By Hana Barkowitz
Before this trip, I considered myself a worldly and tolerant person, but I now realize how little I knew. I now know that the only way to truly know about a culture is to experience it and be immersed. Never had I thought that I’d travel to see the world’s biggest Buddha, see the home of the pandas, get a foot massage with some of the best people or sip tea at a genuine Chinese tea house. The entire experience was trans formative and truly made me a better person, but I would day the people I met truly impacted me the most.
Chinese people are generally so welcoming, polite, sweet, funny and intelligent. I didn’t encounter one person who I thought was directly rude by any means. One of the most incredible experiences I had was in my Critical Thinking for the Social Sciences class. We were assigned a group and had one day to make a presentation on whether cultural diversity within groups is beneficial or detrimental. This project was particularly interesting because I was the only American among seven Chinese students. I learned so much from conversing and hanging out with my group members, more than I could ever hope for. I feel I am a more patient person after being in this group, and I am growing into a better person.
I still keep in touch with my group members and I hope they come to visit me in Kent soon. I realized, after this trip, that everybody is beautiful.
By Joseph (Joyo) Young
Communication (Comm) majors usually have more social insight when it comes to interpreting and expressing ideas, experiences and other narratives of life. Studying in the College of Literature and Journalism at Sichuan University with 19 comm scholars is part of what made this journey so memorable. Although today, I face a rather unfamiliar challenge: defining my experience. My memories have been tested with broad questions surrounding the trip. I may be asked “How was it?” or “What was your favorite thing about the trip?” Many things come to mind when I ask myself these questions. “Should I talk about the weather, the traffic, the time difference, the nature or the commerce?” This thought process, in and of itself, takes more time than most people have patience for. Despite being a comm major, this challenge has prevented me from expressing the details of my experience in a way that satisfies both me and the reader.
Throughout our two weeks, we took in a lot of things from Chengdu’s bustling environment. I had two basic methods of perception; broadly observing the infrastructure, aesthetic, and other explicit signals placed at the forefront, or interpreting the implicit social aspects in a meaningful way, which became an intimate process. What I found important was the interrelated nature of what I gathered from both methods. This understanding inspired some of the most memorable moments. Gawking at the extreme developmental activity in Chengdu’s business district was one method of perception and getting to know the people was another. The intrinsic relationship between the methods revealed itself a little more each day. This relationship was inextricably essential to the culture of Chengdu. More so than I ever could have fathomed before visiting. I’m sure that this is only the beginning for this new way of learning.
By Kenae Hughes
This summer I was given an amazing opportunity. I was able to travel to Chengdu, China, as a cultural exchange student for the Sichuan University Immersion Program. I had many great experiences while traveling abroad. I was able to learn about a different culture, learn a few words in the Chinese language, try different foods, meet new people and most importantly, receive a different perspective on life.
The most transformative experience I had in Chengdu was going out to dinner and eating with Chinese friends. This experience was the most meaningful and transformative for me because during the process of ordering dinner, no one orders individually. The Chinese culture is a collectivist culture; one does not only think about oneself. When ordering dinner, everyone speaks on what is wanted and needed at the table. Before the final order is submitted, everyone at the table has to agree with what is being ordered. With that said, everyone’s preference is taken into consideration. One is not only concerned about what is on his plate but concerned about what is on everyone’s plate. As a person of African American descent who has unconsciously adopted many Western ideologies like individualism, I have discovered I am more drawn to collectivism.
Observing my ideal way of living with the people around me was such a beautiful experience. Even though going out to dinner may sound so simple, the value of unity and mutual respect is what ordering dinner and eating together exposed about the people. I would like to implement this way of living in to everything I do, especially when raising my future children. I appreciate this beautiful, yet so simple experience in Chengdu, China.
Spending sixteen days in China gave me a new perspective on the world. At first, I felt like a fish out of water; everything seemed different. That was until we began meeting the students at Sichuan University. Conversations about Beyonce, Adele and pop culture dissolved the cultural differences. The breakthrough for me feeling comfortable in China was when the students we had met the week prior asked us to go shopping with them. The Chinese people were so hospitable, and the students were always eager to help us.
One of my new friends is named Cindy. Well, that is her American name. Many Chinese students have American names in addition to their Chinese name. Cindy and I hit it off from the first student mingling session, so I wan’t afraid to ask her how she picked her name (which I thought was the normal practice). She told me that her English teacher in high school had picked her name for her. She then exclaimed, “I could pick a new name,” with a look of surprise on her face.”
Cindy is from the province north of Sichuan and was returning home to her family the day before we left China. She takes a twenty-four hour train ride home to see her family after each semester ends, she explained to me that she can’t always go home because the train is expensive. Cindy and her fellow Chinese students was amazed by American culture. She asked me to show her what Facebook looked like and what the differences between Instagram and Twitter were. Cindy and her two friends were nice enough to make little notes for us that said “I am lost” in Mandarin and put their phone numbers down so that they could translate between us and whomever we were asking for help. It was those gestures that may have seemed small to them that made a world of a difference for me. I felt as though someone had my back.
