Name: Grace Zhu
Location of Study: Hong Kong, China
Program of Study: Summer Cantonese Foundation Certificate Programme
Sponsors: Center for the Study of Languages and Cultures, Kellogg Institute for International Studies, Liu Institute for Asia and Asian Studies
A brief personal bio:
My name is Grace and I’m a Political Science and Accounting double major at Notre Dame. My research interests are in the areas of nationalism and politics of composite regimes such as Hong Kong. I’m about to enter my third year at Notre Dame and I’ve loved this place since the first day I got here. I’m originally from Hangzhou, a beautiful coastal city in Southeast China.
Why this summer language abroad opportunity is important to me:
Mastering Cantonese will greatly facilitate my future studies in Hong Kong politics. In September 2014, over a hundred thousand demonstrators in Hong Kong took to the streets and formed the Umbrella Movement after the Chinese government broke its promise of democratic election for Hong Kong in 2017. As a research assistant for Professor Hui of the Political Science department, who is an expert in Hong Kong politics, I got to follow and study numerous news articles about the protests and was deeply intrigued by the political situations in Hong Kong. In the future, I wish to conduct some in-depth research about the nationalism under composite regimes like Hong Kong, and having fluency in Cantonese will be crucial to my research because it will help me communicate better with native Hong Kong people during research interviews.
What I hope to achieve as a result of this summer study abroad experience:
I hope to substantially improve my oral skills and listening comprehension of Cantonese and to be able to ask and respond to basic questions and convey daily conversations in Cantonese after six weeks’ intensive training. As mentioned above, the ability to communicate with local Hong Kong people in Cantonese is crucial to my future studies in Hong Kong politics.
I also hope to learn more about Hong Kong’s distinct culture and history, which have always intrigued me, through this immersion experience. I will also be able to talk and make friends with local residents in Hong Kong so that I can understand Hong Kong people’s lifestyles, social values, and political stands.
My specific learning goals for language and intercultural learning this summer:
- At the end of my summer study abroad, I will be able to communicate in Cantonese with native speakers on news and political topics such as genuine elections and police brutality.
- At the end of my summer study abroad, I will be able to handwrite my language learning experience in traditional Chinese characters (which Hong Kong adopts as its official language.)
- At the end of my summer study abroad, I will be able to explain to my peers from Mainland China why Hong Kong people sometimes hold strong antipathy against Mainlanders and clarify the mutual misunderstandings between China and Hong Kong.
My plan for maximizing my international language learning experience:
Although Notre Dame does not offer Cantonese courses, I’ll continue my language learning in various ways. My friend and I just submitted a proposal for a new Hong Kong Club of Notre Dame and hopefully we will get the approval by May. As one of the founders of the Hong Kong club, I plan to organize regular Cantonese learning sessions taught by Hong Kong exchange students at Notre Dame for our club members and practice my own Cantonese along the process. I’ll also actively look for opportunities to go back to Hong Kong for internship or research during breaks and further my Cantonese learning.
Reflective Journal Entry 1:
It’s been a week since I arrived in Hong Kong and two things made me immediately fall in love with this place. We did not learn much this week because Monday we had our orientation, Tuesday was our syllabus day, and it was public holiday in Hong Kong on Wednesday. I’m now fairly familiar with Cantonese’ most basic tones and Romanization, but I can already see vocabs becoming my biggest issue in the future.
The Cantonese courses I’m taking are a part of the Chinese University of Hong Kong’s larger summer school program, so I got to meet people from all over the world. Members in my small group during orientation are from Canada, Japan, Singapore, Taiwan, Hong Kong, China, England, Belgium and France respectively, which was quite amazing since no two people share the same nationality. I was also really excited when I found out many of my classmates have complicated cultural backgrounds similar to mine. For example, my best friends in CUHK include an Austrian girl living in Scotland, a Cambodian Australian, and a Hong Kong guy living in Canada. All of them have been immersed in two distinct cultures and find themselves belonging to neither just as I do. Although growing up in China, I have never felt much attached to my home country because of its huge regional differences and social issues such as corruptions and abortions. However, I’m in no sense an American either despite my love for its values. For the first time, I felt fully understood by a bunch of friends who also made me realize the cultural barrier would never be an issue as long as we take the courage to share how we feel and be honest about what we truly believe in.
