It’s been a few weeks since I have returned from Beijing, China. It’s still hard to believe that I spent the past 5 months abroad in a completely culturally different country. I’ve fallen in love with the city, the language, learning the history, and with the tight-knit group of friends that I’m glad to call my “China Family.” The thing is, I can’t even begin to describe my experience or put it all into words.
Flash backwards to fall semester, when my family and friends were asking:
“Where are you going?”
“…Oh. Why are you going there?”
“I want to improve my Chinese.”
“Why don’t you just talk to your parents in Chinese? Can’t you learn from them?”
All the responses were similar. There may have been only been a handful of people who really seemed excited at the idea of studying abroad in China. A lot of people believe that China is really dirty, or the people are rude, they are concerned with what’s in the food, or they think it’s weird that there are a lot of fake designer things there. Most of all, I feel like everyone was wondering why I didn’t choose somewhere more scenic and popular – places like Paris, Italy, or Australia. Everyone was set on the question: Why on earth would I choose to go to Beijing?
My main purpose for choosing to study in Beijing, China through the CET Program, was because I wanted to improve my understanding of the Chinese language – speaking, listening, reading, and writing. The unique thing that attracted me to the program was that I would be 100% committed to the language pledge, a contract I signed saying that I would speak using only Chinese, 24 hours of the day, 7 days of the week. Sure, I could speak to my own parents at home. But a 20-year-old habit of speaking to my parents in English was not very easy to break. I needed a stable environment that I could practice my Chinese in. If everyone around me was required to speak Chinese as well, and if everything around me was written in Chinese, I would be forced to practice Chinese. And that was one of the program’s many perks that I saw to my advantage. And I can proudly say that I kept to that pledge, and saw my Chinese improve tremendously. My parents had always tried to get me to speak Chinese when I was younger, but as soon as I learned English in kindergarten, I had refused to speak Chinese. My friends only knew English, so that’s all I thought I needed. What’s the use of learning Chinese when my friends didn’t know it? It’s hard because i’m expected to speak in perfect Chinese because of my physical appearance, so I’ve always felt extra pressure to speak Chinese well. That pressure paired with my insecurity in speaking the language made me more and more afraid to speak it. So I didn’t. After returning to the US, i’m glad to say that I now speak to my parents in Chinese, and I know that they’re touched that i’ve changed my habit. One of my parent’s friends had recently told me how my mom gushed to her that I was finally speaking to her in Chinese, and that made me really happy.
Beijing has an intense air pollution problem –there’s no doubt. Also, the old streets and alleyways may not be as glamorous as NYC. But the thing is, there is so much culture and history in this city. And I got to experience it all firsthand. In Beijing, there’s so many historical sites: the Forbidden City, the Temple of Heaven, the Summer Palace, the Great Wall, the National Museum, just to name a few – there wasn’t enough time to visit them all! Another reason why I chose China was because Chinese culture is so incredibly different from American culture, and there was so much for me to learn. For example, in China, when a person says “You’ve gained weight,” it is not an insult. It is simply an observation, and the Chinese people won’t take it to heart. However, in America, when someone comments “You’ve gained weight,” then that person may feel incredibly self-conscious and may even be upset at the person who commented. Chinese people also are more conservative when it comes to clothing – so many girls wore stockings under shorts and skirts… even when it was 100 degrees outside! Also, just like how American girls are obsessed with tanning and being “bronze,” Chinese girls are obsessed with being pale and lighter-skinned. During the summertime, you can’t be surprised if you see a bunch of umbrellas open in broad sunlight.
Another thing that goes on my list of my top 5 favorite things about China was the food – how delicious and how relatively inexpensive it was compared to American food! I got to try so many new foods in China – authentic Kung Pao Chicken, Tomato & Eggs (a personal fav), Egg Pancakes, Pork Buns, Peking Duck, Fried Scorpion (a must for the full tourist experience), Eggplant (which I had refused to eat in America, but ended loving in China), etc. The average cost of my breakfast was $0.50-$1.00 USD, and the average cost of my dinner was anywhere from $2-8 USD. The best part was tax and tip were all automatically included into these prices. The food was so good and so cheap, so naturally, I ate so much of it. I’m quite the eater. You can understand my pain, coming back to NYC where you’d be happy to get away with a $15 meal. I’m going to miss the delicious, authentic Chinese food!
I could write a whole book about my China experience. There’s just so much to say about it! However, I know no one wants to sit there reading a super long blog, so instead, please enjoy this video with clips that I pieced together to illustrate my experience. Luckily, my camera had this neat little function where it could record videos and take photos simultaneously. Sometimes, photos can’t always tell the full story. Granted, nothing can really take the place of the actual experience. However, with these little snapshots, I was able to capture the little moments right before the click of the shutter – sometimes I got a video of somebody dancing, or a face popping in and disappearing right before a click, or a switch of a facial expression. I hope that everyone can get a little taste of my semester abroad!
金羽庭 (Jin YuTing)