Post-China Reflection

I’ve now been out of China for about one entire month. It feels very odd to be back in the United States and have to go through the whole jet-lag adjustment process again. Overall, I am very satisfied with the experience that I’ve been so fortunate to have these past two months living in such a different culture.

During the eight weeks of the program, I did not miss class once, which I think greatly helped my learning, as so much can be learned in one day of class at NDIB. Each day we learned a little less than 100 words and 20 grammar concepts a day, and the four hours of drill class as well as the individual discussion sessions with a teacher definitely drastically aided in my learning. I met all of my goals for language learning that I created prior to my start of the program, which makes me feel accomplished. Sometimes it can be hard to see my own progress with the language, but it’s easy to measure my progress by my fulfillment of my language goals.

If I were to give advice to someone going to study in China in the future, I would tell him to not be afraid to travel around Beijing by himself. A lot of times, it was difficult to coordinate daily travel or eating with friends, due to the small size of the program and the differences in study habits. By exploring the very safe city by myself, I was able to experience more of the city and more of what I wanted to see in China. In addition, I wasn’t tempted to speak English with anyone while sightseeing, as everyone around me only spoke Chinese. By exploring by myself, I was forced to figure out a lot of the city by myself, which was a challenge I really enjoyed.

I plan on continuing to study Chinese in the future. I am currently spending the fall semester studying Spanish in Toledo, Spain, which makes maintaining my current level of Chinese a bit difficult. I speak both Chinese and Spanish pretty well, and although they may see like they have nothing in common, I often get the two languages confused in my head. I hope to take an online class in Chinese while I am abroad so that I can continue on in the second half of 4th year Chinese when I return to Notre Dame in the spring. It’s crazy to think that I started learning Chinese about a year and a half ago, and I’ve already reached senior level Chinese classes. I hope to use my language skills in combination with my business major to work abroad in international businesses.

I’m so fortunate to have been awarded the SLA Grant to study abroad in Beijing China. The experiences that I have been blessed with have been unlike anything I’d ever experienced in my life. My Chinese language level has increased immensely, and I finished the summer program with an A. I am very proud of the work I have accomplished in China and feel that I have matured a lot by immersing myself in such a different but vibrant culture. I hope to continue my Chinese language study in hopes of one day becoming completely proficient in a language that I love so much.

Week 5: Museums and Parks

I’ve had a good time in Beijing so far, and I feel my Chinese has improved a lot in the mere month that has transpired, but I sometimes can’t help but feel frustrated and discouraged with how frequently I have trouble communicating. After living here a month, I feel I understand pretty well how most common interactions should go: ordering food, bargaining, etc. And yet I am still often struck speechless by how little I understand of what someone has said in their super-rapid Chinese. It goes without saying that Chinese is a very difficult and exotic language for a speaker of English, but this is of little consolation when you’re struggling to understand someone. It may sound cliche, but I honestly the best way to avoid feeling defeated is to take heart in the small victories, the times when you understand something you couldn’t previously that are proof of improvement. I trust that simply given more time this frustration will slowly occur less frequently.

This week proved to be another fun weekend of exploration and adventure around the city. I had some free time during the week, so after classes concluded I packed some water and walked to Yuanmingyuan, also known as the Old Summer Palace. Unfortunately it was overcast all day, so my photos weren’t the most brilliant, but I’ll attach a couple nonetheless. This park is easily the largest I have visited thus far. It used to be a massive palace complex that was destroyed by a European coalition force in the late 19th century. All that remains of the buildings are the foundations, with a few exceptions, but the park is nevertheless beautiful. It features a large lake in the center and the surrounding lands. I didn’t venture as deep as I might have because I was forced to leave at the parks closing, Which I find unfortunate: who knows how many nice, particularly beautiful spots may have been hidden deep within the park?

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That Saturday, a group of students were planning to go the Summer Palace, perhaps the most famous park in Beijing. I had planned to go with them, but unfortunately overslept and by time I woke up they had already left. So I decided instead to visit the Beijing National Museum, one the best museums in the city. I had also planned on visiting the Beijing Capital Museum, but I ended up staying at the National Museum much longer than I expected. The museum is located on the east side of Tiananmen Square, right near the center of the city.


