Post-Program Reflection

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.

Post- China Reflection

Having only taken one year of Chinese, living in China and trying to navigate life only speaking Chinese was very difficult at first. Simple tasks became more difficult and a lot of thought went in to everything that I tried to say. However, as the summer went on, I became more and more comfortable using Chinese to speak to locals. Being immersed in a language really helped me learn unfamiliar words and phrases. I would often listen to people’s conversations and try to figure out what they were talking about. I think I made a lot of progress during the summer. I can now discuss multiple different topics in Chinese and feel relatively comfortable doing so.

Although I believe my Chinese language education is extremely important, I feel like my exposure to Chinese daily life and culture is one of my greatest takeaways from the trip. As someone who has lived in the same small city for his entire life, seeing one of the largest cities on the opposite side of the world was a once in a lifetime experience. China is so different from America. It’s almost so different that it is difficult to explain, so I am extremely happy I had the opportunity to experience it for myself.

I am continuing my Chinese study back at Notre Dame. I plan to major in Chinese and use it to get an International Business Certificate. I am excited to take Chinese culture classes and discuss issues facing the country in my Chinese class.

 

Post-Program Reflections

As my summer in China comes to an end, I look back and see how much I’ve learned in the past two months. With a course as intensive as the Chinese Program at Peking University, my Chinese has improved immensely. Not only have I picked up new terms and grammar patterns, but I have also grown to feel comfortable speaking Chinese, at times even preferring it over English! But beyond my language acquisition, I found myself learning just as much in the subject of China’s culture. Although I’ve grown up in a Chinese household, nothing compares to living in Beijing, surrounded by locals 24/7. I truly felt immersed in a different lifestyle during my time in Beijing.

Coming back from this experience, I really realized the value in studying abroad. Not only can you learn about the subject of your interest under different methods, but you can simultaneously learn about different cultures which in turn enhances your learning process. There’s so much to learn from people that come from a different background from you, and experiencing at a substantial degree is only something attainable through study abroad. If someone was considering applying for an SLA Grant or preparing to start their own summer language study, I would highly encourage them to go through with it and go all out. It really is an experience like no other.  (290)

So where do I go from here? I certainly hope to maintain the Chinese I’ve learned by consistently practicing it, and hopefully over time, I will continue to grow more and more comfortable with the language. I will keep everything I’ve learned from my SLA Grant experience during the rest of my academic career, as I’ve learned not only new ways to learn, but also new perspectives I should hold as a continue my education. One of the most interesting things that I learned about in China regarding education was the different values they put on different aspects of education. That is something that I will keep in mind as I continue my own education, remembering what truly is important.

This summer really has been one that I will never forget. I have to thank all the teachers, organizers, and fellow students that were involved, and of course SLA, for allowing me to participate in this amazing experience!

Introduction

06/13/2017

My name is Marie-Anne Roche. Minoring in Chinese, I want to go to China this summer to improve my Chinese level and learn more about its culture. I love travelling and I am very excited for this adventure.

I originally contemplated the idea of going to Shanghai to take classes or do an internship. But after talking to my professors, I decided to go to Beijing because it will give me a better opportunity to speak Chinese.

I went to China twice. The first when I was eight years old. My dad had a week long conference and decided to bring me with him. I spent a solid part of my week with Beijing Da Xue’s, Beijing University’s, students. It’s funny to look back on it today, because I am heading to Beijing University, for two months. The first time I came here, I was overwhelmed by Beijing immensity. I thought it was crowded, and didn’t feel modern at all. I was chocked by people spitting everywhere. I later went to Hong Kong, which I enjoyed a lot more. I thought, it was cleaner and I love the city’s architecture. I don’t really know what to expect of Beijing, how it will have changed since 2004. I don’t think I will recognize the city and I am very happy to be able to go back.

I am a little nervous with my Chinese level. I hope I will be able to speak with people. Hopefully, by the time the end of the semester comes around I will be able to hold a conversation with Chinese people.

