’s Nest Olympic Stadium relates to the phoenix, a symbol of female power, and is associated with fire, while the Water Cube is related to the dragon, a symbol of male power, and is associated with water. These symbolic nuances are hugely significant in Chinese culture, so I am very grateful that I was able to learn about them! I also loved interacting with natives and learning about their favorite festivals and the like. I learned a lot, and I loved every moment of it!

Reflection on my summer language abroad experience overall:

It was a really great experience. I became accustomed to navigating in a completely new city (and country!!). I learned how to use the Beijing metro, which was extremely convenient and helpful. I loved the food, the people, and the culture in general. It is absolutely wonderful to constantly hear people speaking Chinese to one another all around me. Sometimes I would pick up on words in their conversations, which never failed to excite me. I think I could have done more to try to further improve my Chinese outside of the classroom. I feel as though I learned most when I was in the one-on-one sessions with my professors every afternoon. I am pleased that I can not carry on fifteen to twenty minute conversations with native Chinese speakers, and I love that my tones have improved greatly when speaking. My fluency still needs a lot of work, as I had predicted it would, but this program definitely aided me in moving in the correct direction! Also, I am still so stoked that after years and years of yearning for a custom-made qipao (traditional Mandarin dress), I finally got one while abroad!!

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

I plan to eventually work as a physician at the medical center located in Chinatown in Boston, Massachusetts. I want to be able to communicate with the Chinese-speaking patients who go to that medical center for treatment. In this way, I would be able to minimize the loss of important information via imperfect translations and communication. I also would like to go to China again to do research pertaining to traditional Chinese medicine, as well as to further investigate and understand this language and culture that I love so much.