The Courage to Speak

Finding a taxi in Beirut is the easiest thing, especially for someone who looks like a foreigner. Without fail, every taxi driver that passes me as I’m walking down the street slows down, honks at me, and pauses for a beat to see if I need a ride. Most of these taxis can operate as either a private taxi or what is called a service taxi (pronounced “serveece”). The latter continues to pick up and drop off other passengers on its way to your destination and costs significantly less than a private taxi – usually about 2,000 Lebanese Lira, or $1.50. If there’s a lot of traffic or the destination is especially far (traversing East and West Beirut, for example), then it will cost “service-ein” – which translates to 2 services or 4,000 L.L. The availability of service taxis makes movement around the city incredibly easy and affordable.

Not long after I arrived to Beirut, I worked up the courage to speak to a driver in Arabic. As the car pulled up to me, I mustered all my confidence and said, “Service-ein a Gemmayzeh?” The driver glared at me, responded with a brusque “no”, and drove away. I remember this incident very clearly, because I stood on the sidewalk for a few minutes feeling completely shamed before finally deciding to avoid taxis and trek across the city on foot. For the rest of my stay in Beirut, I either walked to my destination or allowed my friends to negotiate with the taxi drivers. It’s such a stubborn thing to do, and I’m not egocentric enough to believe that his decline had anything to do with me or my abilities as a student of Arabic. Still, the more I reflect on it, the more I realize how frequently this pattern has emerged over the course of the summer. It has to do with the vulnerability of learning a new language and the ways I tend to struggle against it. I read an article not long ago about exactly this topic, and it was comforting to know that I’m not the only person running into these issues.

Biking Beirut

Whenever you start something new, no matter what it is, it’s likely that you won’t be very good at it right away. Maybe you’ll defy the odds and discover that you’re a prodigy, but most of the time it will take a lot of practice before you reach proficiency. And maybe you’ll never get there. I think we have all, to varying degrees, recognized and accepted this. And it’s fine, really. For a lot of hobbies, it’s easy enough to wait awhile before sharing your talents with the world. If I’m learning to play the violin, for instance, I could practice in my room until I reach that point where the screeching begins to resemble music. If I’m learning to draw, I can hide away my scribbles until I produce something that I’m proud of. But learning a new language doesn’t work the same way. It is necessarily an interpersonal and intercultural endeavor. It’s not a skill that can be learned well in isolation.

Language learning requires a period of time when you are going to pronounce letters incorrectly, mess up the grammar, and use the wrong words. You are going to say things that don’t make sense, and sometimes people will misunderstand you or revert to English to avoid the hassle. There will probably be cultural missteps, and at some point you will ask someone to repeat themselves over and over and over again, still unable to comprehend the words. And sometimes the way you speak will cause people to laugh at you. Practicing a language requires you to accept the fact that you are going to look a little silly from time to time. This isn’t something I thought about when I first decided to learn Arabic. It never occurred to me how often I would feel a bit foolish, or like a child, or like my personality has been stripped from me as I stand in an awkward silence, unable to express myself or understand those around me, making a mental note to learn how to say, “I swear, I’m not as incompetent as I seem right now.”

There are a number of students in my program who seem to be comfortable with this vulnerability. They show no fear or inhibitions as they converse in Arabic with as many people as possible, always looking for opportunities to practice, always forcing themselves to keep speaking. What’s incredible to me is that some of these people speak truly horrible Arabic. I stare in awe as they enter into conversations completely untethered, bumbling through their words and butchering pronunciation. When the person they’re speaking with laughs or corrects them, which happens frequently, they just smile and keep on going. These people are my heroes.


While I aspire to be this kind of learner, I more often fall into the category of people who obsess over grammar and carefully map out each sentence before speaking it aloud, making sure that it has been constructed perfectly. This has served me well for homework and exams, but it has proven to be a major hindrance to spoken communication. Before asking a question or making a comment, I find myself repeating it over and over in my head until it’s burned into my memory and can be reproduced exactly as I had practiced it. Even within the safety of a classroom I often end each comment with a raised intonation as if to check-in with the instructor and make sure that everything has been correctly stated and the intended meaning has landed. As if to signify, “I realize that there might be a mistake somewhere in this sentence, and I just want you know that I am already aware of it.” I can tell you with certainty that this is not an effective method for progressing in a language. I have been working dutifully all summer to try and break these habits.

