Written by Zoey Erdenebileg (Kenyon College)
Chinese Studies and Internship in Shanghai, Student Correspondent, Spring 2013
The shifu (master worker) glares across the glass pane between us. The glass and the table stocked horizontally with pre-prepared, greasy and steaming food are the only things separating me from him. He looks expectant, waiting for me to make my order. I stumble over the word for baozi (dumpling). Perhaps my tones are wrong, I don’t know; I usually just try to use as many third tones as I can. But it is wrong enough that his look suddenly switches to one of puzzlement. I can imagine his inner dialogue:
“她是哪里人? 看起来是中国人。” (Where is she from? She looks Chinese.)
But by now, I am used to the silence that follows in cases of miscommunication, and use the language that any willing person can understand. I point vigorously to the fresh, white dumplings plumped within the wicker steamer baskets next to shifu. “两个！” I shout across the glass, “我要两个！” Cue success.
One of the more unique problems that I have as an Asian-looking person studying abroad in an Asian country is the problem of immediate classification. White students are easy enough. They might get the rundown of, “美国？法国？德国？俄罗斯？英国？” (American? French? German? Russian? English?). But it is clear that they are 外国人（foreigners). The country is chosen, and the question is settled.
For Asians studying abroad, the question can drag on. If you are not East Asian (read: Korea and Japan) or South East Asian (Malaysian, Filipino, Indonesian etc.) like many international students at Donghua University and in the city of Shanghai, chances are you will face the classification problem. Most people, after guessing Korean and Japanese, will guess that I am an ABC, or American Born Chinese, a classification Chinese people are used to. So far, I have not had a person guess correctly that I am, in fact, Mongolian.
This spring, I am the only student of Asian descent in the group. Whenever we go to restaurants, the waiter will look expectedly towards me, the supposed translator. Earlier this week, while sitting in a western-style café with my clearly American bosses, the waiter used his broken English to run through the afternoon specials. Afterwards, he turned solely to me and repeated the entire menu in very fast Mandarin. He stood patientily, waiting for me to use an equally rapid speed to order. Thankfully, my language skills had prepared me for this. I smiled, replied “谢谢” (thank you) and let my boss order with her fluent Chinese. Hopefully, he thought I was just being lazy.
Written by Dawn Huston, CET Campus Relations Manager – West
Occasionally, we log into our Facebook account to discover that people we’ve missed for years have found us. This recently happened to me and I’ve had the pleasure of reconnecting with an entire family because of it. Not long after this took place, I announced plans of visiting our Intensive Language program in Osaka, Japan. As it turns out, one said family member had lived in Japan and brought his Japanese wife back to the states. The couple kindly offered to introduce me to family and friends still living in Takamatsu, Japan.
Let the adventures begin! After visiting with our students in Osaka, I headed to Takamatsu to meet my new found “extended family.” They knew a little English, and I knew far less Japanese. I was understandably feeling a tad nervous. Communication was going to be a challenge, notwithstanding body language (which is culturally very different between Japan and the US.) This family had been exposed to American customs, but had they adopted any of them? Japanese are some of the most polite people I’ve ever met; would this couple feel free to let me know if I committed any social faux pas? The last thing I wanted was to offend them. They opened their home and their time to a near complete stranger. How incredibly kind!
The simplest of exchanges resulted in questions. Do I greet the couple with hugs to show gratitude? This is atypical in Japan. At my relief, I sensed that we were all on the same puzzled page. We wound up exchanging dainty, swift hugs at the bus depot – a fitting compromise for huge hugs versus handshakes.
During lunch, I noticed the couple slurping their udon noodle soup. I immediately decided I should follow suit. It took 6 or 7 tries before I was able to make audible slurps. With each unsuccessful attempt, I wondered if they noticed the silent consumption of noodles.
While crossing a rather large suspension bridge created entirely out of vines, my inner child was ready to skip across in reckless abandon. At the same time, I noticed my host appeared nervous. What was the appropriate way to show support? If hugging wasn’t common, I had no idea how an outstretched hand would have been received. So, I encouraged her bravery by keeping a slow pace near her side. My inner child could play another day.
Over the course of my stay, we used a lot of charade-like gestures and visual media. At the end of the first night, we sat watching a slide show of the couples’ daughter marrying my friend. As I sat listening to the accompanying Jimmy Buffet music (no doubt an influence from my childhood friend), I couldn’t help but think how fortunate I was. I was actually catching up on the important moments of old friends’ lives while sitting on the traditional tatami mat flooring in the home of new friends.
Just in case you are wondering…I did go to bed that night with Disney’s “It’s a small world” theme song in my head. I also thought about how this was all possible because of the efforts of my friends and family to learn a second language.
I am not homesick. I have repeated that phrase to myself and to others numerous times. I want to live and work abroad, so this paltry semester isn’t enough to get my homesick, right? I have at times admitted that there are some particular things that I miss, and that it is annoying to have to speak to people at awkward hours of the day. It makes the conversations somewhat forced. But even then, I do not miss things for their own sake. That’s what homesickness is, right? Missing things from your home country just because they are from the home country?