Entry was easy and free, and the museum was huge, hosting an array of exhibits. I started with the largest exhibit, the one about the history of China from prehistoric times up to the fall of the Qing dynasty and found of the Republic of China. After slowly meandering through this exhibit I feel my understanding and appreciation for Chinese history is a little better. Afterward I wandered through the several other galleries the museum hosted, for example, ancient Chinese coinage, history of Chinese script and calligraphy, ancient jade artifacts, porcelain artifacts. Here too time forced my departure: I ended up staying just about up until closing time (which was 5 o’clock).

Midpoint: Travels to Xi’an

And with the passing of our trip to Xi’an, we have officially reached the halfway point of our studies in China, which I find strange to think about. On the one hand I am eager to rejoin friends and family in the US, but on the other there are so many things here in China I haven’t yet seen or experienced, and there are so many things here that are simply nonexistent in the US. I suppose you could say I feel bittersweet about being halfway done. It makes me all the more want to make the most of my time here, because I don’t have much of an idea of when I might return.

That said, this past weekend was without a doubt my favorite weekend thus far. Thursday, after finishing the midterm exam, we all went to the dorms to pack and prepare for the weekend ahead. We went to Beijing’s western train station so we could board the over-night train that would take us to Xi’an. We had the nicer soft-sleeper tickets, meaning that the bed were soft and the rooms were a bit nicer, as opposed to the hard sleepers, which are more crowded and less comfortable. There were four beds to a room, two sets of bunks directly across from each other. The program bought whichever tickets were available, which meant that some rooms were entirely filled with Notre Dame students, some were partly Notre Dame students, and a couple people were alone in that respect. I happened to one of those few. I was the only Notre Dame student in my room. However, what I thought was going to be a boring and lonely night took an interesting turn. Soon after I moved all my things onto my bed, a small Chinese family, composed of a man, his mother, and his young daughter, entered the room. With my limited Chinese and his limited English, we were able to have some interesting conversations. His mother was also very kind, sharing some of their snacks with me. His 3 year old daughter seemed very smart for her age. She already knew a handful of English words and expressions, and also had an interest in natural history, so that night I learned such Chinese words as ‘fossil’ and ‘dinosaur’. Additionally, they were all natives of Xi’an, and gave me recommendations for food and drinks to have in Xi’an, as well as places to go. At the end of the train ride, we exchanged emails and he even invited me to have a meal at his house, should I return to Xi’an. So I guess if I go back to Xi’an anytime soon, I might just have a place to go! Here’s a picture of me and his daughter taken on the train.


After pulling into Xi’an that next morning, we first checked into our hotel and then set out for Xi’an’s most well known attraction: the terra cotta soldiers.The soldiers are located a little ways outside the city, amidst the hills that surround the city. The soldiers were impressive. Before us lay a number of rows of intersecting pits, each containing rank after rank of clay soldiers. The most incredible part, at least for me, was not how many soldiers there were, but the ridiculous amount of detail and work that went into each one. Literally every soldier was unique. And when they set out to build a clay army, they did just that. There were soldiers of varying ranks, distinguishable by their attire. The army had its share of slaves, foot soldiers, archers, field officers, foreign conscripts, horsemen, you name it. There was even a separate pit that depicted generals and officers having a meeting. The levels of detail was truly unbelievable.


Later that evening we returned to Xi’an proper to attend a performance. Going in, we really had no idea what to expect from the performance. We knew it was based off poem or story from the Tang dynasty era, one of several dynasties that made Xi’an their capital. The performance took place just after sunset, while the sky was just turning gray. And it was soon evident why they waited until after dark to begin. The performance wasn’t a play in the usual sense. The actors had no dialogue, just a narrator speaking in an archaic Chinese, of which I could understand scarcely a word. Instead, in a way it was a dance performance on a huge scale. The set was huge, very wide and it extended deep towards the mountain behind it, at whose foot it was strategically placed. The music was excellent and the dancing was enthralling, but the most impressive part was the huge and varied amount of special effects used to help tell the story. I’ll attach some pictures that will hopefully illustrate my meaning.


