Joe's Study Abroad Experience: China
Name: Joe Montgomery
Program: Non-UMSL program to Shanghai, China
Major: International Business
Term Abroad: Summer and academic year of senior term
China, a land of enriched history, kung fu and mysterious Chinese symbols called characters. My journey to this land was one which was thoroughly thought out. I studied Chinese for 2 years; the next logical step was to go to China. I packed my belongings, bought more belongings and packed, and stomped my stuff into the suitcase ready to begin my journey. I sat on the plane filled with anxiousness, worry, confidence, doubt, and mixed nuts from the grazing of flight food snacks. I thought was the two years of Chinese, enough to immerse myself and live a simple life. After the 14 and a half hour flight I reached my destination. I made my way through the airport, and found myself in a taxi to go to my living quarters. I started to talk to the cab driver, the confidence I had swiftly turned to doubt. He held no restraints on the speed of which he talked, unlike the text recordings and classroom environment. The conversation lasted for 5 minutes, then we sat there in utter silence, I was afraid to utter a word in fear he would not understand, and thus was he. We at last arrived at my temporary home, which I would stay in until school started. I stepped into the house, and noticed a few major differences. My bed had no mattress, just a bamboo cover to soften the wooden frame, no refrigerator, and no central air conditioning unit. I knew then that this was going to take time to get used to. At first I just wanted to get to a hotel, and just spend the extra money, what was I to do? I didn't even have a T.V... but after consideration I decided to put on my big boy trousers, and suck it up.
Living there before school had a tremendous impact on my Chinese, it made me refuse to sit in the house, every day I went on an exploration of the city, I went to every metro station in the city, and walked around that area, a lot of which I regret going to. But none the less I used my Chinese every day, my listening ability drastically improved. Some of the locals in their area began to know me, this area in Shanghai foreigners never crossed to, so they were greatly intrigued to talk to me. As babbled my Chinese, and often tried to form sentences on the spot with the use of a dictionary. For I was forced to use Chinese, the people I talked to on an everyday basis could not speak English.
As I lived there longer, the cultural differences began to stick out. Some I liked and others I hated. The public restrooms in China are the biggest obstacle which I had to overcome. There is a glorified whole in the ground as the toilets, where there is porcelain made toilet, with no seat, that you must squat over. My first time using this was a confusing situation for me for there was no instruction manual posted on the wall for the proper form required. Chinese people are used to this and often rest in this position, as if they were sitting, for me it was a clumsy event. I sprawled my hands against the walls on both sides to keep bounce, as my muscles started to hurt, and I longed for an American toilet, and cursed the heavens for this blasphemy of this creation. But I conquered the situation and learned to cherish the dirtiest of gas station restrooms in the U.S., for they have a seat and supply toilet paper. In China, restrooms often do not supply toilet paper for you to use, they merely lend out the toilet to use, and it is your responsibility to bring your own supplies. I could rant and rave about other dislikes, but I should share the good parts. Life is substantially cheaper in China. You can eat cheap meals from 1-3 US dollars, or eat at a restaurant for slightly higher. Transportation costs are also much cheaper; you can travel the country for far less than you could in America. I went on a 42 hour train ride, I had my own bed, and the cost of the ticket was only 130 dollars. I traveled from one end of the country to the other.
After traveling and adjusting to life, I started school. I attended an American program over summer, which was much like an American program here, prepping me for the struggled that my future beheld. For fall I was to take 25 credit hours, all the credit hours was learning Chinese. This is the standard amount of Credit hours Chinese take during a semester, until junior and senior year. For I shall not wish studying 25 credit hours of Chinese upon my most hated enemies. In this program, the large majority of the students dropped out or stopped attending class and doing homework, for the pressure was too great to cover all the material and do homework required 9 hours of studying every weekday or more.
Chinese is a tricky language; it is one that takes diligence. There are two major factors that make the language hard: there are 4 tones, if the tone is wrong the word means something else. Usually you can get by with the wrong tones it just sounds weird when you talk. The other is Chinese characters; this requires a long time of writing and, memorization. If you don't constantly study you will often forget how to write a character. You cannot merely write a character 40 times and remember it your whole life, however you may remember for a month or so. The best advice I can give to anyone studying Chinese is to study till your hand hurts and your butt is sore. You need to write a tremendous amount to remember the characters.
China is a magnificent country; life there is far cheaper than the U.S. However all my foreign friends had a joke, if you stay in China for an extended period of time, you are bound to get diarrhea, but it comes with the territory of buying a 1 or 2 dollar meal. The majority of the places I ate at had a depressing yellow face for the food inspection. I personally loved my stay in China; however without a strong understanding of the language you miss out on the hidden wonders. Many Chinese beginners I have met said they feel like a small infant, they cannot express themselves, simple life task become a challenge, since the vast majority of store workers are not able to speak English. Despite this, I still suggest everybody to go to China and visit, for some of the greatest sites I have ever seen lie in the mysterious land.