Mid-Autumn Festival


Since my family has few traditions, I find Chinese tradition to be extremely fascinating. The little mannerisms and interactions between people make a difference. Respect and family are of utmost importance, particularly in traditional households. I was told by a friend that Beijing ren can be described by a four character Chinese idiom: 不卑不亢 (bu bei bu kang). Difficult to translate into English, this phrase means something along the lines of, “neither supercilious nor obsequious.” Beijingers respect other’s positions/ status. There are other courteous manners that I learned about at the dinner table. Some manners may vary from family to family, but when two family members toast, the family members who is younger must position the top of their cup lower than that of the older family member. If you cannot reach a person across the table, you tap your glass against the table while maintaining eye contact with that person. I admire these little signs of respect in Chinese households.  Now that I’m on the topic of family, what better way to learn about family than through family reunions and celebrations. Today bring the first day of fall, I have decided to investigate the story behind the mid-autumn festival.


After Chinese New Year, the Mid-Autumn festival ranks as a close second in terms of importance. After doing individual research I asked one of my Chinese teachers to explain the significance of as well as her feelings toward this holiday. Her story matches up with the story I learned about through my research; however, I learned that there are many different legends associated with the holiday. One such myth revolves around a pair of lovers: Hou Yi and Chang E. When they were given an elixir of life, Chang E drank the potion on her own to protect Hou Yi. Once she drank the potion she ascended to the moon where her only companion is a rabbit. Every mid-autumn Chinese people take time out of their busy schedules to see the people they miss and love, to see their family members. Just as You Yi can only see his love during the mid-autumn festival when the moon shines especially bright, many Chinese seize the opportunity to arrange large family gatherings. Traditionally everyone eats moon cakes, a sort of cake-ish pastry with various fillings (ex. Red bean or lotus seed). I find the traditions of the mid-autumn festival to be extremely beautiful.


When I talked to my teacher she excitedly explained other crucial holidays to me such as the dragon boat festival, lantern festival, Chinese valentines. Chinese have many festivals. Personally, I associate the term “festival” with large public celebrations where communities gather together for the sake of merriment. Made evident through their festivals, public institutions, public land, etc, China truly emphasizes community. Another teacher mentioned to me, America values individualism; China values the collective.

Hard to Find Versus Easy to Find


With my summer here coming to a close, I would like to mention some things that I saw in China that I will not find in the United States:

  1. women carrying parasols to create their own personal shade from the sun
  2. men rolling their shirts up to cool down as they walk around
  3. bold Chinese fashion ranging from platform shoes to colorful and cute styled t-shirts
  4. authentic Chinese food (maybe with the exception of Chinatown)
  5. adults and elderly people exercising, doing handstands or tai chi, and dancing in parks
  6. ginormous shopping centers (the largest I’ve ever seen)
  7. dogs walking alongside behind their owners without leashes
  8. electric scooters carrying entire families around (ex. Parents and a child)
  9. people bargaining at street vendors and in shops
  10. people playing Chinese chess or other games on the street


In terms of things I cannot easily find in China, churches are less common. Even though the amount of people equals that of Notre Dame Basilica mass attendees, China has a very low number of churchgoers. When I went to mass in China the process was standard. I’m not quite sure how to explain why, but the hymns had more of a Chinese feel to me. Honestly, I did not understand any of the mass because I have only learned secular vocabulary.

Lastly, any type of study abroad makes for a unique immersive language experience that cannot be provided in the United States. The language pledge was key for our progress. The teachers are aware of our vocabulary, grammar, and capabilities; they speak clearly and slowly for us. On the streets of Beijing however, people speak casually at faster speeds and often with accents or slang. In engaging with local Beijingers I felt that my listening comprehension made the biggest improvement. I was more hesitant to speak, for fear of mispronunciation. When people do not understand me I easily become discouraged. But it is in speaking despite my self-consciousness that I improve.