As the weeks passed, I have definitely improved. Somewhere around Week 4, something clicked and I was suddenly able to follow along in class. The repertoire of things I am able to say without pausing to think first has probably tripled. And there is a small subset of Arabic words that I can now hear and immediately register without having to translate them. This has been immensely encouraging and has made it easier for me to stick with the work and keep going. Even with all this progress though, I am still trying to grant myself the freedom to look stupid. To happily make mistakes and laugh them off. I keep hoping that this is also something that will “click”. That one day I’ll suddenly be open and relaxed, shrugging off errors and putting myself out there. I am never going to see most of these people again, so what does it matter anyway? And do I really think that waitress in Hamra noticed or cared about the way I pronounce my ayins? Of course not. So let’s just vow to get over this. Language learning is not for perfectionists.



The Great Debate: Fusha or Ammiya?

In a previous post, I had briefly mentioned the separation between colloquial Arabic and formal Arabic, as well as the difficulties this separation poses for students who are trying to learn and apply the language. It has long been a debate among those who teach Arabic whether it is better to begin with Fusha (standard) and move into Ammiya (colloquial), or whether it’s better to move in the opposite direction. Even during my placement exam for this program, I had to write a short essay in Arabic about which side of the debate I agree with. As with most debates, there are solid and convincing arguments for each side.

By learning Fusha first, you can learn the mechanics of the language – the roots and patterns in each word, and the way they can be manipulated, almost mathematically, to help you infer and conjugate an array of nouns, gerunds, and verbs both active and passive. For the academics among us, the formal language can help us to read books, poetry, research articles, and newspapers in Arabic. It helps us to communicate in scholarly and professional settings, and it endows us with the bare bones needed to navigate across any country in the Arab world. Using Fusha, I can generally get by (with varying degrees of ease) whether I am traveling in Lebanon, Tunisia, Oman, or Sudan. Knowing only Ammiya restricts us to a specific locale and makes it difficult to apply the rules of Arabic to infer new words and verbal constructions. For these reasons, I often find myself arguing in favor of the “Fusha first” contingent.

Pomegranate Tree

A pomegranate tree in Deir al-Qamar. Interestingly, the Arabic word for pomegranate (ramman) is the same word for grenade.

Yet, my time in Lebanon has had me questioning this position. It’s true that Fusha is useful for the Gulf countries, as their dialect is incredibly similar to the formal style. In other countries (e.g., Iraq, Palestine, Jordan), the education system places a great amount of importance on teaching Fusha in primary and secondary schools so that most of the population can understand and speak the formal language when necessary. However, Lebanon does not fit into either of these categories. Their education system operates almost entirely in English and French. Even in higher education, universities like AUB and Lebanese American University teach their courses in English, while Université Saint-Joseph teaches in French. Ammiya is used for almost everything else. Even in the Summer Arabic Program, many of the classes and lectures have fused Fusha with Ammiya in such a way that it was necessary to learn a certain degree of both languages just to follow along.


Here is a graffitied elephant statue that I first saw on AUB’s campus in Summer 2015. I happened upon it again this past summer, stored in what looked to be an abandoned parking lot on the opposite end of the city. A month later, I saw it again outside of Beiteddine Palace – which is an hour’s drive outside of Beirut. I don’t know why this elephant and I keep meeting in new places, but I’m starting to feel bonded to it.

Knowing the local dialect helps you to immerse yourself in a given context and learn the culture, regardless of which Arab country you happen to be visiting. And in a place like Lebanon, Ammiya is not just a helpful tool for cultural immersion; it is a fundamental requirement for it. If you want to avoid English and French, the dialect is necessary for interacting with people in any meaningful way. Fusha may be the language of classical literature and politics, but Ammiya is the people’s language – the language of ordering food at restaurants, of asking for directions, and negotiating with taxi drivers. It’s the language of asking someone how their day has been and how their family is doing. You can’t know Lebanon without learning Ammiya.

The divide between these two forms of Arabic has led me to reflect on my language education during the program – particularly the frustration that, yes, I can have conversations about any number of topics spanning history, religion, violence, and politics in the Middle East. But I cannot explain to the health center why I’m not feeling well. This is a realization that has been sitting uneasy with me this entire summer, and something that I will need to revisit when deciding next steps for my Arabic education.