Yesterday, I bought a travel guide of China and started reading all there was to know about Beijing. It sure sounds like an exciting place and I am excited to see what these two months will be like.

Goodbye, for now, China

Yellow Mountain, 6:30am

I have a hard time realizing that my time in China is over. After classes ended last Friday, I travelled down to Shanghai, Huangshan and Hangzhou.

Shanghai, skyline

I am glad I was able to stretch my Chinese trip a little longer. The South is indeed very different, quieter, less polluted and greener. I witnessed the most beautiful sunrise I have ever seen on Huangshan, the yellow mountain, the beautiful skyline of Shanghai and the peace and tranquility of Hangzhou’s West Lake.

These nine weeks in China have been such an enriching and fruitful experience. First of all because I was able to drastically improve my Chinese level. Second because I was able to discover and learn so much more of the Chinese culture. After visiting Shanghai, I am very glad I decided to stay in Beijing. Shanghai is comparable to New York, I really enjoyed walking around the city which was less crowded than Beijing, but people’s accents were very different from Beijing and very hard to understand. The number of foreigners was also a lot higher, when I spoke to local in Chinese, most didn’t understand what I would say or would immediately answer me in English. It was almost frustrating to have them answer me in English after going through the effort of speaking in Chinese. It was more rewarding to speak Chinese in Beijing because there, people would only speak in Chinese, communicating was harder but also funnier. Seeing how much my conversations improved over the eight weeks of the program was very gratifying.

Beijing Da Xue

I was also amazed by Beijing’s culture. I loved how the old mixes in with  modern architecture. And how, the neighborhood of Beijing Da Xue and Wudaokou where we leaved was so different from Tiananmen or Sanlitun or the Hutongs. Beijing offered endless possibilities to explore and discover different people. Among my favorite were the Hutongs were you could witness an older culture and Sanlitun where I was able to meet many expats.

I am also very grateful the program organized so many activities, our trip to Xi’an or the afternoon at the elementary school for example.

Middle school students, Beijing

I can’t even start to explain how thankful I am to Notre Dame for organizing such a program and for the CSLC and the Liu Institute for helping me fund it.

I am also thankful for this trip because it opened many more opportunities. I realized I wanted to go back to China, to travel and potentially to live. For now, I say goodbye to Beijing and China but I know I will be back shortly.

 

Stranger on the bus

Beijing, China

I think the most common encounters with Chinese people are made through stares. When we walk around Beijing, we often catch people starring at us, people ask to take pictures, or just randomly sneakily take pictures. Sometimes people start talking to us. Most of the interactions are a little odd because I feel observed and it is a little uncomfortable.

One day, I was taking the bus with two friends to go from Beihai Park to Sanlitun, the modern, business district. The bus is very convenient, when there is not too much traffic, which is not a common occurrence in Beijing. It is often pretty crowded and a little slow but when you have the time, it is an easy way to watch the Beijing landscape. That day, we struggled to find the bus stop; it was hidden further away than Maps indicated. We finally got on the bus. It wasn’t too crowded that day. We were standing on the bus, talking in our broken Chinese, as we would usually do. After a couple minutes, we felt the stare of an elder man, sitting in the seat next to us.

Nanluoguxiang Hutong

He started talking to us, asking us if we had gone to Nanluoguxiang, the newly renovated, most famous Hutong in Beijing. When we said yes, he asked us where we had gone and if we liked it. I thought it was very pretty, although very crowded and a little too pretty to be an accurate description of the typical Beijing Hutong. Hutong are traditional neighborhoods, made up of one story houses, with a square courtyard on the inside. They are the image of an older Beijing, which is a nice step away from the noisy and busy streets of the city.

Street vendor at night, Nanluoguxiang

Most of the time they don’t have bathrooms integrated so they share a public bathroom on each street, easily recognizable from the smell, meters away. The man told us he used to live in one when he was a kid. From the looks of it and the words I understand in his sentence he didn’t like it. ‘太小,没有空间’, it was too small, there was no space, too crowded. He thought they should be destroyed to build new housing. Luckily for us, we had studied construction related vocabulary so we were able to express ourselves. I told him I thought they were pretty and they created the charm of Beijing, the mix of old and new, that makes Beijing so peculiar. The man seemed very amused by our conversation and attempted to convince me to move to Beijing to live because opportunities were endless for young foreigners.