  1. Reflect on your language learning and acculturation during your SLA Grant experience. 

To properly learn a language, one must make the effort to learn about the culture attached to their language of choice. I certainly learned a lot of new vocabulary and grammar in the classroom; however, the lessons outside of the classroom are what made my trip an exceptional experience. While useful for conversation in the classroom, some of our vocabulary proved to be less practical for daily conversation. During my time in China, I encountered the difference between listening and speaking in the classroom versus communicating in real world situations.

 In my opinion, observation is one of the best ways to understand cultural differences. Walking around on the streets and parks, going into restaurants, bicycling, and participating in Beijinger’s lifestyle allowed me to perceive the cultural differences. I learned about Chinese values and their focus on respect and family. I also witnessed accommodations for their dense population and I learned about their pride in their long history. Overall, I respect the cultural differences.

Starting out, my goals were a bit ambitious. While I did not meet all of them, I definitely made satisfactory progress in my language capabilities. I gained a bit of that confidence that I was aiming for. At least in the classroom, I became more comfortable speaking. Outside of the classroom I also dared to test out my Chinese. While I was in China, I did travel independently without any problems. By the end of the program I was very comfortable taking the subway. I even took my own weekend trip to Shenzhen, making my way to and from the airport. When it comes to buses and taxis, I am a bit more hesitant. I cannot read simple literature without consulting a dictionary as I had planned, but my character recognition has increased significantly.

  1. Reflect on your SLA Grant experience overall.

Even if we are separated by culture and location, we are all human, deserving respect, requiring love, and relying on one another. Living in America with the privileges that I have, I often forget to think about my brothers and sisters around the world. I thought of people of other countries as collective populations rather than individuals. Now my world view has expanded.

Another concept that I pondered over is the universal pursuit of happiness. Different cultures have varying approaches to and definitions of “happiness.” I feel that America is especially open to individuals taking their own paths. Perhaps because of their long history, China seems to be more rooted in tradition. Compared to the United States China is homogenous. Many people’s “happiness” has been planned for them by tradition and their elders. Many aim for security: a well-paying job, children, and a household.

For those preparing for their own study abroad journey, I highly suggest venturing out as much as possible. Prioritize studies, but avoid getting so involved that you forget to immerse yourself in the culture. Also, if possible try to engage more with locals. Take advantage of the activities and places that are available in your country of choice. I promise the summer will fly by.

  1. How do you plan to use your language and intercultural competences in the future.

The SLA grant provided me with my first independent international experience. I view China as the first of many to come. I am increasingly interested in global studies and now I am more determined to become fluent in Chinese than ever. From here I will continue studying Chinese. Unfortunately, next year I will not have room in my schedule to take Chinese at Notre Dame, but this summer has equipped me with language study skills that I can use to study Chinese on my own. If I have a chance, I intend to pick up Chinese class again at Notre Dame. Maybe I’ll even major in Chinese if my schedule permits.

While in China, I learned more about myself. I managed my time well in China and reflected on my life in America. I came to further appreciate my educational opportunities and possibilities for global communication. I also admire the hard work of Chinese university students who undergo tremendous academic pressure and competition. Overcoming the Chinese language barrier opens a door to a whole different world. In the future, I would love to be able to travel.

Stop and Stare


In a previous post, I mentioned Chinese perception of America. Now I would like to address Chinese attitude towards minorities living in China. I have a friend with light brown hair and light colored eyes who was born in China. Having grown up in China, he is bilingual, however, regardless of his origins many Chinese will always view him as a foreigner. He explained to me that his experience has both positives and negatives. In some areas foreigners are highly regarded. Sometimes they are treated as honored guests. Salesclerks are friendly toward and interested in foreigners (this may be a result of the perception that foreigners are rich). Strangers are also often helpful. On the other hand, many people underestimate him. When they realize a “foreigner” speaks Chinese they are taken aback. Just for fun, sometimes my friend pretends he only speaks simple Chinese, then he shocks everyone with his fluency.