What I learned

Hello everyone,

This study abroad experience taught me much more than just a language. For instance, I learned quite a bit about the language acquisition process as well. At the beginning of the program, I felt as though I was making no progress. Toward the end, however, all of a sudden I made a huge jump. I still do not really understand how it happened. Of course the program was the reason, but the suddenness of the change was shocking. I think it was very interesting.

Further, I learned about the culture of Japan. I did not really have to confront the culture; it confronted me. Just being in Japan, there was no escaping the constant immersion to which I was subjected. Even hanging out with American friends, the Japanese culture was ever-present and permeating. Sitting on the floor for meals, eating, bathing, sleeping. Everything is different.

I did not really experience culture shock like some others that I know. Throughout the program I held the view that my home was superior. Because of this, I missed my hometown a little. But the culture is not as off-putting as simply being away from home.

I believe, additionally, that I achieved the goals that I set for myself. My language skills have kept pace with my peers who have studied similar content in a much longer amount of time.

From this experience, I can definitively say that America is still the greatest nation on Earth. But this certainly does not mean that I had a unpleasant time. I loved everything and everyone. That is why I can say that Japan on its best day cannot beat America on a bad one.

If anything, my worldview has definitely fixed its heading toward exactly where it was heading before I left. Now I have seen firsthand the havoc that cultural socialism has wreaked on the minds of the once-proud Japanese people. No longer do they pay any mind to the important things. They have forgotten their religion and all religions. Despite this, they still have a quaintness that has perished in America. It makes me feel at home among the Japanese.They do not viciously fight the supernatural in Japan; they merely are ambivalent.

My advice to anyone who is going to study abroad on the SLA grant: Make sure you know what you are getting into. My summer program was literally the hardest class that I have ever taken. It destroyed me. But it was good for me. I am better now because of it. Also, be sure not to take things so seriously, and you will be fine.

From here, I plan to continue my language study in college and beyond. I want to continue with Japanese, start German, and re-teach myself Latin. Learning any language helps you learn other languages. I, without a doubt, will not use my Japanese in any official capacity. But that is okay. I got what I wanted to get out of the program. I learned. Pure learning. I was not doing it for a job. I was not doing it for anything. I am so thankful for that. This experience has truly opened my mind to another angle of learning that science, math, philosophy, or any other study could never do. Language is a very specific study. Because it is so specific it has broadened my ability to learn in general. Thank you.

God bless,

Nicholas Gerstbauer

Back in a “hearing world”

It’s been about 2 months since I left Gallaudet and Washington D.C. I look back at the experience with a great sense of gratitude. When friends and family ask how my summer was in past years, my usual reply would be, “It was great!” This year, however, I found myself saying, “It was fruitful.”

It was fruitful because it was an experience that challenged and changed me. Being immersed in the language and culture of a people who are often invisible, yet surround us, has allowed me to become more sensitive to human difference beyond racial and ethnic tropes that dominate narratives about “human diversity” today. The Deaf literally taught me how to see differently. I saw how language and culture do not exist apart from how people are made—biology and culture are two sides of the same coin. I saw how visual language could say things that oral and written language would never adequately express; it makes one think differently. Best of all, I saw possibilities for a society that enables, rather than disables, that is, the possibility of radical hospitality.

There have been some things I’ve missed since my return. I miss not having to use my voice at 8 a.m. As an introvert, I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed communicating with my hands at that hour. I also miss being able to communicate with a friend across the room without having to yell and attract unwanted attention—this happens more often than one might think! Most of all, I miss worshipping in ASL, which I got to do for 6 weeks at St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church in MD. I am grateful to this welcoming community for inspiring me to write this theological reflection on recent debates about ways of praying at Mass (part II can be found here).

My initial motivation for going to Gallaudet was to learn more about Deaf culture and improve my ASL so I may do ethnographic research at Deaf Catholic Churches. I am pleased to say that I gained all that and more. But so that I retain what I learned over the summer and gain more fluency in the language, I am now auditing an advanced ASL course at Bethel College and have been attending local Deaf events. I also intend to start an “ASL language table” at Notre Dame to share what I’ve learned and promote the language.


