Written by Avia Kraft (University of Texas at Austin) Student Correspondent CET Kunming, Summer 2017
With our two-part final exam coming up and the stress of our final grades looming, last weekend CET students were offered the opportunity to decompress and visit Fuxian Lake. Not only did we get to take a boat ride, but we also swam in the lake and had the option to go hiking. Despite the weather being a little bit cloudy and the slight drizzle of rain, we had a great time. As one of the many excursions that we’ve had throughout our time in Kunming this summer, I must admit that Fuxian Lake has been my favorite so far—but I didn’t expect it to be the setting for one of my biggest realizations about studying Chinese abroad.
Although I originally felt conflicted about taking a day out of my study schedule to have fun, part of enjoying the experience of studying abroad in China is leaving the library once in a while and actually trying to use what you’ve learned—otherwise you won’t remember it. If there’s one thing I could improve about how I’ve approached this program it would be applying my class lessons more in daily life.Although doing so can feel like an enormous effort and often you’ll find yourself frustrated and discouraged, the key to actually retaining copious amounts of information lies in applying it to as many situations as possible.
Case in point? For the near-entirety of my time in China, I haven’t been able to remember the word 冰激凌 (ice cream). Although I enjoy Chinese ice cream on a regular and nearly addicted basis, for the life of me I couldn’t remember how to say it. In the two months I’ve spent living here, I came up with nearly every possible variation. The number of times I failed to say this simple word were truly awe-inspiring to my roommate and teachers, I’m sure.
It was only after my trip to Fuxian Lake, where I bought a particularly amazing ice cream cone at a questionable food stand advertising“冰激凌”on their menu that, finally, everything came together. I realized, this was the answer I’d been grasping for all that time—it was as though a lightbulb went on—and I haven’t forgotten since. You may just think I’m a bit slow on the uptake (and you wouldn’t be wrong), but my point is this— studying a language is embarrassing and often extremely disheartening. However, when you get it, you really get it. The moment of realization when you really understand something is worth every moment of frustration and drill-and-repeat that led you there.
Learning Chinese is worth every struggle you encounter. After two months of endless work, evenings spent memorizing grammar structures and studying for quizzes, I can say that my Chinese has improved by leaps and bounds. When I first arrived having studied for only a year at my home university, I could barely string together a basic sentence—let alone hold actual conversation with people. This evening, as I sit typing this blog post, I’m preparing for my final exam presentation, during which I’ll speak about a number of topics including Chinese economic reform, the One Child Policy, the obesity epidemic, and the cultural values placed on gender. Although I’m nowhere near fluent, I can say with certainty that attending CET Kunming this summer has truly allowed me to understand Chinese culture and language in a completely different light. I look forward to travelling throughout China for the next week after CET finishes. I feel confident that, although I started two months ago as only a 200-level student, I’ll be more than capable of travelling alone and interacting with native speakers. To me, that makes every moment of work and struggle in this program worth it.