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6 posts from December 2013

12/31/2013

A Realization After Beijing

Coming to China studying abroad out of the University Denver would normally lead a student like me to study at Peking University in Beijing, China’s top university.  However, my experience coming from Denver has been much more original than my peers.  I chose to do a program unaffiliated with my university leading me to the southern capital of China, Nanjing.  At first, I was really nervous about my situation studying away from my classmates back home, but after having lived in Nanjing for the past 3 months and visiting those friends at Peking University in Beijing last week, I have come to realize how happy I really am to have chose Nanjing. 

            Last week was the first time I made the journey up to Beijing to see my friends all semester.  I got my train ticket, and four hours later on one of China’s 300kmh bullet trains, I had arrived in Beijing.  Stepping off the train I was completely overwhelmed.  People are everywhere and I really had no idea what I was doing.  All I had was a message from my friend Chris telling me to meet him at Wu Dao Kou station, wherever that was.  Not only is Beijing such a big city, but it is so spread out to the point that they have 15 subway lines; thirteen more than Nanjing.  I must have stared at the giant subway map displayed on the wall in the station for a good 20 minutes just trying to figure out where to go and how to get there.  I was easily frustrated, probably due to how spoiled I am in Nanjing with its two simple subway lines.  Our stop, Gulou, is right in the heart of Nanjing making everything so convenient and simple.  This process was the first realization I had, and I hadn’t really even experienced any of Beijing from a college student’s perspective yet.  It was an easy situation to be judgmental in, and I was definitely playing the role.    

One hour, two transfers, and a million new Chinese faces later, I had finally arrived at Wu Dao Kou station.  I had never been so anxious to get off a train in my life and was so relieved to finally see my friends waiting for me outside of the station.  It was night time around 6:30 or so, and we were hungry.  We went to one of Chris’ favorite local Chinese eateries, ate some food followed by a couple beers and then stopped by his apartment to meet up with his 4 other roommates and to drop off my stuff before we hit the town!  Chris shared an apartment with three other Americans and a Chinese guy.  All great guys, but the dynamic felt pretty awkward at points.  All of the Americans are best friends and do everything together, while the Chinese guy was just kind of there in the background minding his own business.  I felt bad for him.  Even Chris had mentioned how strange and awkward it is sometimes.  I have also been living with a Chinese roommate for the past couple months, so I understand the cultural differences, but my roommate, Ding Pan, and I got over the awkwardness very quickly and have grown to be good friends.  These guys had a strictly roommate only relationship with theirs, and it was clear from our first interaction.  We both have Chinese roommates but they are in completely different circumstances.  Mine is also a college student and he speaks almost perfect English while Chris’ is twenty eight years old and is a working man who does not speak of word of English past the simple greetings.  It was interesting to observe, and I was observing the dynamic the entire time I was there. 

After the first greeting with all these guys we finally hit the town and went out Beijng style, which meant paying lots of money!  In Nanjing almost every time we go out, everything is handed to us for free because we’re foreigners.  In Beijng we were literally surrounded by foreigner’s, which meant we did not stand out like we do here in Nanjing.  Other than these aspects, the social seen and nightlife were pretty much the same: loud music, lots of lights, and entertainment from dancers or singers from time to time.  We had fun, and after words I was feeling hungry.  In Nanjing, I eat a ton of street food.  After all, it is some of the best food China’s got, but when I told those guys I wanted to get some food on the street, they could not believe what I was doing.  None of them had ever even considered trying some BBQ and all the other cart food that lines the streets at night.  They looked at me like I was a crazy person, eating a bunch of kebabs at once.  They were mortified, but I was surely enjoying myself!  Nanjing has given me lots of practice, so I am confident with my street decisions.  I had no idea about their eating habits in China, but it all made a lot of sense the next morning. 

All of us got up and one of Chris’s roommates had his breakfast heart set on eating at a place called Grandma’s Kitchen.  He said it was the best Western breakfast in Beijing, so I was honestly really excited to have some good ol’ American cookin!  We got there, and it literally felt like we were in a diner back home until the Chinese waiter came and asked for the order in Chinese.  The menu had everything from pancakes to one of the best skillets I have ever had.  We were all excited and we got talking and one of them said he probably eats there four or five times a week, no matter if its breakfast, lunch, or dinner.  That’s when I new that these guys eat a lot of western food here.  They talked about burgers, deli sandwiches, Grandma’s, pizza, and all other kinds of stuff they like to have.  I do enjoy a nice change back to western food in Nanjing, but these guys eat it a lot here.  That skillet was amazing, and if I was in Beijing, I would probably eat there all the time too, but that’s also the reason I am happier in Nanjing.  Nanjing feels more authentic and my experience here has been amazing and is full of crazy Chinese stories and memories.  I could have been at Bei Da with all these guys and I know it would have been a great time, but Nanjing has been a truly out there abroad experience, and I am really proud to say I studied here.  It was the best choice I could have made, and the experience has been nothing short of amazing. 