As for my own experiences with my classmates, there have been numerous random strangers who unforgivingly take pictures of our class or of individual students. Many are vexed by this behavior. Granted, in some areas foreigners are a rare sight. Their attitude makes one feel especially alienated, yet their actions are somewhat understandable. Built on immigrants from around the world, America is a melting pot of people of all races and backgrounds; as a result, pointing out a “foreigner” in America poses a challenge. Yet in China, foreigners attract a lot of attention. On the subway, my classmates and I have locked eyes with other people. Fascinated, they watch us converse and laugh. Uneasy at first, now I think we have pretty much adjusted, so we let them stare. When I walked around with a few friends from Norway I noticed how many people looked at us. They have been to China several times so they don’t mind the stares. Then when we entered places many people asked if they were American. Interestingly enough, America was everyone’s first guess.

When I am alone or with Chinese friends, I try to blend in… that is, until I have to speak. In my time here I have explained 我是被领养的 (wo shi bei ling yang de), meaning I am adopted, to many people. They see me and say that I look Chinese. Then they proceed to ask where I am from. I answer America, and am typically greeted by a look of either amusement, confusion, or surprise. During my first trip to China either years ago. There were groups of people who stopped walking when they saw my sister and me with our non-Asian parents. As we walked by they continued to stare at us until we were out of sight. So they literally stopped and stared. Now that I’m here on my own, I exist as a wallflower. Unlike with some of my classmates. People assume I am fluent and will start up a conversation with me. Sometimes people try to speak english with my classmates, who often reply in Chinese. Impressed when they realize my friends speak Chinese, they smile. Yet when they realize I am not fluent, they often say out loud or to their friends “她听不懂” (she doesn’t understand), a phrase I have become very familiar with. Actually, I view the times that I can pass for a native speaker as little victories.

Interactions and Observations


Over the past few weeks I have been randomly asking some native Chinese about their impressions of the United States. My subjects include: teachers, students, friends, parents, and other adults. In collecting answers, I have found, as expected, that some are more knowledgeable than others. Recently it seems like everyone has formed an opinion on America’s new President, meaning their views on America have been influenced by social media and news reports. So far, the attitude toward Trump has been negative. One father expressed his sincere beliefs about America’s future. He feels that China will soon surpass America, especially with America’s new president. China is in a state of growth and development that he foresees will place China at the forefront. I asked an international student who is currently attending college in the US about her attitude toward the US. For the most part she enjoys the freedom that America has to offer and she upholds and overall positive opinion. Yet she finds that the also freedom has its drawbacks. She feels like some Americans are overly vocal and cross boundaries. A few people have asked her if she feels sad that China does not have as much freedom as America.


Another realization hit me — many people are only familiar with the big-name places such as New York, Los Angeles, and other popular settings for American movies. Some have never heard of my home, Pennsylvania. Moreover, these movies have formed many people’s perception of the United States. Some people have images of the southern towns full of cowboys carrying around guns, others picture college students running around green university campuses, and still others expect the US to be like Europe. Our teachers and tour guides have warned us about the general belief that Americans are extremely wealthy. For this reason, foreigners ( wai guo ren) are often targeted by market sellers and taxi drivers. The bargaining culture in China is simultaneously a blessing and a curse. Only if you are strategic and somewhat aggressive can you buy reasonably priced items. Haggling truly is a skill, I have personally unintentionally overpaid for a few items, so I respect those who are learned in the ways of asserting themselves in the marketplace.


Image below: Muslim Street in Xi’An.




A few weeks ago, our class had an opportunity to visit a middle school in Beijing. During our visit, a few ND students gave presentations on Christmas, schooling, and camping in the US. The middle school students were astonished to hear about our light work load in middle school as well as our freedom to engage in extracurricular activities and leisure time. In turn, the pressure that the students are under astounds me. Some students learn the material I encounter in college as early as middle school. After our visit, I asked a teacher how else students spend their time, to which she responded that their lives primarily consist of studying. Even when they are not in class, many students attend supplementary classes.

After middle school, the pressure continues to build. A high school student’s future education relies solely on their performance during this one major pre-college exam, gao kao. In China the schools are categorized into different tiers. When students prepare for the gao kao they apply to two schools in each tier. In the case that a student is weak academically, they are discouraged from even applying to the top colleges.

