Written by Rachel Corbin (Yale University)
Yale-China student at the CET Intensive Chinese Language in Beijing program, Summer ’11
If you have never seen a large crowd of people over the age of 40 doing a coordinated dance in a public space, then you haven’t spent enough time in China. If you have seen this and have not joined in, then you have missed out.
As I dance along, I find myself thinking, “This never happens in theU.S.!” And I wish I could bring middle-aged and retiree park dancing back with me.
On the way home from the park, I stop at a small shop. The shopkeeper knows me, and he knows why I’m there. He moves a crate of snacks from the top of the cooler so that I can make my ice cream selection. For the equivalent of 30 or 40 U.S. cents, you can have your choice of a wide variety of delicious ice cream novelties. When I go back to America, I will surely miss all five of my favorite flavors very much.
When dinnertime comes, I look forward to the hot water that will accompany my meal. I never thought I would say this, but I’m going to miss drinking hot water. Any non-bottled water served in restaurants here is boiled (so you know it’s safe to drink). Remarkably, drinking boiled water on a hot day really does seem to cool me off. Maybe it’s just because, in comparison to the water, the day no longer seems so hot. I can’t imagine hot water accompanying a hamburger, but alongside Chinese food, it does just fine.
I won’t need to miss spreading peanut butter with chopsticks, because it’s a ritual I can easily sustain on my own wherever I live. And I definitely intend to continue that practice. Believe it or not, chopsticks are just as easy to use as forks once you get the hang of them. It’s all just a matter of what you’re accustomed to.
As many times as I’ve said, “I’m deathly tired!” in Chinese, I am still going to miss CET’s rigorous course schedule. It’s been pretty cool to see such rapid improvement in my language skills. This experience, more than anything I’ve done before, has shown me how adaptable my brain really is.
Then, there are the roommates. CET’s Chinese roommates are fantastic. It’s great to live with someone your age who speaks the language you’re trying to learn and is extremely patient with you as you butcher almost every phrase during the first few weeks. I’ll surely be missing my roommate a lot, both as a friend and as a helper when I’m completely confused about anything Chinese.
This hodgepodge of happiness I’ve just described covers only a few of the things I know I’ll miss as I embark on my next adventure. I’ll be in China for two more years working as an English teacher, and I’m so thrilled to view language learning from the flipside as well as to keep amassing great memories and adding to the list of distinctly Chinese items and practices that I’ve fallen in love with.
As I pack my fans and chopsticks into my suitcase, I wish I could also bring the park dancers, the ice cream, the hot water, my classes, my friends and so much more to the U.S. when I eventually do go back home. But even if I could transplant these things to my home country, they wouldn’t be quite the same outside of China. And so, I will give my friends, my family, and you the following advice: you should really come to China to study Chinese, and see for yourself. It’s a great place.
As for me, let the adventure continue!
Written by Rachel Howard, Senior Manager, CET Czech Republic Programs
Recently, JTA, an online Jewish news source, ran an article describing how the Polish town of Oswiecim is wrestling with its past. Oswiecim is much more famous for its German name, Auschwitz. While the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp sits as a memorial on the outskirts of the town of Oswiecim, the town’s 10,000-some residents go about their daily lives. Many visitors to Auschwitz have no idea that the town of Oswiecim exists. As described in the JTA article, some of Oswiecim’s residents have sought to disassociate themselves from the concentration camp. Others have decided that addressing Auschwitz is the best path to take.
CET takes its Jewish Studies students on a traveling seminar that includes a visit to Auschwitz as well as an overnight stay in the town of Oswiecim. CET students engage in dialogue with their Polish peers at the Auschwitz Jewish Center, which is located in the town of Oswiecim. Although the traveling seminar has an academic focus, no visitor to Auschwitz or Oswiecim can avoid being affected on a spiritual level, regardless of the individual’s religious background.
Student Correspondent Ilana Sidorsky, a spring 2011 student from Brandeis University, blogged extensively about her experiences at http://cetacademicprograms.com/tag/auschwitz/. Ilana had a small-group discussion with Polish students who were particularly interested in talking about their feelings and came across as open-minded and accepting.
Another student, Rebecca Kahn-Witman (George Washington University), was placed in another group with students who were less open, and walked away with another impression. Rebecca explained that she went from not knowing that Oswiecim even exists to confronting her emotions through visiting the town. She found it extremely difficult to spend the night in Oswiecim, although she understood the value this brought to the program. Rebecca recounted her experience as gaining an understanding of the town’s current identity struggle, trying to separate from the stigma of Auschwitz. Yet, she still grappled with the thought of people continuing to live in such a place. Emotionally, it was difficult to get beyond wondering how the town’s residents during the Holocaust could go about their daily lives without taking action to stop everything that was going on at Auschwitz.
A third student, Eric Klappholz (Vanderbilt University), struck a different tone in his reflections:
Oswiecim is a town defined by its dichotomy. The dichotomy between its past and present, between Germans and Poles, and between suffering and happiness. For centuries Oswiecim was a typical Polish town with an unremarkable history. Only with the devastating invasion and subsequent occupation of the Nazis did the town’s story of an average Polish town change forever. Even though the difference between Oswiecim and Auschwitz is only of languages, the contrary names evoke drastically polar reactions. The pain and suffering of Auschwitz seems out of place in the idyllic Oswiecim. The reconciliation of this dichotomy is necessary to heal the wounds opened up during the Holocaust. Poles, Germans, and Jews of both nations have to come to terms with the traumatic history for the natives of Oswiecim to create their own future. Bridging the gaps among Auschwitz, Oswiecim, and its Yiddish name of Oshpitzin is what is necessary for people all over the world to come to terms with the affects of the Holocaust.
Clearly, all CET students confront the Auschwitz/Oswiecim issue both during their traveling seminar and in subsequent reflections. CET will continue taking students to both the camp and the town, and it will be interesting to see if and how these reflections evolve as the town embarks on a path to address its identity.
Congratulations to the following winners of the Summer 2011 CET Shanghai Photo Contest! Good luck getting ready for fall semester and get ready to read the upcoming entries from our Fall 2011 bloggers!
2nd Place: Photo of Edward Antczak (University of Tennessee – Knoxville) taken by his roommate 曾大天 (Zeng Datian)
1st Place: Photo by Elle Gurskis (Davidson College)
Congratulations to the following winners of the Summer 2011 CET Jordan Photo Contest! Good luck getting ready for fall semester and get ready to read the upcoming entries from our Fall 2011 bloggers!