One thing I learned about Hong Kong from day 1: Hong Kong is not China (despite its legal status as a special administrative region of PRC and the fact that this blog is under the category of China). When I was taking the train to CUHK for my first day of class, I immediately noticed that despite the crowdedness in the train, every person kept a decent distance with each other and no one did any pushing or shouting when they needed to get off the train which is more than normal in China. The public restrooms are extremely clean, and people who litter will be fined 2000 HK dollars which is equivalent of about 300 US dollars. All street signs and billboards are bilingual, and the building entrances are always user friendly to the disabled people. A former colony of the UK, Hong Kong adheres to its British common laws and traffic rules (meaning that all cars should drive on the left, which makes me really nervous when crossing the road), and has its own legislature. Hong Kong people strongly believe in the rule of law, and their attitude can be shown by the CUHK’s dorm policies, which are even stricter than Notre Dame’s. No person of the opposite sex is allowed any time in the room and all guests are banned from visiting altogether after 11 pm. If anyone wants to smoke, he or she must leave campus, take a train, get off the train, leave the train station, smoke, and then go back to the train station and take the train back. I’m a huge supporter of this policy because my father always smokes in our living room and no one in China abides by the no-indoor-smoking rule.
Reflective Journal Entry 2:
It’s been two weeks since I arrived in Hong Kong and I’ve been focusing mostly on my Cantonese study this week. As time went by, I feel that I have been learning Cantonese faster than I ever thought I could. I also started to order food in Cantonese. Sometimes it worked very well, but sometimes the cashiers replied in Cantonese very fast and I had to switch back to English to ask what they just said. It was also stressing me out that Hong Kong people often assume I’m also from HK because of my oriental look and “very HK dressing style”. When I told them I was from China in English, they got all disappointed and confused because apparently the two years in the U.S. have given me a strong American accent. Unfortunately, Hong Kong people’s discrimination against Chinese mainlanders is becoming worse, but I started to understand why the antipathy between both sides are so strong after I witnessed a mainland woman shouting at a Hong Kong restaurant owner because the dish she wanted to order was sold out.
Professor Jonathan Jeung teaches both of my Cantonese classes, grammar and oral skills. He is an extremely outgoing person and can always cheer us up in the drowsiest afternoon. My study schedule is pretty intense. Each class session lasts 3 hours and I have six of them every week, which add up to 18 hours of classes per week. In a normal semester at Notre Dame, each student takes five courses with 2.5 hours of class time per course per week, which add up to only 12.5 hours of classes per week. Despite the long sessions, I really appreciate the effectiveness of our professor in conveying the most important grammars while providing ample practices for us to truly understand their use in daily conversations. We have covered the topics of self-introduction, food ordering, daily schedule, time telling, and interest discussion so far and have learned a lot of vocabs along the way. I had one quiz this week and got a perfect score (yayy!), but there will be two more quizzes and one speech contest next week and I’ll start preparing for that during the weekend.
Daily life immersion
I found a perfect study spot on the sixth floor of the building where our classroom is located. The ocean view out of the windows of that study room is absolutely gorgeous, and my study buddies, Saskia and Max, always went there with me so we could do our homework together. We had some deep and meaningful conversions during dinner, too bad that we used English instead of Cantonese. I felt bad hanging out with Anglophones too often against the advice of our language abroad department, but decided I should probably take it slow since we only had a week’s training as beginners. I did try to practice with my HK local friend but I had to go really slow to come up with a sentence. Despite these small drawbacks, I still believe that I have learned a lot and felt pretty confident about my current progress. In terms of the local culture, I absolutely loved the chicken feet which sounds horrible but actually isn’t. Strongly recommend to everyone who might visit HK in the future.
Reflective Journal Entry 3:
Reflective Journal Entry 4:
It’s been four weeks since I arrived in Hong Kong.