Post-Program Reflection

1. I noticed over my month in Donegal that confidence in language acquisition comes and goes in waves. Although my competency in Irish was growing constantly, and some days I surprised myself by having conversations in Irish in which I could say everything I wanted to, there were other days in which I felt I could say nothing at all. As a result, I’ve come to think of persistence as the key to language acquisition. Every piece of extra time and effort I put in was rewarded, although not always right after I made the effort.

To a certain extent I did meet the goals I laid out for myself at the beginning of the summer. I am able to converse in Irish, with a limited but expanding vocabulary. When I listen to Irish language radio or watch Irish language television, I am normally able to understand what is being discussed. I can and do read in Irish, albeit slowly. What makes the goals I laid out for this summer significant, though, is that in order to preserve the progress that I made in them, I have to continue speaking, reading, writing, and listening in Irish. Now that the summer is over, what I did is less important in my language acquisition process than what I will continue to do.

2. My summer in Gleann Cholm Cille and Gleann Fhinne was as much a cultural learning experience as it was a language learning experience. I am currently studying abroad in Dublin, so I’ve had a chance to compare the relatively small rural communities where I lived in Donegal to the large international city I live in now. If I hadn’t gone to Oideas Gael, I wouldn’t have been able to compare the two communities. In addition, instructors and other students in Donegal gave me a lot of information about how to take advantage of Irish language learning resources in Dublin.

If I could give future SLA awardees advice, I would recommend that when they research programs, they consider the cultural lessons each program will teach them as well as its language learning resources. In my case, choosing to study in a small community that I might never otherwise have visited allowed me to learn about Irish culture in a deeper way than I otherwise would have.

3. I feel very fortunate to have gone from my time studying in Donegal directly to my semester abroad in Dublin because of the continuity it allows in my study of the Irish language. Because of the improvement I made over the summer in Donegal, I was able to enroll in an Irish class at University College Dublin where I’ll be reading a novel and working on my grammar and conversational skills. My hope is that my time in Donegal will be a springboard from which I can go forward to engage deeply in Irish language and culture for the rest of my time in college and beyond.

Unexpected Friends // Cats of AUB

Everyone in Hamra has seen them, I’m sure. Strolling along the pathways, lounging on benches, or hiding in the bushes making the most of their stealth superpowers. I’m talking, of course, about those beloved, pampered beings of the Internet: cats. The army of felines currently residing at AUB is one of the most notable things about the campus. And I’ll be honest, it’s been one of the major highlights of my summer. The cats feature so prominently here that the university created its own webpage for them, which outlines AUB’s policy on cats, guidelines for students and visitors, and a donations page for their maintenance.

Guideline #5 clearly states that it is prohibited for any person to dump cats on campus, yet this is exactly how the “Cats of AUB” phenomenon began. Nearly a million people left Lebanon during its 15-year civil war, which lasted from 1975 until 1990. Before leaving the country, some people abandoned their pets on campus with the hopes that they would be fed and taken care of. This small colony grew over time, and AUB still maintains its policy of providing them with humane care and management. It is difficult to estimate the current number of feline residents, but I would venture to guess that it’s upwards of 200. And despite the university’s noble efforts to ensure the cat population is spayed and neutered, their numbers continue to grow. Even during my short stay here, I happened upon newborn kittens on multiple occasions.

Although these cats have been generally tolerated by the students, many have also complained about the university allocating a portion of their tuition for veterinary care and daily feedings. I’ve heard a number of people commenting on the health risks they pose, and sometimes it does seem like there is an actual cat infestation on campus. For example, the sign below is posted on the Center for Arabic and Middles Eastern Studies door in order to prevent cats from getting into the office. It’s like one of the plagues.

Kindly Close Door  Do not feed the cats

To me, the cats have a certain charm about them that brightens my study breaks. I have been trying to balance this attitude with a sensitivity for the concerns and frustrations of those who live here, but I admit, it has been tough. The idea that interacting with animals helps to cut down on stress and burnout is quite realistic, and – perhaps unwillingly – these feral cats have served exactly that purpose. I can’t count the number of times I left class with a splitting headache, feeling exhausted and utterly incompetent, only to sit on a bench and have one of these cats curl up next to me and show some affection. At one point, I thought of creating a #CatsofAUB Instagram account to document all the cat friends I made during my studies. It never happened, so I’ll share a few of them here to commemorate the furry friends that helped me through the summer.