Another one of my teachers recently described her high school life to me. Compared to my own high school experience her high school days sound exciting, yet rigorous. I feel like her high school experience resembles my own college experience a bit. She lived in a boarding school, meaning she learned to be independent at a young age. I believe her school is relatively standard, but I am not certain. After a full day of classes (literally a full day), she had an extremely strict curfew. A sort of hall monitor makes his or her rounds through the dorm. Whether they are tired or not, the students must sleep. They cannot talk, because they will be heard. Additionally, the power is shut off at a certain time every night. In recalling her experiences, she also nostalgically talked about the moments with friends, shopping in the on-campus market, exploring the different cafeterias, and attending different school events. According to her, the ultimate consequence for misbehavior or misconduct was a call to a student’s parents.

Considering that a child’s behavior is often seen as a reflection of his or her upbringing, when a child misbehaves they disappoint and embarrass their parents. I’ve noticed that more traditional Chinese parenting is more so tough love than in America. In America, political correctness is widely upheld; most people put in effort to not offend anyone for fear of creating to conflict. Children are often encouraged to find and pursue their dreams. In China, parents often project their wishes and hopes onto their children. The most common dream involves schooling, a well-paying (or better yet prestigious) job, marriage, and a household. A lot of parents are critical of their children, when their children do well they ask them why they didn’t do better. Comparisons are drawn and criticisms are thrown on children in hopes of motiving the child to strive and succeed.

So far, I have only been able to record a few of my contemplations. For the remainder of my time here I intend to continue learning and observing. By now, I have come to the obvious conclusion that my life would be drastically different if I had grown up in China. Sometimes I try to imagine an alternate life, but I can only speculate. I believe a trip to the country side would greatly enrich my experience, but I will not have the opportunity to visit the countryside during this trip here. Hopefully I will have a chance another time.


Until next time,



Checking In and Checking Out Chinese Cuisine


Naturally, when travelling to a foreign country, trying regional cuisine comes with the territory. While food unites people universally, food also gives personality to different cultures and regions. I recently learned that many Chinese consider dinner to be the most important meal. Families can eat breakfast or lunch casually, but for dinner, families eat together. I respect such strong familial bonds and devotion.

As for my own experiences, some of the major highlights of my trip involve food. Right from day one we were introduced to the Chinese dinner table culture. Once most of the students arrived and settled into their rooms everyone came together for our first taste of authentic Chinese food. The teachers told us they ordered “safe” foods for our first day. Minutes after we sat down dishes quickly filled up the turntable. Instead of having my own individual dish I had a chance to try several dishes, most of which I still do not know the name of. Since then I learned that I need to pace myself when eating with a group. Just as one dish on the turntable is consumed another comes out to take its place.

After that first day, I have made of point of trying as many different dishes as I can. From home-cooked meals to street food I have had more variety in my meals than I have over the span of my life. Rather than describe everything, I have included images below.

As part of our program the teachers treat the students to dinner every Friday. These “language tables” serve as both rewards for the students’ hard work throughout the week and as casual learning opportunities. The past two language tables included Peking duck and Hotpot. Peking duck is one of Beijing’s proud delicacies for a reason. As wonderful as the flavor of the duck meat and the texture of the duck skin were, I found the hotpot to be especially memorable.

Hot pot’s history extends as far as 1,000 years ago. Originating in Mongolia, hotpot first spread to Southern China. Unlike most unique cuisine, hot pot has been popularized around China. Most local cuisines stay in one area and remain a specialty in that province or city. Sometimes referred to as Chinese fondue, different variations of hot pot have emerged. Sichuan was the first to adopt hotpot. Today Sichuan hotpot, or Chongqing hotpot, is known to be spicy. Beijing often has lamp hot pot, Guangdong has seafood hotpot, and Hong Kong specialized in beef hot pot. Hot pot is further categorized into different soup bases and cooking methods. Some hot pots are dry, but most variations involving cooking at the table. Guangdong hot pot for example has a light soup base with an instant boiling method (涮 shuan = the act of placing foods into the hot pot). As soon as ingredients are cooked they are taken out and dipped into dipping sauces of one’s choice. Another variation includes cooked main meat. With this variation a meat flavor such as fish or mutton dominate the scent and flavor of the water. Yet another variation has all ingredients cooked. Instead of instant boiling, the pot is just meant to keep the food hot. A last type has different soup bases. Stock boiling for a while before using the instant boiling method. In this variation, dipping sauces are integral to the experience.