12/15/2013

What I have Learned Living in Nanjing as of 11/3/2013

I have been living in Nanjing for almost two and a half months.  A wonderful city that features the best of Chinese history and modernization efforts, Nanjing is the perfect learning environment for an intermediate mandarin speaker.  Before coming to study here there was one thing that worried me. Before I continue, I would like to take a moment to introduce my background.  I am a fifth generation Japanese-American originally from Hawaii.  As someone whose appearance very strongly resembles an ethnic Han Chinese person, I often receive puzzled looks and quizzical stares when stumbling through sentences with native Chinese speakers.  I can confidently make the claim that every time I go out in Nanjing, whether it’s coffee or a cab ride, the following interaction takes place: After fumbling through a sentence in Chinese and/or a “ting bu dong” the person I am talking to will question my nationality.  American, but this answer is never good enough since Americans can ONLY be white Caucasians (kidding), which ultimately leads to a question that I used to dread more than anything.  If you aren’t Chinese, what is your ethnicity? I used to lie.  Thai, Filipino, anything but the truth, since the truth would only turn this quick conversation sour.  

 

            For those unfamiliar with modern Chinese history, Nanjing is the site of the Nanjing Massacre, a devastating invasion that has stained relations between Japan and China for the past seventy five years.   On December 13th, 1937 the Imperial Japanese Army marched from Shanghai into the former Chinese capital of Nanjing.  Over the course of 6 weeks, hundreds of thousands of Chinese soldiers and civilians were mercilessly raped and killed by Japanese forces.  The Japanese occupied Nanjing for the next 8 years, where many more Chinese perished.  Those who survived lived in fear of their ruthless oppressors. The brutality of the war crimes committed by the Japanese almost 75 years ago paired with the many important members of the contemporary government denying such war crimes a major contributing factor to existing tension between the two countries. 

 

            Visiting the Nanjing Massacre Memorial Hall, it was very clear that the Nanjing Massacre is still fresh on many people’s minds.  Survivors who witnessed the horrors of the massacre are still alive today to give their accounts of “Japanese devils” destroying their homes and families.  Walking around the Memorial Hall seeing the horrifying pictures, graphic descriptions, and videos of survivors giving their descriptions, I was entranced peculiar sensation.  It began with shame.  Shame that I shared the same bloodline as the villains who destroyed so much of China.  I can’t quite answer why I felt this way, especially since I am a fifth generation American whose family was in Hawaii long before the 1930’s and WWII.  But if anybody in the museum knew my dirty little secret, I felt that I would be the target of loathing and disgust.

 

 

 

            It took me a few days, maybe even a week to clear my head and make sense of the feelings I experienced in the Memorial Hall.  It finally struck me that there is absolutely no reason that I should feel inclined to hide my ethnicity or feel ashamed of whom I am.  I have no responsibility in what happened 75 years ago and I do not deny the events that happened in Nanjing.  If the natives of Nanjing found me charming as a Thai-American girl, why wouldn’t they be able to find me charming as a Japanese-American?  While I believe the former is true, I understand this can be difficult for some.  No matter where you go in the world, you will encounter people who refuse to open their minds to something contrary to what they believe. So be it, I am here to talk to anyone that is willing to listen. If people have formed a predisposed opinion that anyone with Japanese blood is terrible and untrustworthy, I want to be here to change their minds. Just as the people of China educate me through their language and culture, I want to be here to educate them in acceptance of individual character over racial stereotypes. Living in Nanjing, I learned to be confident of who I am as an individual and accept the consequences of p: a Japanese-American with a very strong affinity towards Chinese culture. 

12/14/2013

外国朋友

 

As I checked my watch I realized I was going to be late. It’s already 6:55, and I was supposed to be at Zhongtiaolu station at 7:00. I counted six more stops until I reached my destination. Once again my friend Christina’s English abilities had left something lost in translation. When she had texted me an invitation to dinner at the hotel she worked at I had assumed the stop “on line 1, close, 3QU” would have been a 20 minute ride, but after 40 minutes of traveling it dawned on me once again that the Chinese idea of “very close” is much the same as the Chinese idea of “ten minutes”­­––i.e. closer to an hour.

