Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Shanghai Winter: Reflections On A Study Abroad Experience

Kimmy Yu, a Chemistry major with minors in Biochemistry and Chinese (Mandarin) spent the winter intersession studying abroad in Shanghai, China.  Read below for Kimmy's reflections on his time spent abroad.

Tiger Hill in Suzhou
This overall winter study abroad experience has really helped open up my personality.  I really felt like my adventures living in China have just begun even though the short-term program has come to an end. We had to say our good-byes to the newest best of friends that we have bonded with from China. The experience of being abroad has helped me gain so much cultural knowledge and independence; it was an important life skill to pick up during my short-term stay at SHU (Shanghai University). Not only did I get to spend a great deal of time socializing with the students from the program, but I was also able to find out more about myself and how each student’s individual traits and personalities were different from mine. What I will truly miss most about Shanghai are the yummy, inexpensive bakery foods that they have and eating the tasty kumquats (a type of golden orange) that they sell. I will miss the thrill of  living with cultural differences in China and the sense of being a part of the community - especially having the experience of trying out new exciting activities when living on campus. I had fun meeting study abroad students from different countries and other CUNY students who had personalities completely different from mine.  We managed to connect with each other in so many ways. This amazing dorm-life experience and the freedom to travel in groups gave me the opportunity to explore the highlights of the cities with my peers.

During my time in Shanghai, I experienced culture shock to some extent.  I greatly underestimated what it would be like in China because I felt that it was going to be similar to Chinatown in Manhattan, NY.   The biggest difference was the dialect. Instead of speaking a mix of Mandarin and Cantonese like they do here, the average person in China only spoke the official Chinese language, Mandarin, with little to no knowledge of English or Cantonese. The bathrooms were completely different; the majority of the public restrooms do not provide western toilets. Many of them would have something called a squatting, and people in China believe that the system is cleaner than western toilets and more efficient because it does not involve any contact with toilet seats and reduces contamination of germs and bacteria. Also, what is strange about the eastern toilet system is that the public restroom and dormitories in China do not provide toilet paper, so bringing toilet paper with you is a must. 

Another factor that caused quite a bit of a culture shock for me was ordering food at some restaurants in China.  I faced challenges with restaurants that did not include pictures on the food menus and instead had everything written in characters with not a single word of English. Using the prior knowledge that I had, I recalled from memory from what I used to order from New York and hoped that they offer it there. Not only that, but also since I was able to speak with them in Mandarin, I managed to ask the waiter or waitresses what exactly that I would like to order or what was listed on the menu regardless of the characters. Outside of class, we went on field trips to visit the silk factory, Volkswagen car factory, and the Coca-Cola factory. In the silk factory, we saw where the silk was derived and how those were used to make quilts. In the Coca-Cola factory, we observed how Coca-Cola glass bottles were being recycled as well as how plastic bottles and other resources were conserved in order to protect the environment.  

Coca Cola Factory

What surprised me the most during my stay was the limited heating system used in the classrooms and especially in the dormitories. The greatest challenge for me was making it through the freezing night with a limited amount of heat available in my dorm.  The school imposed rules and regulations that do not allow the use of heaters or other electrical applications because the could potentially cause a fire. Thus, the only way to endure the cold throughout the night was just simply wrap yourself in more layers of blanket.

Silk Factory in Suzhou
The group at Tiger Hill
When it came to academics, the mandarin intermediate course was very intensive, especially for me. This was because my teacher felt that I should be provided more work than other students in the class since I grew up with the advantage of speaking fluently in mandarin regardless of my reading and writing background. As a result, my teacher was much tougher on me individually as a student and expected higher standards. Unlike the other students, my teacher introduced me to more out of class assignments. She challenged me to expand my essay length, read a daily newspaper, and tested my comprehension on the main idea of the passages that I read although I could barely read most of the new characters encountered.  In the end, however, this heavy-duty work greatly boosted my Chinese vocabulary knowledge and reinforced the grammar structure of the way I currently speak. It was a desperate struggle at first, but I managed to pull through and learned many new commonly used characters. Having a language exchange partner to practice Chinese with also greatly enhanced my learning experience. As a result, the preparations in the classroom, the exposure to the cultural environment, and the practice with my language exchange partner all allowed me to excel in Chinese within a relatively short period of time and definitely helped me ace the final exam in Chinese despite the tremendous amount of work assigned to me. In the end, I learned a lot from the exhaustive course. I was able to read and write proficiently, enriched my fluency in my heritage language and still had a great time.

Entrance to the Coca Cola Factory

In the end, the program really did help me with my personal and professional goals. Not only did study abroad make me more mature and independent; it also allowed me to think outside the box while utilizing the knowledge that I already had in order to adapt in a new foreign setting. It made me pick up new knowledge and language communication skills much more quickly, and I know this will help me in my profession.  I strengthened my ability to adapt and be proactive, and I developed courage to take control of my new responsibilities handle them in a timely manner. These skills are especially relevant to the job setting.  Now I know that I can rely on myself and adapt to change regardless of the situations encountered. By having this international study abroad experience in China, I can demonstrate myself as a globalized citizen when applying for the opportunity to teach in a foreign country in the near future.

Tiger Hill

Classical Gardens at Suzhou
I also learned an important moral lesson during my experience in study abroad; I have learned that you will need to learn how to stand up for yourself if you feel that something is not right. If you are traveling alone, learn to trust your instincts. If you feel that you are truly not comfortable with something, have the confidence to speak up for yourself because no one else will. Even if you are not the type of person who does this normally, you must take the initiative to rise up out of your comfort zone and not be taken advantage of by other individuals. Be sure to evaluate what is best for you, no matter what other people’s opinions are. Do not accept their words and judge or put yourself down easily by what other people think of you, because only you know yourself best.  This is the true value of study abroad - utilizing your own thoughts and learning to think and act independently.  So my advice is to learn to trust your own instincts, build your confidence level, and do not give up so easily when finding your way. You will travel in groups, branch out of your comfort zone, but you are not obligated to become involved in any activities that you are truly do not feel comfortable with in order to fit in with the group. These are the challenges and decisions that I faced on my adventure of studying abroad. 

Hope y’all enjoyed my blog!

No comments:

Post a Comment