We’re getting close to the end of the textbook and the lessons become long and complicated. We learned a lot of vocabs this week and were asked to have free-style conversations with the professor instead of simply reading sample conversations from the book. I got a good grade in Midterm and was really encouraged by that. We also got the instruction about the final speech next week so I’ll start preparing for it right after I write this post.
I went out a lot this week since we’ll have two tests, one final, one speech and one oral final next week and there will be absolutely no time for leisure. I’m also getting increasingly sentimental about the approaching goodbye with my professor and classmates. I’ve mentioned before that I really love the diversity in Hong Kong, but now I’m starting to see its problem. All the friends I made here will be spread out across continents in a week, and I may never have the chance to see them in person again. On the bright side, I still have two years left at Notre Dame. This Tuesday, I went to an ND alumni gathering in Central, the financial district in Hong Kong, and spent some great time with ND undergrads and alums. The president of the Hong Kong Notre Dame alumni association Jeff Fisher was a super nice, very charismatic person, and he also told me it is kind of normal for people to come and go in Hong Kong. I was glad when I found out he has been living here for over 20 years and doesn’t want to live. Hong Kong is truly an amazing place, and I don’t want to think of it as a city like Las Vegas where people have fun but never settle. Hopefully my classmates in CUHK might want to come back here again after they graduate so we can all gather together again.
On Thursday my friends and I went to Mong Kok and tried a lot of Hong Kong local street food. When we told our professor that we tried stinky tofu and fried pig intestines, he was so shocked and said, “you guys are so Chinese”, which was hilarious. To be honest, I’ve always liked the U.S. and American values better than my own country, but I’ve always thought I myself am for sure more Chinese than American. However, during my stay in Hong Kong, so many people from Hong Kong or western countries other than the U.S. have told me that they strongly felt that I was more American than Chinese, making me wonder if my two years in the U.S. have changed me a lot. Sometimes you just have to be in a different culture to actually realize what is changed and who you are now.
Reflective Journal Entry 5:
Reflection on my language learning and intercultural gains:
During my five weeks’ study in CUHK, I had received intense Cantonese training with a very steep learning curve. Although this was the first summer language program I’ve signed up for, I learned from my freshman experience when I first came to the U.S. for college and took the initiative this time to actively participate in class activities and discussions to practice my Cantonese. The cultural shock was a lot stronger than I expected, but people from Hong Kong were extremely friendly and they were glad that I showed strong interests in Cantonese and asked questions all the time. I think by now I’m able to convey daily conversations with local Hong Kong people, which meets my original goal for the language learning trip. My friendship with the locals and my active participation in class helped a lot.
Reflection on my summer language abroad experience overall:
I think the most important thing I have learned is that I should not feel upset about not being able to completely belong to one single culture or feel hesitant to explore a new culture because I’ll never completely fit in. As a Chinese student who studies in the U.S., I’ve always had some trouble dealing with my identity since both cultures have deeply influenced the way I think. However, in summer school, most of my classmates are ethnic minorities in their home countries or have multiple cultural backgrounds as they grew up, but they all actively embrace their identities and are eager to explore more cultures (hence the decision to go to Hong Kong and learn Cantonese). Their positive attitudes have influenced me a lot and I became much more proactive when learning the language. My advice for SLA applicants is that you have to be ready to totally open yourself up to this exciting journey and step out of your comfort zone. You will be surprised how many friends you can make and how many things you can learn.
How I plan to use my language and intercultural competences in the future:
Although Notre Dame does not offer Cantonese courses, I just started a Hong Kong Club at Notre Dame with my friends and is setting up a mini language exchange group on Facebook and other various Cantonese learning seminars or groups. I’ll also apply for internships in Hong Kong in October because I grew to love the city during my five weeks’ stay and absolutely want to go back in the near future or even move there after I graduate. The SLA program has provided me with the opportunity to know how it actually feels to live in Hong Kong, and has equipped me with basic knowledge of Cantonese so I would feel more confident building connections with Hong Kong people in the future.