For some reasons, the conversation drifted to beauty standards. Our friend group  was made up of a Vietnamese American girl, a White American guy and me, a White French girl. The man seemed to think Elliott and me, looked very similar. He thought we were brother and sister. That sounded very odd to the both of us because Elliott is blond and I am a brunette. In my opinion, we look nothing alike, but in the old man’s opinion, all White people look

The man on the bus

alike. Our stop was approaching and we had to say goodbye to the man. As I stepped of the bus, I was struck by how different perspectives are in different countries and I was glad this old man started talking to us because he allowed me to see from his point of view for a couple minutes.

Post-Trip Reflections

  1. Since this was my 4th year studying Chinese, I was more or less already prepared for what the language learning experience would be for this summer. However, there is an undeniable advantage to learning a language in its native country: exposure. Learning a language when you are forced to utilize it in your every active moment reinforces what’s learned in the classroom in ways that cannot be replicated in another country. Furthermore, learning language in the culture where it is spoken provides the student insight into how language is used colloquially, the subtle differences between learned speech and practical speech. The opportunity to learn medical terminology in China absolutely satisfied my goals going into the program, and I would do it again in a heartbeat.
  2. As a result of this experience, I am more informed and eloquent about matters relating to Chinese culture, society, history, both in Chinese and in English. I find that I can comfortably discuss social issues that before I not only had no opinion about, but perhaps did not even know. My worldview is more aware of how culture influences one’s attitudes towards foreign topics, as I had many discussions with Chinese individuals about America, and vice versa. For someone interested in applying for an SLA grant, I would highly recommend doing some preliminary research about relevant and current social topics. In day-to-day interactions these might not be relevant, but once your language fluency allows you to engage in higher level discussions, these topics are by far the most informative and interesting.
  3. I hope to apply the language and cultural competencies I picked up in China to my medical education, research, and medical career. I am particularly interested in how cultural attitudes inform or influence social attitudes and behavior relating to healthcare. For example, Chinese physicians face the risk of personal injury/death from disgruntled patients or families. This phenomenon is nonexistent in the US; why? What are the underlying social factors that determine the physician-patient relationship and influence their interactions? By studying Chinese language, culture, and healthcare in China, I have a stronger background from which to engage in multi-disciplinary and cross-cultural research to understand these phenomena.

Post- China Reflections

After spending approximately 2 months in China, my global perspective transformed dramatically. Being able to navigate different cultural landscapes and understand a drastically different culture is my biggest takeaway from this program.

My biggest difficulty in China was understanding the notorious “er er” intonation from Beijing locals. Most people who don’t take Chinese don’t know that there are many different accents and dialects, not unlike English. For example, “where” in Mandarin can be pronounced ” na li” or “na er.” Based on the intonation and context, you are supposed to understand the other person. In Beijing, people use the “er” sound for many words. In a classroom setting, unless your teacher is from the Beijing area, they won’t use this pronunciation, so it can be  very hard for foreigners to get used to it. After 2 months in China, I have finally overcome this difficulty, and can casually speak to Beijing locals. I have definitely met my goals during this program.

As a result of this experience, I have gained insight as to how Chinese people spend their daily lives, what they eat, but most importantly, how they think. In the future, I want to work closely with Chinese companies, so I need to know important cultural nuances. For example, gifting a Chinese person a clock is a huge cultural taboo. Knowing little things like that will definitely give me an advantage in a competitive business atmosphere. My advice for someone who was considering applying for an SLA Grant or preparing to start their own summer language study is to try as hard as possible to learn things that could help for your future job, not just fun trivia knowledge; it could prove invaluable in the future.