The next day we had another favorite event scheduled: biking along the city walls of Xi’an. Unlike Beijing, whose walls were demolished a few decades ago, the walls of Xi’an yet remain, and have been for the most part restored, so they are smooth enough to bike on. It was very interesting (and tiring) to bike through a significant portion of the city. In addition to old bell towers and other assorted old buildings upon the wall itself, you could also make out other landmarks within the older part of Xi’an, like Buddhist temples and pagodas that once dominated the skyline of the old city, before the advent of skyscrapers.

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Afterward we went to an area of the city called ‘Muslim Street’. Xi’an has a decently large number of Chinese Muslims, and this area surrounds the mosque and is a huge marketplace, dotted with Muslim restaurants. It was fun to spend some time exploring the winding streets of the marketplace. I haven’t mentioned it yet, but all the food we ate in Xi’an was great. The Xi’an cuisine seems to have been influenced by the Muslim population, as there was no pork and it was dominated by beef and lamb. Just as in Beijing, I wasn’t always aware of what exactly I was eating, but it was all delicious.

The remaining destinations in Xi’an were a Buddhist temple and the Small and Large Goose Pagodas. Unfortunately the larger pagoda was being renovated, but even still you could tell they were impressive structures. And although most Buddhist temples share similar elements, I appreciated the peacefulness in the garden of this particular temple, and they were nice to explore.


Sunday morning we made our way back to the train station to catch our bullet train back to Beijing. It had been a particularly full and exhausting weekend, but also particularly interesting. I wish we could have stayed in Xi’an a bit longer and become more familiar with the city.

Post-Program Reflection

Looking back at my language experience, I find that one of the most interesting things I have found about learning a new language is the importance of outside the classroom interactions. As much as my language skills developed from attending lecture and drilling grammar structures, I found that possibly the greatest growth took place when I interacted with people outside of the classroom. Even studying vocab from a book is only helpful to a certain extent.  Without being able to make use of it, and solidify it in one’s memory in the context of actual conversation, it does not do much good.

The language shock of going to China for two months can really only be compared to the cultural differences that were experienced.  After spending so much time in a different country, one is bound to get accustomed to a lot of the different ways of doing things, but this is only after a long time, and there are still bound to be many things that one never gets used to.  In China, even street manners are starkly different.  One thing that I found funny is that staring is much more acceptable.  Experiencing different cultures was an opportunity that the SLA grant provided me, as valuable as the language experience.

Going forward, I do not think that class alone is sufficient for sustaining the language level that was attained during my time in China.  In addition to formal studying, I think that it is important to practice more informal conversation with other people in order to maintain the same type of fluency.  After all, I feel as though that is one of the main benefits of studying in a different country;  aside from studying language in the classroom, one can communicate in a more common way, which is bound to yield improvement in ways that traditional classroom settings simply cannot.  These language skills are invaluable moving forward, as speaking any foreign language in any field of work opens the doors to a myriad of opportunities through being able to connect to more people in a more personal way.

Coming to an End

As my time in China comes to a close, I cannot tell if the trip has flown by, or has felt as though it lasted a lifetime. On the one hand I cannot believe that it 2 months have already passed since I first arrive, but on the other hand, looking back to the first day being here, that seems like it was ages ago.  Looking back I feel as though my Chinese definitely has progressed. I don’t necessarily think that I am fluent, but I would be pretty comfortable being on my own in China trying to figure out what people are saying.  If there is ever a word or phrase I don’t know, I know enough to fill in the gaps with other phrases and descriptions.

For the second to last week we had our Chinese night and talent show.  The program would not be a Notre Dame Chinese department event without one.  I helped out as an MC and did a dance in a group.  It was a little hectic since it took place on a Friday, which is our test day, but overall everyone rallied very well to make it happen, especially the teachers who all put an enormous amount of effort into it.  I think people really enjoyed themselves that night, and to me it seemed even better than the typical Chinese nights we have on campus.  We closed out with pizza, which was definitely not United States pizza, but after having so much Chinese food, you’re not picky.  I am looking forward to going home, but I there are definitely aspects of China I will miss.  I will especially miss the cheap food and having the chance to talk to random people out of the classroom in Chinese.