While I enjoyed seeing the world’s largest Buddha and awing over baby pandas, the thing I will remember most about visiting China was the people.
By Elizabeth Garlinger
“Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another: ‘What! You too? I thought I was the only one!” -C. S. Lewis
There is no “30 second elevator pitch” that could ever begin to explain the transformative power of studying abroad. Although I am biased, I truly believe that there is no feasible way of identifying the intrinsic cornerstones of your personhood faster than immersing yourself in culture thousands of miles away from your own. However, the “culture shock” which you expect might not be everything you expected; in fact, part of your discovery will probably be rooted in the revelation of universal tenets of the human experience.
During my stay in China I experienced many things, from roaming around the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding to consuming Sichuan’s famous spicy peppers.Undoubtedly my most treasured time during my stay were the days and nights spent with students whom I had the privilege of befriending. I am humbled to say it would take an unfathomable amount of time to describe all of the wonderful individuals I engaged with. For now I would like to introduce you to my friend Liu Yagin, or as she liked to call herself, Jasmine.
I met Jasmine when a group of mutual friends decided to explore the Jinli District. While our group weaved through eclectic shops and bustling streets, Jasmine and I were able to chat and exchange life stories. To my surprise, we shared numerous commonalities from being raised in small towns to our mutual obsession with literature. She told me about daily life in Chengdu, some of the secrets to navigating public transportation, where to find the best street food shops and her future aspirations. As our conversation expanded, she asked me many questions from what it means to be an American to what it was like to have a snowy winter (as a native Ohioan, this was a loaded subject).
For a person who was plagued with nervousness over how to “properly” engage with other cultures while abroad, it was extraordinarily strange to connect with Jasmine within an extremely short span of time. However, I am glad to call her my friend and look forward to the growth and continuation of our friendship. Just before I returned to the United States, Jasmine created a photo album documenting our time together which I will treasure forever. True to her foresight as a publisher, Jasmine created a large blank space within the album declaring “it’s your turn to fill your story,” which I eagerly await to fill and return with imagery of the milestone moments of my life alongside blank pages for her own narrative.
By Katelyn Lawrence
During my time in Chengdu, I experienced a lot of culture-shock, as one would expect. I quickly realized that the best way to get through the culture shock was to embrace the culture. Simple tasks, such as ordering a pizza, became difficult and often embarrassing. It involved a lot of pointing and head nods and hoping you got the food you wanted. At first I was hesitant to eat the “mystery meats,” but once I was more comfortable with the foods I realized I was probably better off just eating instead of questioning what it was. My time in Chengdu made me grateful for toilets in public restrooms and to be living in a place where it is safe to drink tap water (staying hydrated in the heat wasn’t always easy). I also realized how lucky I was to grow up in an English-speaking country, seeing that as the common language among all of the international students. This experience has inspired me to become more fluent in another language, instead of just knowing bits and pieces of a few foreign languages.
When getting to know the students, I was surprised about how much they wanted to know about us personally (such as if we had boyfriends/girlfriends, what we do in our spare time, if we have jobs, etc.). It was also incredibly eye-opening how much the students really listened to what we were saying and inspired by it—after telling one girl that I also work a full-time job, she wanted to try to find a job, too. The conversations we had with those students were an amazing opportunity to see how our lives were so similar yet so different. We quickly learned that we had a lot of the same interests, but our daily lives were completely different. The Chinese students don’t have to work to support themselves through college, and students (even the graduate students) lived on campus. I also found it funny how interested the Chinese girls were in American boys. For me the entire experience was eye-opening, getting a better understanding of the lives of other college students from around the world.
By Daniel Socha
From the minute we arrived in Chengdu, our friends at Sichuan University greeted us with open arms, endless hospitality and a great eagerness to exchange ideas. For me, the most transformative part of my experience in the summer immersion program came from the relationships made and conversations had with the diverse group of students from Sichuan University. In one conversation over a spicy meal with two Sichuan students, I was surprised to learn that there is a large array of language dialects in China. The students I was with – one from Chengdu and the other from Beijing – expressed that they would rather speak to one another in English because of the difficulty in understanding each others’ dialects. And, later in the meal, these same students explained to me that, along with the large range in diversity of language, China is rich in diversity of cultural practice.
Going to China, I was not conscious of the homogenized way that I had imagined Chinese culture based on a limited set of personal experiences. The Sichuan Immersion Program opened my eyes to the diversity within China, while teaching me that “culture” is a hard thing to define… and that maybe “culture” is not the most important thing to find. Before embarking on this study abroad experience, I had pictured myself discovering what Chinese culture was all about. But through conversations, cups of tea, interactions at restaurants and wechat messages, what I discovered is that there is no singular, neatly-packed Chinese “culture.”And rather, what was most eye-opening was to hear from Sichuan students about their lived experiences. Eager to share our experiences with one another, students told me about many things, from struggles of high school to their political ideas. Listening to students talk about their lived experiences challenged my preconceived notions and changed the way I think about China.