Reflecting back upon my language learning experience in China, the rate at which we learned was astonishing. While abroad, every day was spend fully immersed in the Chinese language, so that even when class was not in session our opportunities to practice our language skills were abundant. By using these opportunities to talk with locals and learn more about their way of life, myself and my classmate were able to better integrate ourselves into the culture of China. There were certainly incidences in which Chinese culture seemed strange or backwards to me, but I always tried to enter a situation with an open mind. Beyond gaining exposure to an unforgettable number of experiences, my time in China allowed my Chinese ability to improve by leaps and bounds. My fluency has reached greater heights and after my time in China I can easily discuss complex social topics. Overall, my Chinese improvement exceeded what I imagined possible.
I am exceedingly grateful to have had the opportunity to travel to China and continue to learn a language that I am exceedingly passionate about. Perhaps the greatest effect that this program had was teaching me to not be afraid and push outside of my comfort zone. Everyday I was faced with challenges and new experiences that I could have easily ignored, but I chose not to and as a result created some of the best memories in my life. To anyone even thinking about applying for an SLA grant, I urge you to do it. As cliche as it sounds, study abroad truly does change your life. Everyday should be treated as an adventure, a chance to go out and experience something amazing. Study abroad opportunities should be cherished as some of the best parts of your youth.
Now that I have arrived back at Notre Dame, I will continue to take Chinese classes each semester to maintain and continue to improve my proficiency. Beyond just continuing to learn in the classroom, I hope to someday get an internship or even a job in China. Since high school my future career and Chinese have been intertwined, something that I do not see changing anytime soon. It is my wish to continue my Chinese language education for the rest of my life. Until I can reach those aspirations however, I’ll continue to practice Chinese with my friends and siblings. My return from China does not signal the ending of my Chinese education, merely the beginning of a new chapter.
In China, the import taxes on luxury goods is extremely high, leaving Chinese people unable to purchase name brand products from foreign countries. This situation has created an expansive market for fake products within China. Two of the most popular shopping locations for such products are the Silk Market and the Pearl Market. When entering into these establishments, the sheer number of products is overwhelming. Rows upon rows of bags, scarves, shoes, and jewelry overflowing with fake name brands. At each little shop, aggressive saleswomen call out to anyone who walks by the shop. Common calls such as “pretty girl, you want a bag?”, echo throughout the market. Even if you just bought the exact product they are offering, the salespeople will try to sell you a different color.
When shopping at these markets it is extremely important to know how to bargain. Walking throughout the store, one can easily spot foreigners being ripped off. Bags that you wouldn’t pay more than a hundred yuan for others can pay something in the high hundreds. When bargaining it is essential to be focused otherwise the salespeople will take advantage of you. One of the best strategies one can employ is the walk away. Often times the women will give outrageous prices and refuse to bring them down, but if you begin to walk away it will more often than not break them into dropping their price much closer to your offer. If you are willing to dedicate time and energy into bargaining with these shop owners, you can get great prices for name brand products look alikes.
A large difference exists between the quality of different fake products in China, something that is reflected in the price differences in the Pearl Market versus the Silk Market. At the Pearl Market you can get almost anything for under 100 yuan. At the Silk Market however, if you offer them too low of a price they will kick you out of the store and sometimes yell at you. Looking at the purses in the Silk Market, much of the quality there is almost identical to purchasing the real thing, if you know where to look. There is nothing quite like these markets in the US and the experience is unique upon itself.
Originating during the Yuan Dynasty, Beijing Roast Duck is one of the city’s most renowned dishes. Throughout the dynasties the dish grew more and more popular until it became a mainstream dish for the social elite. The cooking preparation practices over time have become streamlined into the form it has today. This dish is so characteristic of Beijing, that a trip here would not be complete without trying it.
In the restaurant I visited, each duck was prepared in a glass walled kitchen so the customers could watch. Each duck is slowly roasted in a hung oven and then carved into thin slices to be served. Each slice was then laid out on a large platter, a mix of meat, skin, and a combination of the two. Each customer is then provided a private pallet with a variety of sauces and spices. When eating the meat, one has an number of options: wrapping the meat in a thin pancake, eating it with cucumber, and a variety of other savory sauces. The skin is more of a crispy delicacy and is often dipped in sugar or some sweet sauce when consumed. One of the best characteristics of this dish is how it can be altered to fit each person’s preference. With a whole group sharing the duck, each person can get a mix of interesting flavors and combinations that they enjoy.
Anyone who visits Beijing needs to sit down for a delicious meal of roast duck. One of the first dishes that every Chinese student learns about is Beijing roast duck. Chinese people from all over China rave about this dish and insist that everyone passing through the city should try it. For hundreds of years, roast duck has been a favorite of Chinese people from the lowest class to the highest class. This relatively simple dish can bring friends, coworkers, and family together for a delicious, savory meal that anyone can enjoy.
From the first moment I stepped off the plane onto Chinese soil, the differences between America and China were obvious. In America, the population is an ever changing mix of nationalities and ethnicities. China, however, is a largely homogenous population lacking in diversity, because of this my brown hair, pale skin, and blue eyes stood out easily in the crowd. In restaurants, on the subway, at touristy locations people openly stared, discussing us in loud voices, many talking photographs. If our group is posing all together, people will out their phones and start taking their own photos. With China lacking in terms of diversity, many Chinese people have never seen or rarely see foreigners or as we are called in Chinese ‘WaiGuo Ren’.