Final weeks in China- Week 7 and 8

As I entered my last two weeks of NDIB, I buckled down and made the most of every moment in class. Week seven was very challenging, not only due to the material (we were learning how to discuss complex economic and political topics that I find difficult to discuss in English, much less Chinese!) but also because the hope of seeing our families was becoming closer and closer. China and my hometown of Chicago are 13 hours apart, and finding a time to talk to my friends and family was difficult. As much as I love China, I also missed my loved ones immensely.

Week seven, on Friday, I hosted and performed in Notre Dame’s China Night. In addition to singing a song with my classmates, I created a rap about my weeks here in China studying and experiencing the culture with my friends, making sure to thank my teachers who have worked so hard every day preparing the next day’s class. They have so much patience with us, which really shows as they answer our 100th question of the day. I also performed with my classmates in a skit parodying a game show in which I asked the contestants who were vying for my heart Chinese cultural questions in order to see if we were a good match or not (none of us were a good match, and I ended up choosing myself in the end). The whole night was tons of fun, and this wouldn’t be a Chinese program without a Chinese talent show!

On Saturday, I headed to the Lama Temple, a nearby hutong filled with restaurants, shops, and small cafes, and the Temple of Confucius. Although every temple is different, they are all treated with the same high level of respect and care from every visitor. For dinner, I met up with my Chinese teacher from last semester at Notre Dame, and it was so nice to see her in her hometown. She’s one of my favorite people ever, and for her to comment on the large progress in my Chinese proficiency meant a lot to me, especially as I was able to carry on a fluent conversation with her all night. On Sunday, I went to mass and bargained at the Silk Market, which was fun to use my Chinese to make up elaborate stories for why I absolutely needed silly items, but was unable to pay the ridiculously high asking price.

During week eight, despite becoming sick in the beginning of the week (no matter how careful you are, the water and food in China will still make you sick sometime!), I still managed to make it to the Temple of Heaven, the Old Summer Palace (which was filled with ruins of the original Summer Palace that was destroyed by the French and English), a few neighborhoods, the Pearl Market, and the Silk Market (Couldn’t forget those last minute souvenirs!). After giving my final oral presentation and finishing my last written final, I was sad to see the program ending. On the first day, I had given a speech to a few directors of Peking University during the welcome banquet, and now on the last day I was giving a closing speech to the same directors. My progress was evident in the sophistication of my second speech compared to my first speech, and I’m so proud of the progress that I’ve made with the help of my awesome teachers.

I’m so thankful that Notre Dame and the SLA Grant gave me the opportunity to study in the native country of my favorite language, and I can’t believe that it’s finally time to return to America. I’m so happy for all of the cultural and educational experiences that I have been afforded, and I hope to return to China in the future to continue my educational pursuits. I can’t wait to see how much more my Chinese can improve!

Reconnecting with my faith in China- Weeks 5 and 6

Returning to the daily homework, quizzes, essays, and oral presentations of class was difficult after such a fantastic weekend touring Xi’an, but I was glad to dive back into learning more and increasing my Chinese proficiency.

The weekend of week five was rather mellow, as we were able to choose what we wanted to do and go exploring ourselves. On Saturday, I headed to the Summer Palace, which is also Beijing’s largest garden. Filled with temples and winding paths, the Summer Palace truly was a site to behold. From the Summer Palace, I headed over to the Olympic Stadium. Beijing hosted the 2008 summer Olympics, and with the 2016 Summer Olympics coming up, I wanted to see the stadiums in Beijing. I toured the Bird’s Nest, the huge track and stadium that now hosts soccer matches. I was also able to enter the Water Cube, and was shocked at how small the stands were that surrounded the swimming and diving pool.