Christina’s English abilities, though better than most, is still colored by a thick­––sometimes indecipherable­–– Chinese accent. When I arrived at the station I heard her even before I saw her, yelling quite loudly that something “So sucks!” I see her and Cici standing at a nearby exit speaking to each other, and quickly make my way toward them unsurprised to hear them speaking English with one another.  Since I first met them, both have seemed to fall into a new category of Chinese youth who I perceive to be obsessed with western culture. They speak English constantly, wear exclusively popular western brands, love American pop music, and have found a niche in the local expat circle as everyone’s favorite “Chinese friends.”  At first glance they seem every bit the contrast of what one would consider a traditional Chinese girl: outgoing, social, bubbly, etc.

 I met Christina my first week in China at a language exchange, and grew to become friends with her in the context of the local Nanjing expat social scene. She is a small girl, barely five foot, and very pretty with long hair and an always smiling face. What first struck me about her is how loud and boisterous she is, always shouting her unique mixture of pidgin English and Chinese, never speaking it. I originally thought her to be much different from the shy, reserved Chinese girls I had been meeting, and this observation proved to be true the more I got to know her. Cici too, is very untraditional. Tall and elegant­––Cici is a model-turned-English teacher. Her English is much clearer than Christina’s, and as she greats me I notice an affected British accent­­–– something she has been trying out since recently starting to date an Expat from the UK.

We walk toward the hotel chatting about what we all did during the day­––working sleeping seems to be the consensus.  The hotel is very nice, probably a four star hotel by American standards, and Christina greats her colleagues as we go inside. She explains she has tickets to the Hotel’s buffet that some of her clients had given her as tokens of their appreciation. Christina works in what she explains as “Foreign Guest Relations,” and I quickly realize that even though her English is middling at best no one else at the hotel seems to speak anything.  The buffet is large and I grab a plate and a table. I watch awed as each girl brings over at least three or four different plates of food while happily complaining how fat they are going to get. If I close my eyes it sounds just like my college friends back home­––had the table been lined with Pinkberry Cups and Johnny Rockets burger wrappers instead of noodles and duck it could have practically been the same thing.

I think about it for a second and realize that in the few months I have known them, I have only seen them with other foreigners and maybe one or two other Chinese friends. Western friends dominate their social circles, and this once again makes me think of how different they are from the other Chinese girls I have met.  My roommate for example is a quiet, reserved girl who upon moving in with me told me I was the first foreign girl she had ever become good friends with.  While Christina and Cici can often be found after work going to restaurants, bars, and clubs with expats­­–– my roommate and her friends who are all around the same age are usually exclusively with other Chinese students spending their nights playing games and watching TV.  Both types of girls are hard workers, concerned about their futures and filled with a sense of wanting to make their families proud, but I see in Cici and Christina a desire to become more connected with the Western world. I feel that they think to be western is to be modern, and are starting to cast off some of the social morays they had been raised with here in China­––becoming more and more like me and other typical American 20 somethings and less and less like my roommate and the average 20 something Chinese woman.

As we finish our meal, I reach for my coat and Cici comments on how beautiful she thinks it is asking what brand it is.  I laugh and tell her it’s just something I bought at target, not a brand name, but she still insists she likes it. She then goes on to tell me how beautiful she thinks I am and hugs me. I’m always surprised by how affectionate she and summer both are, constantly hugging me and kissing me on the cheek, always wanting to hold hands.  It seems a bit absurd to me that someone who once modeled in Shanghai could find me at all glamorous, and I can’t help but thinking perhaps part of my allure is the same as the knock-off Michael Korrs bag on her arm­––I’m foreign and therefore different.  As we try to catch a cab I tell them once again how much I love them, and I really do. They are two of the most interesting people I have ever met, and have been incredible friends. To me this night was just another example of what makes them so very interesting and relatable.  Like me they are just normal 20 somethings trying to define themselves, and that is what I think made our relationship work so well. We are both attracted to each other because we are different and exotic to each other, yet at the same time facing the same struggles of personal identity and the complexities of making our way in the world. 

