Written by Brendan Nuse, (Oberlin College) Student Correspondent Middlebury School in China: Kunming, Fall 2015
Dear Prospective CET/Middlebury Kunming Student,
I’m not sure what your priorities are, but if they are the same as mine, I am absolutely certain that this is the best study abroad program you could choose. I had some expectations of what I hoped to get out of this program going in, and I feel that my expectations were all fulfilled, or even surpassed. Here’s a list of a few of the things that I was focusing on and how they played out.
1. Chinese Ability
Coming to China, my number one priority was improving my Chinese. People who know me know that I can get a little bit obsessed with school and grades and my improvement in these areas. I was very excited that all of my classes would be in Chinese. I expected that I would spend the vast majority of my time in the library studying for my classes. However, in a recent conversation with one of my friends, I realized that, while I did spend most of my time studying, I definitely did not spend as much time studying as I expected to. However, that certainly does not mean that my Chinese did not improve. In fact, at least in some ways, I think that my Chinese improved more than I expected it to. I think this had a lot to do with our language pledge. Being in an environment where you are supposed to speak Chinese all the time, and being constantly surrounded by other people who also have to speak Chinese all the time (except the random Chinese strangers on the street who come up to you and start speaking English and continue speaking English even when you respond in Chinese…can you tell this is my biggest pet peeve? I once told one of these people to “别看不起我” (not look down on me), to which, of course, he responded “OK”. This is the #1 way to make me mad, people) has a big impact on your Chinese. Besides being helpful, it is, in my opinion, also very fun. While some of my classmates were frustrated because they felt they couldn’t express their “deep” thoughts in Chinese, I find that there are a lot of things that are easier to express in Chinese than in English. Also, as someone who really, really does not enjoy talking to strangers, I felt like having to speak Chinese made this easier than it would be normally. When people don’t expect you to be able to express yourself articulately, I feel like they’re a lot less prone to judge you, which makes me a lot more comfortable.
Overall, I think that the academic aspect of this program was 独一无二 (unique/unparalleled/unmatched/nothing compares to it- this is a good example of something that I think is easier to express in Chinese than English). While I usually finish a semester feeling like I learned a lot, this semester I feel like I learned a particularly large amount of material. My Chinese improved a lot, plus I learned a lot about Chinese society and culture. I have no complaints about the academic experience I have had here.
2. Living In a Different Country
Before coming to China, I had never left the United States. Therefore, living in a country completely across the world for nearly four months was, to say the least, kind of a big deal. While I was extremely excited, I was also somewhat worried that I wouldn’t be able to handle it. If there was a problem, how would I handle it? It was kind of like going to college for the first time, but on a much larger scale. Luckily, I’ve found out that I’m more capable than I expected. I survived being relatively seriously sick for the first time in almost three years, living in a large city for the first time, and going on multiple traveling excursions. Part of the reason that I expected to spend my time studying was because I worried that I wouldn’t be able to organize myself enough to travel or engage in other exciting activities without getting lost, robbed, or murdered (though the main reason, of course, is that I’m a nerd). However, I found that I was able to handle all these situations. While I loved my day-to-day life with my classes and friends, I don’t think that I would have had as great of an experience if I hadn’t taken advantage of opportunities like going to Shangri-La, hiking through Tiger Leaping Gorge, or even just having a super strange trip to a hospital that specializes in traditional Chinese medicine.
The best part of living in China, in my opinion, is getting to speak Chinese all the time. In the U.S., I have to keep my Chinese exclusively to Chinese class and the random Chinese people my mom finds and makes me talk to. In China, it’s definitely not as hard to find opportunities to speak Chinese (obviously). I guess this could be a bad aspect if you didn’t like speaking Chinese, but who doesn’t like Chinese?
Overall, I was very happy with my first experience in a foreign country. This whole experience made me realize that there are so many opportunities out there if you just reach out and grab them.
I’ll admit it- when I found out that there were only 11 people on my program (including myself), I was a little bit worried that I would end up hating everyone or having everyone hate me, or both. Luckily, that hasn’t been the case. I’ve made a lot of great connections with people, both American and Chinese. Unfortunately, now I have to confront the fact that I’m probably never going to see most of these people ever again. Life lesson: don’t get too close to your friends when you’re abroad! (I’m kidding- sort of).
When I first got here, I was a little worried that I wouldn’t really talk to any of the Chinese roommates here, or at least not any of them besides my own. I was worried they would think that my Chinese was bad, or that they just wouldn’t be willing to talk to me. In particular, I had heard that since Chinese dorms tend to be pretty low-quality and crowded, most of the roommates would probably just be participating in this program in order to get a nicer room. One of my classmates recently brought this up again, and, although he still believes that this is the case, I think that this couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, one of the roommates recently told me that she actually prefers the dorm that she was in last year to the one that she is in now that she is participating in this program. While I’m not super close to all of the roommates, I consider quite a few of them to be my friends, and I’m certainly going to miss them when I leave Kunming.
Basically, this program is great! I learned a lot, had a great time, and made good friends. If you’re wondering if you should participate in this program, you should.