As a result, some people will have their children stand next to us for a photo, others run after us asking for us to pose with them and their friends. One day a friend and I were exploring the lake on campus when a tour group came upon us, for the next fifteen minutes or so we took countless pictures with preteen girls smiling and holding up peace signs.
When I first arrived in China, this phenomenon fascinated me and I wasn’t bothered by people taking my photo. As time progressed, however it began to grow irritating for people to openly talk about you and take photos without your permission. If you asked them to stop they often laugh and ignore you.
By this point in the trip, I have adapted to this fascination and no longer resent it. Some of my best memories were directly caused by the WaiGuo Ren effect. Once when traveling back to Beijing via overnight train, I was brushing my teeth when a young boy of about 7 burst through the door, brandished his finger, yelled “WaiGou Ren”, and ran away. Funny moments like this have been scattered throughout my time here in China. From small children staring is shock to old men yelling out “hello” as you go by, life in China for a foreigner transforms one into something similar to a small time celebrity.
(We had to ask a man to stop taking our photo when posing for this.)
While China has 56 different ethnic groups, the largest group Han Chinese represents about 94% of the population. As a result, minorities are often far and few between. During our programs trip to Xi’an, we took a trip the the famed Muslim street. Traditional food and tea from the Chinese Muslim background lined the street, right along side small trinkets and souvenirs. After talking to both Muslims and tourists to the area, it seems that the general attitude in China towards minorities is keep the two cultures peacefully separate.These different lifestyles, belief systems, and customs are able to coexist but very little intermixing of the culture occurs. With so many ethnic groups coexisting in China is seems somewhat strange that such little interaction between lifestyles occurs, but with Han Chinese representing such a large proportion of the population, the traditionally ‘Chinese’ life is almost exclusively derived from the Han background.
Another interesting characteristic of the Chinese majority is whether a person is classified as Chinese or not. A minority that exists in Chinese is the children of ex-pats of ex-pats who have lived in the country for more than a decade. In America, an individual merely need to immigrate to the country and they can be considered an American. This is not the case in China, however; if a person does not look like the Han Chinese ethnicity, they are immediately assumed to not be Chinese, and to not know how to speak the Chinese language. Even if someone born and raised in China will be told that they are not Chinese due to their ethnic background.
This characteristic of the general Chinese population may seem somewhat uninviting and closed off, but it is just a reality of life in China. For over 5000 years, the Chinese culture has grown and changed into many different factions, each with unique customs and characteristics. While the majority of the Chinese population views their country’s minorities as separate entities, the remaining 55 ethnic groups are still vibrate, important parts of this ancient culture.
The Chinese language is steeped in thousands of years of history, and over time popular phrases have developed and appeared in everyday life. An interesting characteristic of the language is their tendency for simplification. While this is not specifically slang, this characteristic makes studying abroad in China easier for students who are still learning the language. Many of the streets are lined with shops that have names describing what type of products the store sells. In this way, even students with a basic knowledge of the language are able to find the stores they need.
During my time studying the Chinese language, I have learned a number of slang terms. Curious to what some general Chinese citizens had to say about different slang terms, I interviewed a few. The first slang term was 也是醉了 (yeshi zuile), the literal translation of the term is ‘also drunk’ but in colloquial use the terms is used to express an individual’s frustration with something unreasonable. The older woman I discussed this with seemed rather unfamiliar with the term, the reason for which became clear after talking with a younger woman. She explained that the saying was most commonly used on online forums rather than in face to face conversations. Much like lol or omg in the English language, this saying helps people easily communicate their feelings over the internet. This more modern saying hasn’t yet had the chance to spread through all the generations. Only time will tell if the saying lasts or if it is merely a fad.
Another saying that my Chinese teacher in high school taught me was 二百五 (er bai wu), the literal meaning of this slang is just 250 but the colloquial use is to call a person very stupid. Both of the women that I talked to disliked the term and said it was not used in polite conversation. Such a negative connotation surrounds the phrase that many times shopkeepers won’t sell an item for that exact amount, choosing instead to add or subtract one yuan. It seems strange that slang can be as simple as a number, and yet still have such a negative meaning. Even with negative sayings and words, the Chinese language is beautiful and diverse. Through my increasing fluency, each day I learn more and more about the country and culture that I have come to love.
When exploring Beijing and other areas of China, the presence of American influence is obvious. From t-shirts with random, nonsensical english words to four story H&M stores, American culture is ever present, particularly in big cities. Locals are for the most part very excited to speak with foreigners and learn more about different cultures around the world. While enthusiastic to speak with us, many know very little about actual life in America. When asked about their opinions on America most responded with positive attitudes but knew little to nothing about life in America beyond clips from tv shows or movies. Within China, the possession of American goods shows a relatively higher social status. So regardless of one’s actual knowledge of America, many Chinese people still crave western products.
One particular topic that came up in many conversations was their interest in our opinions on Presidents Trump and Obama. In China, criticizing the government is not taken lightly, so many people were interested to hear our true opinions on the American government. During one class, my classmate and I were discussing with our professors what sort of news they would hear about America in their daily life. Interestingly, one teacher commented that leading up to the election there was a fair amount in the news about America and all the drama surrounding the election. After the election however, there has been very little about the state of affairs within America.
During a program trip to a middle school, I had the opportunity to give a presentation on what life at an American middle school was like. During the question and answer section, the students were shocked to hear that American students had large amounts of free time during the weekends and about an hour of homework a night. For many of these students, their afternoons were filled with homework and their weekends loaded with extra classes and practices for instruments. Interacting with these students and learning about how different that experiences of middle school students were in China and the U.S, helped me to realize that these two countries lifestyles still have an ocean of differences between them.