I guess the ultimate question is, where do I go from here? Well, I believe that as long as I keep studying Mandarin, using WeChat to communicate with my new Chinese friends, and continue practicing with my classmates, I will maintain my oral fluency. In the future, I plan on going to law school, and then eventually, pursuing a career in corporate law. Where does Chinese fit in this, you might ask? I would like to help build bridges between American companies and Chinese companies through law and business. This is why I am double majoring in Finance and Chinese right now. My experience this summer allowed me to learn cultural nuances that will undoubtedly help me in my future endeavors.

 

Post-Program: Final Thoughts

I am deeply grateful for this summer’s experience in Beijing. It was my first trip to mainland China, and I am so glad to have had two full months of Chinese learning at China’s best university. I learned to think creatively, especially in situations where the language barrier became a serious inconvenience. Once I entered a store where there was not a word of English anywhere, and despite my limited Chinese, I used what basic vocabulary I knew to find help in getting what I needed. Body language, careful observance, and preparation are so helpful when getting around local places. Being fully immersed in this very Chinese city also helped me understand the importance of practicing speaking a new language. Hearing and speaking Mandarin daily was one of the most significant parts of the Chinese-learning experience. Right now, I am making it a goal to regularly watch, or listen to Chinese television and music to help keep the sound of Mandarin in my head. The friends I made in Beijing also encouraged me to find other Mandarin-speaking people at my home to practice speaking Chinese with.

Journaling throughout this program has also helped me to record the process of my adjustment to life in Beijing. Learning to be flexible and alert was necessary to interacting with a different set of people, but I found that patience and kindness were equally valuable. When I didn’t have the Chinese words to express myself, body language and attitude were more useful than I expected. Losing my way in Wudaokou led to conversation with locals that consisted of a lot of laughing and nodding.

The SLA Grant experience has encouraged me to continue looking for ways to make unique experiences more meaningful. During our various outings, I took notes in my journal for our blog posts. A little while passed, and I began writing journals for the sake of preserving and re-living my favorite China experiences. This summer was the first time I felt that I had truly gotten to know Chinese language, and my hope is to build on my study abroad experience by reading more on China. At Peking University, I learned the Chinese way of learning, and these are methods that I will apply to the coming years at Notre Dame.

The Fighting Irish are a match for terra-cotta warriors any day

Just What I Didn’t Need

Beijing, for a long time, was known as a city of bicycles. Even now, armies of bicycles crowd the gray sidewalks of Beijing and roll down the streets alongside cars. In some places along the sidewalk, the space left for walking has been so narrowed by bikes that it feels the sidewalk is more a parking lot for rows of rental bikes than a convenience for pedestrians.

Encountering technological issues just when trying to pay for an Ofo rental bike

Unlike the recreational purpose most bike-riding has in the U.S., Chinese depend on their bikes as serious forms of transportation to get them to and from work, school, or wherever they need to go. Naturally, we had many long conversations about biking in Beijing, and often compared the biking culture of the States and China. In fact, bicycles are so important to Chinese life that a biking phrase has developed and become a common saying when you find yourself in an unfortunate situation. The phrase literally means “my bike chain has dropped.” It is typically used when you find yourself lacking the very thing you need most. For example, if you lost your bus ticket when in a real rush to get somewhere, this would be considered “dropping your bike chain”, because you lost the most necessary item at the worst possible moment. This phrase seems to be a very special Chinese saying, since biking has been a very important part of surviving and thriving in China.

I did hear a few younger folks use the phrase to describe an especially inconvenient situation but I did not catch the phrase on television or on the streets of Beijing. It is a bit more of an established saying, so a wider range of age groups are familiar with the phrase.

When I eventually decided to try my hand at city biking in Beijing, I had a literal experience with my bicycle chain dropping. Hoping to get to class quickly, I found an Ofo rental bike. As I tried to put my foot down on the pedal to move forward, I looked down and noticed that the bike’s chain had dropped and the bike was no use… it was exactly what I didn’t need at that moment, and truly a “dropped bike chain” situation!