One of the most recognized faces by those in the Summer Arabic Program has been Margaret, the sassy calico that lives on the wall outside our building. Sure, she may look angry, and she hasn’t quite learned how to control her emotions yet. But I assure you, she just needs some love. Don’t we all?


I found Ambien – named after the sleep drug – napping in four different locations throughout the day. Shortly thereafter I met Walnut, who was an extremely tiny pal with the size of my palm and a constant purr.

Ambien  IMG_20160725_135715

While rushing to prepare one of my short presentations for class (we were asked to choose an Arab country and talk about its history and political system), I was distracted by the most gracious tabby cat who was so sweet that I named him Moosh Moosh – the Lebanese word for apricot. That same day, I heard a noise coming from the trashcan and discovered a grouchy four-legged vagabond digging through the rubbish. He earned the name Oscar.

Moosh Moosh  Oscar

A rather aloof white-haired mutant became known as Mu in honor of a pretty deformity that left her with two different eye colors. Walking home from class one day, I heard the most desperate cry coming from the top of a hill and found 3 newborn kittens stumbling inside a cardboard box. These 3 firecrackers came to be known as Lock, Stock, and Barrel.

Mu  Lock, Stock, and Barrel

And to round off the list, a particularly itchy cat that insisted on jumping into my lap was baptized as Pulgoso (the Spanish word for flea-ridden).


This is only a sampling of the many unexpected cat friends that I met in Beirut. In the end, these cats reminded me of the city itself: colorful, diverse, full of personality, and a bit rough around the edges. And although they carry a reputation of caution and uncertainty, they have an awful lot to offer once you get to know them.


Post-Program Reflection

A month has passed since I returned from my summer abroad in Beijing, and I’d like to share a few reflections on my time there.

Overall, I don’t regret participating in the program.  I experienced Chinese culture firsthand, I enjoyed spending time with my language professors, and of course, I will miss the food.  It is essential to spend time in a foreign country if you intend to master its language with some degree of proficiency.  I am now taking Fourth Year Chinese as a junior, and I feel completely competent in my language abilities.  I might have to return to basics for using Chinese in certain situations (like giving detailed directions, or in overly formal academic writing), but I now have the ability to discuss China’s complex economic, social, and political issues using Chinese.

Admittedly, the transition to study-abroad life was difficult.  The course load was heavy, there were few opportunities for independent exploration in and around the city, and my classmates rarely coordinated plans.  However, I made friends with Chinese students, waiters, shop-owners, and workers all around campus – I still communicate with some of them on WeChat (a Chinese messaging app used in place of Facebook, which is banned by the government) and through these connections, I’m able to casually and continually maintain my language skills, particularly the rapidly-growing collection of Chinese internet slang.

I feel very fortunate to have received the support of so many of my family and friends, and for the opportunity to live in China (even during the unbearably hot summer!).  I will never forget my experiences at Peking University, and I feel I can speak Chinese with much greater confidence than before.

North of the City

One of the more difficult aspects of this program is that the pace has not allowed time for unfettered exploration. There are so many things packed into this tiny little country, but carving out a time to travel and sightsee would require me to push aside my coursework, and I haven’t been willing to do that. Perhaps for this reason, the administrators organized two weekend trips to sites and spaces outside of Beirut and hired a tour guide to speak in Arabic so we could escape the campus without wasting precious language time. The first of these trips focused on three areas just north of the city: Jeita, Harissa, and Byblos.

Our first stop was the Jeita Grotto, a system of two interconnected limestone caves that stretch nearly six miles and contain the world’s largest known stalactites (27 feet long). The entire upper cave is walkable, allowing people to meander along a path lined with stalagmites, stalactites, ponds, and an array of giant crystallized formations that resemble mushrooms, orchids, and chandeliers. Our guide pointed out a particular formation in which many people see a resemblance to Buddha. It reminded me of those people who see visions of the Virgin Mary in their toast. I suspect that the entire cave could serve as a Rorschach test. In the lower cave, we had to board a small boat for a brief u-tour of the excavation, as most of this section is filled with water. No photos were allowed in either cave, but here’s a peak at what the upper grotto and lower grotto look like inside. Truly, this place is the cave of wonders. Definitely one of the more spectacular sites I have visited.