An Amazing Experience

 

Before traveling to China, I had some preconceptions of what living in China would be like. I learned the basics of China. None of my classes had really prepared me for what it was going to be like to “live” China. Upon living in Nanjing, and travelling around China, for almost an entire semester, I had experienced many things that could be considered, from an outsiders perspective, a truly “China” experience. I have eaten at many different street food stands, from one of the best fried noodle dishes I have ever had in my life, prepared in 3 minutes before my very eyes. I have had a little taste of dog that was forced upon me, questioning my moral compass the whole time I was chewing. I have crossed a road in Nanjing, which while it may seem like a very easy thing to do, was one of the first challenges I had to come across. I have also seen the greatest view of Nanjing possible, 57 floors up, up a 2-story ladder, and onto an open-air deck, surrounded by towering buildings and the sun setting before my eyes. I have drunk baijiu 白酒, danced with crazy Chinese men and women, and made jokes with Chinese security guards. I have gotten absolutely lost in the middle of Guilin with 4 great friends and no idea of how to get back to our hostel. I saw the most beautiful river, surrounded by Karst landscapes, the only area in the world that has this scenery. I have eaten freshly made lamb at a livestock market in Kashgar, surrounded by live cattle and camels. I rode a camel. Let me repeat, I rode a camel. This does not even begin to touch upon the experience that I have had here and while some of these things are not just limited to China, most of them are and have completely changed my view of China and the culture of the country. I have been completely immersed into the “China” lifestyle, learned how to live a vastly different life than at home. First time living in a city, first time living in another country, farthest away from my home and family for the longest time in my life. While this was a very daunting scenario before I came to Nanjing, it has turned into my second home. If I ever get the opportunity to live in China again, I would drop everything and come back. China, as huge and scary as it is, has become my second home.

12/13/2013

A trip to Luo Yang

 

 

Blog post about travel in Luo Yang

During the Mid-Autumn Festival holiday in China I decided to take a solo trip to a city with a long history and many attractions. Situated on the Yellow River, the birthplace of Chinese culture, Luo Yang is an interesting city that is both old and modern. Walking down the many streets and alley ways of Luo Yang I was surprised to see more writing in traditional Chinese (繁体字) than simplified (简体字). It seems as if the city decided to keep its cultural roots and disregard the latest changes to the written script. As one would expect, a city without much simplified Chinese was also a city without much English. Another layer of confusion came from the thick accent that most of the residents of Luo Yang spoke in. Thankfully, with good signage and a helpful map, I was able to get around the city. The three big attractions of Luo Yang are the Longmen Grottos, The White Horse Temple, and the Water Banquet (The first two are historical sites and the last one a delicious medley of soup-based dishes).

 The Longmen Grottos are a set of grottos carved into the walls of a canyon with a long river running through it. There is a long staircase carved into the mountain up to a giant statue of Buddha. Both the size and scope of the grottos were breathtaking. Although the grottos were amazing, the focus of everyone around me was not on the carvings but on me. It was a unique experience in that I finally got the feeling that I was a stranger in a strange land (人生地不熟). Far from the international coast, Luo Yang doesn’t get as many foreigners as some of the other big cities in China. For the entire day at the Longmen Grottos, I ended up talking to people in both English and Chinese, snapping pictures with locals, tourists, and their babies. Needless to say, by the time I dragged myself out of the grottos I was ready for a hearty dinner of Luo Yang’s famous soups. 20130920_084645

12/03/2013

A Reflection of My First Time Traveling Internationally

Prior to leaving for Nanjing, I had no idea what I was in store for, but I was confident that the experience was well needed. I considered myself very sheltered, not sheltered in the sense of lacking social skills or never hearing a cuss word, but sheltered in terms of lacking international experience. I knew people who had traveled abroad to multiple countries and they seemed so cultured and knowledgeable. In comparison to these people I felt left behind and even ignorant. I knew without a shadow of a doubt that studying abroad was a must for my education and my own self progression. I have seen many movies and read many books but none of them convey the actual experience of a trip abroad. Due to inevitable culture shock, I have gone through every emotion on the spectrum as if I was traveling along a Sine chart. I never knew that this could happen. As an American I thought I had lived a rather “normal” life, from growing up in suburbia, to playing sports in high school and being a college student, but I see the that idea of “normal” can only be from a perspective. From my perspective, though limited, I thought I was normal, but having entered an entirely different society I can now say that there is no normal, and if there was it would be weird because everything is different in nature. How exactly has this trip improved me for the better? Well during my range of emotional roller-coaster I have had to question my very own core of assumptions about the world. I came to question the existence of a higher being, I came to question my own attitude towards people, but most of all I came to question what I really want out of my life. As a senior my life has already settled on a career path, and I will be starting within in a few months. This trip gave me the opportunity to get out of my usual atmosphere and look at the world from an entirely new perspective. One of my favorite metaphors of life is that you are in a boat, in the middle of the sea, with no land in sight and only two oars and the current. You can let the current take you were ever it may, but that is where everything/everyone else will also end up. It is far better to make a firm decision and paddle away, every day, because sooner or later you will reach land. Only the few will make it there, but that decision to paddle makes all the difference. This trip has allowed me to confirm my decision in the direction that I am paddling and I am grateful for that, because now I will paddle even harder.