On Sunday, I went to mass for the first time in Beijing. It was so interesting to see how similar yet different a Catholic mass was in China. There was a bit of an issue with communion, as a non-Catholic accepted the host and then discarded it, but the priest handled the situation with grace. The mass was held in English and French, and it was nice to see people of all nationalities coming together in such a unique place to celebrate their faith. I definitely plan on returning every Sunday for the remaining weeks, and I really enjoyed reconnecting with my faith.

Week six came and gone, new vocabulary and grammar structures learned and ready to be tested during the weekend with conversations with locals. Friday for lunch, we were treated to hot pot again, and this time the meal was complete with performances. A man came and stretched noodles in front of us while a traditional mask-changing performer gave us a very unique show. After lunch, we headed to a movie theater to watch an animated Chinese children’s movie. It was amazing and empowering to be able to understand the entire movie’s dialogue, and it felt like my Chinese study was definitely paying off!

On Saturday, I headed back to the 798 Arts District, excited to be back in my element. It was even better than I remembered, and I loved exploring and finding all of the quirky art plastered across alley walls. Saturday night, we were treated to a traditional Chinese acrobatic show, and I was absolutely floored by how the performers made every insane act look like the easiest thing in the world. Sunday, I headed back to Church and stopped at the Silk Market on my way home. The Silk Market was an exciting place to be, as it was fun to use my Chinese to bargain for goods. The shopkeepers are very good about being patient with our Chinese, and it was really amusing to have fluent conversations in Chinese explaining why exactly I absolutely needed to buy a silk pillowcase, but could definitely not meet the asking price, as I was a poor college student.

I can’t wait to experience more of China, and I’m sad that next weekend will be my last weekend in one of my favorite cities! I’m so thankful for the opportunity to study the language I love in its home country, and the benefits of language immersion are becoming more and more evident every day.

China Week 4- Cultural Weekend in Xi’an!

The completion of week four means the halfway point hitting the halfway point of the program! I’m so happy with the language progress I’ve made so far, and I can’t wait to see how much more my fluency can improve in the coming weeks!

After we finished our semester midterm, we boarded an overnight train to Xi’an, a city right outside of Beijing. On an overnight train, you can either sleep in a soft double bunk bed with three other people in the room, or you can opt for the cheaper hard bed, in which you sleep in a multiple bunk bed in a communal room. We were fortunate enough to have soft bed tickets, and we made it to Xi’an in about twelve hours! Once we arrived, we stopped at the hotel to check-in and began our Xi’an adventure!

At lunch, we met the directors of the University in Xi’an that had organized our trip, and we were served local and traditional Xi’an specialty dishes. It was all delicious and very different from what we had experienced in Beijing. After lunch, we traveled to tour the Terracotta warriors, which were created to protect a Chinese emperor in the afterlife. The three tombs filled with the reconstructed warriors that were uncovered were massive, and it felt like a right of passage to see the amazing cultural phenomenon. After touring the warriors, we saw the coolest show I have ever seen that told the story of an emperor, his wife, and the enemy army, which was beautifully portrayed complete with special effects such as fire and water canons.

The next day, we biked eight miles around the Xi’an city wall, from which we were able to see views of the entire city. After the bike ride, we headed to lunch and a tour of Muslim street, named as such due to the high population of Muslims in the area. Although I wish we could have spent more time experiencing the different traditional food vendors and bargaining for cultural souvenirs, the museum that we headed to next was a very educational insight into Xi’an and its history as a city. At night, we wandered around the city center, taking in vibrant atmosphere and seeing all of the fountains and statues on our walk back to the hotel.

Our final day in Xi’an, we toured a series of Buddhist temples and were treated to a lunch of hot pot, which is like the Chinese equivalent to cooking your food using fondue. The meal was fantastic, and before I knew it we were back on a bullet train, heading back to Beijing, writing essays and preparing for Monday’s class. Xi’an was a nice break from the difficult weeks of class, and I’m so happy that Notre Dame organized the trip so that we could see one of China’s most important cultural cities.