The restaurant our class went to is a well-known chain called 海底捞火锅 (Hai di lao huo guo). This chain is known for its service. According to one of the teachers if someone goes to eat hot pot alone the restaurant will provide a teddy bear for them to eat with. When we went, the service was extremely upbeat and friendly. Waitresses and waiters were prompt to bring dishes, take away dishes, and aid in the cooking process. Some students were even brought up to dance with the staff members. Later we also watched a young boy perform a sort of noodle dance. He spun and whipped around dough into strands of noodles that would be placed in our hot. We partook in the instant boiling process with two different soup stocks: mushroom on one side and tomato on the other. Timing is key for a successful hot pot experience. Thinly sliced meats, seafood, and various vegetables all have different cooking times. The waiters and waitresses tell the customs how long to cook each food. We were also given aprons and plastic bags for our phones and glasses. With the shàun method, the teachers unceasingly placed food on our plates as they prevented the boiling water from ever being empty. As a result, I ate much more than I should have that day, but I’m not really complaining. More so than normal I had a very balanced meal that day. My experience was extremely filling, yet fresh, delicious, and enjoyable. A sense of community accompanies the hot pot tradition. The concept of freshly cooked ingredients, sharing among friends and family, and gathering around a round table are all aspects of hot pot’s appeal. Hot pot is physically warming and heartwarming.

Touching Down in Beijing

First Experiences… (6.14.2017)

     As thoughts of excitement, apprehension, and awe fought for attention in my head, I found it very difficult to sleep on the plane ride to Beijing. When I finally landed, I felt disoriented as I made my way through customs hoping no one would try to engage me in conversation so that I could focus on making sense of my surroundings. After I exited customs I was immediately greeted by one of my best friends, who happens to be a local Beijinger. For my first two days in Beijing her family took care of me until it was time to head to Beijing University.

Having a Beijinger take you around makes for a whole different experience. Rather than following a typical tour group, I was introduced to my friend’s childhood as she exposed me to some of Beijing’shidden jems. One of my first insights into the beautiful culture of Beijing came with a visit to Taoranting park — a locally famous park. Taoranting, known as Joyful park, is an urban garden spanning roughly 146 acres. With garden design extending back as far as 3,000 years ago three prominent garden types emerged: palace gardens, temple gardens, and scholar gardens.

Built during the Qing Dynasty this park is named after its Taoran pavilion, and was a popular destination for scholars to compose different works, relax, and admire nature. Since construction, Taoranting has been maintained as a tourist site of historical significance and beauty. According to my friend, we went on a less crowded day. I, on the other hand, still observed quite a few people; moreover, I noticed that everyone there was either upbeat and full of energy or at peace. The park is literally meant for everyone from children to grandparents. We passed several different groups of dancers who would welcome anyone to join. Additionally, I saw individuals practicing tai chi, exercising, or reciting poetry. When we ascended a little mountain, we stumbled upon elderly individuals singing and playing instruments. Although everyone was following their own melody I enjoyed the dissonant chorus of music.

     We subsequently rented a small boat to go around the grand lake. As we went around a few people smiled at us and spoke to us from the shore. The entire experience was a wonderful and memorable insight into one of China’s many microcosm communities.

I also had the pleasure of meeting some of my friend’s family members. Their hospitality overwhelmed me as her family members all greeted me at the door and set down a tableful of various dishes. Her amiable grandfather, who I learned is an extremely free spirit, even took the initiative to buy me a subway card before I had arrived. Coming from a small family I have always been curious to experience a big family gathering. Although the language barrier hindered my ability to communicate, once my Chinese improves I intend to return later to thank them all properly.

Looking back, I could not have had a better start to my journey here in Beijing. If my auspicious beginning is any indication of the two months to come, I cannot wait to begin learning, witnessing, and experiencing life in Beijing.