The trip through the Jeita Grotto was my first guided tour in Arabic. Even though our guide spoke as slow as humanly possible – enunciating clearly and pausing after each word – I understood surprisingly little of what she said. Not for the first time, it put my ego in check and reminded me that my Arabic vocabulary is not as large as I think it is – especially when it comes to monologues about ancient history, archaeology, and the chemistry of geological formations.

The teleferique to Harissa

Our next stop on the trip was Harissa. To reach this village, you either have to drive up the mountain from Jounieh Bay or make the journey using a creaky gondola lift called a “teleferique.” At the top stands a giant statue of Mary named Our Lady of Lebanon (Notre Dame du Liban) that belongs to the Maronite Church. As evidenced by the swarms of people spiraling up the tower of the statue and visiting its shrine, Harissa serves as a pilgrammage site – not only for Christians, but also for Muslims and Druze across the Middle East. It was my third time visiting the statue, and even though the crowded shrine and cheesy photo ops render this site as something less than peaceful, I have been struck each time by the power of the view. The towering statue looks down the mountain toward Beirut with her arms outstretched – gesturing for me to just pause a minute and absorb it.

A view of Beirut and Jounieh Bay    Notre Dame du Liban

For the final stop of our trip, we drove a bit further up the coast to a city with multiple names. In Arabic it is typically called Jbeil, but in English we usually refer to it as Byblos – a mangling of its original name, Papyrus. The letter ‘P’ doesn’t exist in Arabic and often becomes a ‘B.’ If you were to attend a Lebanese picnic, for example, you might see people drinking a Bebsi or eating a bag of chibs. So Papyrus became Babyrus, and over time morphed into Byblos. Wikipedia informed me that Byblos was also referred to as Geval in the Hebrew Bible and Gibelet during the Crusades. Whatever its name, this city is thought to be the oldest continuously inhabited city in the world, with people living there as early as 5,000 B.C. Others might argue that Damascus has been inhabited since 9,000 BC, but in my opinion, the difference is irrelevant. They are both unfathomably old.

Byblos Beach

Unfortunately, we were unable to see anything that bore evidence of Byblos’s 7,000 + years of existence. I did, however, visit a magnificent beach and eat one of the best meals I had during my time in Lebanon.The ancient Phoenician temples and archaeological sites will have to wait for the next visit.

Post-Program Reflection

Now that I have been back in the United States for about a month, I’ve taken some time to reflect on my SLA grant experience:

Even though I’ve studied languages in school since the fourth grade, this summer was my first experience of immersion in a foreign language environment. Unsurprisingly, the this made a significant difference in my language learning. At the beginning of the summer I could basically order food in a restaurant, with some effort; by the end of the summer I could navigate most daily situations once would encounter, and carry on a basic conversation without hesitation. The key to my learning was being willing to jump into conversations with native speakers in order to learn, knowing I would make mistakes. It was a choice I had to make everyday. Looking back on my learning goals, I believe I’ve met each one to varying degrees. Although I am still developing my translation skills, I am much less phased by complex paragraphs and sentences than previously. I can definitely carry on a basic conversation with a native German speaker. And I was able to travel a great deal of southwestern Germany, so I have a better sense of the landscape and culture of the area I study for my research.

I’d travelled and studied abroad before, but never in continental Europe. Being in Germany, especially during a summer full of major political events (Brexit, the US presidential election, the failed coup in Turkey, violence in both the US and Europe), was eye-opening. The geographical and cultural situation of the US can be isolating in terms of larger political developments. In Europe, this is simply not possible. What’s happening in another country directly affects the country you are living in, and you can’t avoid awareness of this. I’d encourage those applying for the SLA of preparing to study abroad to enter not just into the language but also the culture and politics of place they are studying. However, don’t get so caught up in following politics on the internet that you don’t actually go outside and enjoy being in a different place!

I plan to continue developing my German so that I can use it to discuss German language literature in my dissertation. I am currently taking a advanced German for research class here at Notre Dame, and will start digging into the texts relevant to my dissertation in the next year. I am also keeping up my conversational skills by practicing with my roommate, who is a native German speaker, and taking advantage of the many opportunities the German department at Notre Dame offer for conversation practice. Overall, the SLA grant has inspired and enabled me to push my research in new directions I’d never expected before.

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.