4th of July and 798! China Week 3

Week three was probably my favorite weekend in China! Monday was the fourth of July, so all of the students gathered together to celebrate being an American in China. We all wore red, white, and blue, proud to be representing our country as we studied at the most prestigious university in China. At night, we took the subway to Tuanjiehu, which is considered the Soho of Beijing by many foreigners. There, a barbecue restaurant was hosting an Independence Day celebration for all of the Americans in Beijing. It was one of the only times I haven’t felt like I was the only American person in a Chinese location. Many Chinese people from all over the country visit Beijing, as it hosts many important cultural and religious sites, and it’s very rare to see people of other nationalities at most of these tourist destinations in Beijing. It was really interesting to see how people of all ages from all different parts of America had somehow made it to Beijing, could speak Chinese, and yet were still celebrating their home country. We took the subway home and were still able to go to bed early, ready to continue working hard and studying!

On Saturday, we headed to the 798 Arts District, a hipster district in China full of contemporary art galleries, small shops, and intricate street art. Walking through the maze of alleys and streets was exciting, as it seemed that around every corner was a new sculpture or graffiti art that provided awesome photo opportunities. Some of the art criticized society, and other pieces of art provided an insight into traditional Chinese artisan practices. One of my favorite pieces was an art piece about the size of a three-story building. It consisted of three stacked cages with dinosaurs in them and was found on the main street outside of the main art exhibit, which boasted colorful contemporary artwork.

Local artists had also set up small booths along the streets, showing off their talents that ranged from pencil portraits to small wire car statues. I fell in love with two paintings by a man who only used his fingers and ink to paint beautiful depictions of waterfalls. You could see the fingerprints in the art, and I watched in amazement as he created one of the masterpieces in front of my eyes. As I waited for him to finish “finger-painting” my complex nature scenes, I sipped on freshly squeezed orange juice, which can be found all over China, and is made right in front of you as a man squeezes fresh oranges and bottles the juice.

I loved the 798 Arts District so much that I cannot wait to go back, as it’s so big and I feel like there is so much more to explore! The arts district will always have a place in my heart, and I felt like I was finally finding myself in Beijing. Being able to learn and speak Chinese, celebrating the fourth of July, and visiting arguably my favorite place in China? Absolutely amazing, and I’m so grateful for this opportunity!

I’m in China!: Well kind of.



It’s bittersweet to know that I’ll soon be leaving China for the States. I remember that during the trip, I would get frustrated with certain aspects of Beijing, such as the inability to see blue skies only except after a rainy night or the fact that there is no such thing as “right of way.” But… I’ll miss all of that. I’ll not only miss the obvious things such as the famous landmarks like the Great Wall or Tiananmen Square, but I’ll miss the small daily things more. I’ll miss my daily walk to the classroom and back. I’ll miss the Peking University guards saluting me into the campus. I’ll miss starting my day off with Ye Laoshi saying “上课!” I’ll miss the small classes with Liu Laoshi and Zhou Laoshi. I’ll miss the walks to the Hollywood or Nongyuan cafeteria. I’ll miss the 一对一’s and the talks and words of advice that my teachers would give me about life. I’ll miss going to Rayma after class for some ice cream, and going back to the classroom again for office hours. I’ll miss Ajisen Ramen, because honestly that’s my favorite restaurant in the entire world. But I’ll miss the people more. I’ll miss Ye Laoshi and his playful fatherlike demeanor. I’ll miss Liu Laoshi and her bubbly personality. I’ll miss Zhou Laoshi and her inability to wear any other color besides black. I’ll miss my friends, especially Emma who is from Penn. I’ll miss her blue hair and her random outbreaks of dancing. It’s only been 8 weeks in China, but it honestly feels like I’ve been there longer. Not only did I learn Chinese, but I learned more about just what it is like to be in China.I thought that China would be some kind of wildly different place, but I realize that it’s very similar to the United States. There is a huge disparity between the wealth of those who are at the 1% and those who are playing music on the streets. There are modernized buildings and some skyscrapers. But most of all, it seems like most, if not all, of the people work incredibly hard. Not just in studies, but in life. I’ll miss these things and much much more about China. Being in China these past eight weeks really broadened my perspective about different cultures and people, and this trip has motivated me to explore more of what this world has to offer. 再见 China. I’ll see you again someday.