But here’s the thing that makes me doubt: recently we went to an international grocery store, and although they had Sun Chips, there was not a Cheez-it in sight. Suddenly, I’m dying for mid-June when I will meet up with my Mom in Japan and hopefully she’ll have a box in her bag. And it’s a quick hop, step, and a jump from wanting Cheez-its to wanting to eat them with Izzy and Rachel, my Cheez-it sharing partners at college; from wanting to see them, I go to wanting to see my cats, and from there I’m smack dab in the middle of wanting to curl up in my bed at home. Ever since this experience at the international foods grocery store, I’ve had to confront the fact that I was in denial. I am a little homesick. We all are.
I was recently talking about this with a friend who’s been here longer than I have and she said, “I know what you mean. I’m kind of tired of China. I just want to be in the States.” When she said this it made me realize that that’s not what I meant. I’m not tired of China. In fact, I’m still enjoying myself here. I still love spending time with my friends, whether that’s at a tourist location, a teashop, shopping, or just hanging out in the dorms. I still love trying Chinese food and particularly love ordering dishes that have become favorites. Just the other day I got to talking with the man I buy my breakfast fruit from, and then ran into some friends who were playing games with the little daughter of the 小商店 (xiǎo shāngdiàn, small shop) owners across the street. It was a wonderful night. I want my next (and last!) two weeks to be just as full and wonderful as the first 13 have been. But I have to admit, I’m also happy that pretty soon I’ll be able to eat cheese and see my family.
In short, when it comes to the things I miss from America just because they are American (read: cheese and fully stocked bathrooms), I am comforted by the fact that Beijing has more than enough to offer in their place. Fresh dumplings and lotus root, dragonfruit and milk tea, KTV and ancient architecture make life here very enjoyable. And if that weren’t enough to get me through, I can always grab some Kraft mac & cheese at this great little supermarket I know about.
Written by Kylie Fuller (Johns Hopkins University)
Central European Studies in Prague, Student Correspondent, Spring 2013
I am now approaching my last weekend and week in Prague. It is amazing how fast this semester has gone. I still remember getting off the plane, and stepping out into the cold strange city. It was snowing, and I could barley see out the window of the bus as we drove away from the airport. Little did I know that the weather would not improve much from then, even though it is now May. It is true that it isn’t snowing still, but there definitely seems to be no sunshine to spare. I still had an incredible experience, and I believe that is a true testament to how great of a city this is. Despite the weather being more than a little depressing, I still had the time of my life. Maybe the greatness would have been too much for any one person to handle if the weather was good! As my culminating blog, I wish to reflect on the good and bad things about studying abroad in the Czech Republic.
Since I want my semester to end on a good note, I think it would be good if my blog did as well, so I will start with the negatives of studying abroad in Prague. I have already mentioned the biggest one, the weather. Winter lasted until mid-April, and I celebrated my first snowy Easter here this year. It was a wild experience to be walking around the Easter markets in a winter coat and gloves. I also felt bad for the hoards of tourists, who definitely were not expecting the weather to be like this when they booked the trip. It is now mid-May, and the weather has changed to cold and rainy. It is incredible to not have to wear my winter jacket any longer, but my raincoat is only a slight improvement. My second biggest complaint is how hard the language is. Czech is a phonetic language, so it was easy to learn the alphabet and how to pronounce everything. That was the only easy part about it. The grammar rules are so difficult, and even if you learn how to speak, understanding Czech is ten times as challenging. There is also a big discrepancy between the Czech we were taught, and the Czech that is actually spoken in Prague. The endings and words are slightly different, which meant I couldn’t understand Czech people, and they definitely could not understand me (Luckily, most everyone here speaks at least some English!). My third complaint is the nightlife. There is none. The bars and clubs are really cool, but they are spread out all over the city instead of in a central district. Also, the young people in Prague don’t go to these places. My Czech buddy says either students don’t go out at all, or they go to bars for a drink and then go home. That means the only people at clubs are tourists or older, wealthier Czech people. There are only 20 people in my program, so I felt starved for interactions with other young people. The level of smoke in a lot of these places was also a radical change form the U.S., where smoking in enclosed public spaces is forbidden. And lastly, it is impossible to find a good bagel here. That will be one of the first things I eat when I return home.
That sums up all of the negatives, so now it is time for all the fantastic things about Prague. Although I could not tell this at first, I soon came to realize how beautiful the city is. You can walk pretty much anywhere you need to go, and the decoration and architecture of the buildings lining all of the streets never ceases to amaze me. Prague also has many squares and parks that people can sit in and enjoy the scenery. Now that everything is finally green, it adds a whole new beauty to the city. The second best thing about Prague is the public transportation. Public transportation in the United States is so pathetic that I actually feel embarrassed when foreigners ask me about it. It is impossible to get around the U.S. without a car, so it was a nice break to be able to easily get from place to place quickly and without much stress. Thirdly, the food and drink in Prague are amazing and cheap! I don’t know how I will be able to cope when I can’t get dinner and a drink for under 4 dollars. There are some ingredients that are very difficult to get here, but the fun of not only going shopping, but also seeing that the bill was less than $20, undermined it! I also appreciated Prague’s central location in Europe was a huge plus. The location of Prague gave me the ability to travel to otherwise.
Although these are obviously not the complete lists, they are the highlights of both. As I said before, the good greatly outweighed the bad, and I would highly recommend studying here to anyone who is looking for an adventurous and wonderful abroad semester!