Friday, September 14, 2012

A Life-Changing Summer in China

Joanna Irizarry-Zaraza, a Psychology major in the Verrazano Class of 2013 and Verrazano Study Abroad Scholarship Recipient, returned from a rewarding study abroad program in China and shares some of her experiences.

Wisdom Path, Hong Kong
As I arrived back in New York from China, I realized that life as I once knew it had changed.  I could not believe how quickly I was able to adapt to Chinese culture during my study abroad program, and now that I have arrived back to my hometown I do miss living in China.  I struggled to adapt to the American lifestyle when I returned.  When I first came back I was happy to see my family, but I also could not stop thinking about my new extended family that I grew to love.  I thought returning home would be the easy part of my entire experience, but I learned that I was wrong.  I had to go through the same adjustment period that I did when I first arrived in China earlier in the summer.

Getting on the Dragon Boat
Studying abroad was very rewarding.   I feel as though I accomplished many of my personal and professional goals.  I was able to leave my loved ones and the culture I am used to and appreciate the lifestyle in another part of the world.  After my experience I am able to better understand Chinese culture, and this will be beneficial for me since my minor is Chinese Studies.  Also, going to China has been my dream since I was a child, and now I have been able to achieve this personal goal.   I am a psychology major, and I think this experience will also help my professional goal of becoming a counselor in the future.  I have become more of an observer after learning to appreciate the culture of China, and I have become more sensitive to cultural values.
Visiting the Big Buddha in Hong Kong
Throughout the trip I read a lot about China's history, and I also had the pleasure to see and experience what I read about.  I learned about Buddhism and went to many different Buddhist temples as well as the Big Buddha in Hong Kong.  I learned about the Silk Road and its importance to China's culture and values.  The transportation of goods along this route allowed the people to interact with different cultures, religions, and belief systems.  Xi'an was the starting point of the northern route of the Silk Road, and it was a beautiful city full of history.  One important location we visited there was the Muslim Quarter.  Muslims lived there with the Han and build a Great Mosque which I was able to visit.  There are streets full of vendor food, clothing, and other souvenirs.  

Another place I visited was Yellow Mountain.  I hiked for more than eight hours and made it to the highest point of Yellow Mountain; this was an accomplishment because I did not believe I was physically in shape to do it.  However, I pushed myself mentally and physically and completed the hike at the same time as the other students.  I also fulfilled a personal dream when I visited the Great Wall - a historical and famous site.  Just being there with its thousands of years of history was amazing.  Throughout this trip I learned a lot about Chinese history but was also able to relate by visiting the historic sites I read about in my classes. 
Celebrating my accomplishments at Yellow Mountain.
Yellow Mountain with my hiking buddy Zhi.

One aspect of the experience that I would have preferred to be different would be to study in an academic setting at a university in China.  Unfortunately I did not have that experience because my program consisted of a lot of traveling from city to city.  The entire month I was living in different hotels, and our class met in the hotel conference rooms.  After the trip I spoke with my friend who studied abroad in China on a program through the College of Staten Island instead of through Brooklyn College as I did.  She said that she had observed many differences; for example, she said that the university library was strictly for studying and students were not able to roam around the library and leave their stuff around or they would receive a ticket.  My friend also observed that the classroom setting was different and the professors were more strict and had higher expectations of the students in contrast to the United States.  My program was more of a self-taught class and did not provide experience in an international university setting as I would have liked. 
At the Great Wall

Something I came to realize was that it is challenging to communicate with others while living in a country that speaks a language you are not familiar with.  Although I know basic words and sentences, this knowledge only allowed me to ask questions.  Chinese is spoken with different tones at a quick pace, and it was very difficult for me to understand the answers to my questions.  Most of the time I asked Chinese students who came on the trip to translate for me, and they did for this for other students as well.  This has made me more sensitive to foreigners in this country.  My trip made me realize how much foreigners struggle to communicate with people and how frustrating that could be; I never thought about that before.

Fishing village in Hong Kong
I experienced some challenges and struggles after I arrived back in New York, but I also realized how much I had grown as a person.  One thing I struggled with the most was the time change and how jet-lagged I was for two weeks.  I would wake up when it was time to go to sleep and throughout the day I didn't have much energy.  After I returned home, I realized that the trip didn't affect my family the way it affected me, even though I told them all about it.  I learned a different way of looking at life than I had before I left for China.  I have changed and learned to have patience and to appreciate the life I have.  I have also changed in some ways such as having a greater appreciation for nature and being more independent.  I learned to appreciate family interaction more than I used to, and I have reflected more on my family background, history, and values than I did before.

At a Buddhist temple in Nanjing
Study abroad is an amazing experience. Not only do you push yourself from leaving your comfortable life and experiencing a different lifestyle, but you also come to realize your strengths and weaknesses. You learn to love and appreciate many things you are not aware of in your daily life.  I would recommend for everyone to study abroad in a country that you're curious about and enjoy the culture that you can only read about here.  I recommend the program that I did if you are willing to travel throughout China and have classes which are mostly self-taught. There are many advantages in being able to explore your interests within China and choose where to go and who to explore with.  Also, with this program you become very independent because you have to survive by socializing and interacting with local people.  I can honestly say that I would love to relive this experience many times over again and would recommend it to anyone who is interested in traveling throughout China.

1 comment:

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