Chinese Language and Culture (Faculty-Led), Summer II 2017
Last summer, I studied abroad for two weeks in Beijing, China. The emphasis of the class was on Chinese language and culture. We had classes in the morning and later in the day we would visit a culturally significant site. As a historian and as someone studying Chinese Mandarin, I found this trip to be incredibly enlightening. While I’ve studied the history China, I had never been there before. Seeing the culture and history first-hand was amazing. As someone interested in teaching history, I cannot stress enough how helpful this class was. It’s one thing to teach about the history of somewhere you’ve never been, and another thing entirely to go to that place and experience the culture and history in person. It gave me a more personal connection to and understanding of the history of China.
My day started with me waking up in my room in the Conference Center of Beijing Language and Culture University, or BLCU. Since we were there during the summer, not as many people were using the conference center, so we had better accommodations than we might have had if we’d been there during the fall. I would get up and get breakfast, which was always a fun adventure by itself, and for that matter, so was every other meal. Breakfast food in China is very unique and completely different than anything in the US. I don’t think there was a single day that I didn’t try something new, and this was probably one of the more challenging aspects for me. I have an onion allergy, so having to use my not-very-fluent Mandarin to figure out what I could or couldn’t eat was, at times, challenging. I recommend to people who have allergies to travel with stomach medication. However, the food was exciting and delicious. After breakfast, I would head to language class, which took a few hours every morning. In class, we would cover a cultural topic and related vocabulary and grammar. An example was when we talked about going to a market place and bartering. Later that day, we went to Beijing’s dirt market, or bazaar. This ensured that we had some key words and phrases that we knew to help us interact in these scenarios and better appreciate the local culture. These intensive classes have stuck with me more than other Chinese that I had previously learned. I believe that this is because I was using the language that I had learned on a daily basis. Speaking Chinese was unavoidable. My confidence and language skills developed a tremendous amount over this short trip. I recommend this class to people who are in the process of learning Chinese, because it acts as an accelerant to your language skills.
I can’t say which experience had more impact on me, but if I had to name two, I would have to pick my hike up the Great Wall of China and the Summer Palace. The Summer Palace struck me because it was the first cultural site that I went to. Also, it’s an incredibly striking monument. The man-made lake that surrounds the Palace has multiple islands with different gardens on each one. They’re connected by a series of stone bridges. The dirt that was dug out to make the lake was turned into a man-made mountain, where the Summer Palace sat atop. In my mind, it’s comparable to the Great Pyramids in the amount of effort that it would have taken to produce. The history of this site is immense, and it stands as a shining example of Chinese culture. The other site that stood out to me was the Great Wall of China, probably the most stereotypical site that people think of when they think “China.” The Section of the wall that I saw was one of the most amazing things I have ever seen, and probably ever will see. As a group, we hiked up the mountain to the base of the wall. While on the wall, a group of us that were in good shape and a bit adventurous decided to go to the top of the mountain where the Great Wall had one of its peaks. It was truly breathtaking. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything quite that beautiful before. It makes me understand why it was one of former Chairman Mao Zedong’s favorite places. It’s one of the most beautiful places in the world, with its vast view that overlooks thousands of miles of China.
My trip to China helped me grow as an international citizen by exposing me to a culture that I had studied and knew, but had never lived in. It was a remarkable experience and something that I’ll never forget for the rest of my life.