Capital Connection

The way I prepare to travel is one big paradox. I’ve been following Chinese news since before I was approved to be part of the Wanxiang Fellows Program and read the program guide from cover to cover, yet here I am packing at 3am for my 8am flight tomorrow. I received an email alert for my flight from Washington, D.C. to Beijing, China but it still hasn’t sunk in yet. I keep telling myself that it’s best not to have any expectations, and to remember that since there is often more than one way of doing things what is considered “weird” is almost always subjective. However, I’ve also been worrying about air pollution since I have asthma. My mother, who made me pack 30 respirator masks, convinced me to do some more research. When I first started preparing I tried to think of things I already knew about China and realized that I only knew about very specific narratives. In the news, I had heard about China exporting a large amount of goods. In movies I had seen, China was the backdrop for either kung fu masters in the mountains or spies investigating powerful crime syndicates in glimmering metropoles. I know this is not an accurate portrayal, so I tried watching videos, talking to friends who had been to China and learning more about life in Beijing. Even though I have been swaying between trying to prepare for anything and keeping an open mind by accepting that I can’t, one thing that has stayed constant is my excitement.

An unforgettable experience

Hi! My name is Maegan Ramchal and I’m a rising junior in Weinberg. I’m studying psychology and environmental sciences. I’ll be doing the IPD Public Health program in Beijing.

Right now I’m sitting in my room surrounded by half-packed suitcases and unfolded clothes, but in less than 2 days I’ll be in China! The last week has been spent frantically looking up different aspects of Chinese life that might encounter. I’ve been abroad before, I visited my parent’s home country, Guyana, when I was 4 years old, and I visited Europe when I was a senior in High School. But, this will be the first time I really get to experience life in another country.

Coming into college I had a mental list of things that I wanted to do before I graduated, and studying abroad was at the top. The Public Health program in China stood out to me because the classes seemed so interesting, I’m really excited to learn about traditional Chinese medicine! Also, I wanted to study in a non-Westernized country with a culture different to that of my own.

I’m both thrilled and nervous to be embarking on this adventure. I’ve never been out of America for so long and I am not completely sure what to expect. I don’t know anyone else going on the trip yet, I’m excited to meet new people and make new friends! I hope whatever awaits me on the other side of the world is great. But I know at the very least, its going to be unforgettable.

Procrastinating Packing

Hi! My name is Mandy Pokryfky and I just finished up my sophomore year at NU. A little bit about myself… I am majoring in Mechanical Engineering and I am about to embark to China as part of the Wanxiang Fellows Program where I will be studying Energy Technology and Policy. I am currently writing this post less than 24 hours before my flight from Detroit to Chicago (where I will catch a connecting flight to Beijing), and I am procrastinating packing. I have been home for a week now and I have been catching up on relaxation and spending time with family members and friends before I depart for China. I brought my boyfriend home from NU to introduce him to my family and we spent a couple days exploring the more fun parts of Livonia, MI (my hometown). My favorite part about this week was probably our trip to the pet store where we played with the cutest yellow lab that ever existed… see picture below for proof.

I have never been out of the country before (other than on a short cruise) and I am feeling both nervous and excited! This is about to be the most exciting adventure of my life to date and I am most looking forward to experiencing a new culture. I am a little scared for the flight.. almost 14 hours, yikes! I am hoping that it will go smoothly and that navigating the airport in Beijing won’t be too confusing. I am also looking forward to trying new food and making new friends. I hope my classes will be interesting and that I will be able to explore many parts of Beijing. That’s about all for now… until next time!

It’s Good to Be Back!

Hello There,

This is my last blog post! 🙁 (I know we had some good times). I have been back in the U.S. for awhile now. Adjusting back to the American way life has been very smooth. I ran home to my mother’s home cooking and being filled in about family matters from my siblings. I find myself having a new outlook and perspective on life after this time abroad. Being able to live and study a country, their culture, and interact with their people has enabled me to form connections in new ways. Though I will miss the friends I made while in China and my morning Jianbing run, I am excited to return to the states.

I am currently back at Northwestern University starting my senior year! I am so excited to take what I learned in China and apply it to my studies. Being in the Brady Scholars Program in Ethics and Civic life, each of us in my cohort has to study abroad, take what we learn about the country, and apply it to our cultivation of a community service project. Our focus is on nutrition and accessibility of healthy foods. Taking what I learned about food markets and food distribution in China, I am sure will inform our decision on what tangible project we decide to pursue. (We will release a report at the end of the year so look out for it).

Finally, thank you for reading and embarking on this journey with me! I look forward to traveling in the future and exploring what the world has to offer.

My Chinese 3 classmates and teacher :)

My Chinese 3 classmates and teacher 🙂

Till next time!,

Cheron

Reverse Culture Shock

It has now been five weeks since I left Peking University and China. Since then, I have traveled to South Korea and Nicaragua. When I initially left China, I was extremely excited to return to a country where I was familiar with the language and culture; however, I felt myself missing China more than I could imagine. I miss walking down the street and picking up jianbing on the way to class. I miss the weekly excursions we would take to a historical site. In fact, I find myself talking about my study abroad adventures, even well after a month upon returning.

It has already been a week since school started, and I am so thankful for all the friends I’ve made during my time abroad. I see many of them in my class, or on the street, and we always give each other hugs and catch up. That’s when I know that some of the friendships I’ve made in China will last throughout my entire time here at Northwestern. The new friendships created in Beijing were not the only long term benefit that I took away. I learned that my choice to study economics and international studies were on point with my professional goals as well.

My amazing Chinese 3 class!

My amazing Chinese 3 class!

The political and economic development courses I took at Peking University really changed my perspective on the Chinese economy and the way it functions. The courses I took also debunked a lot of myths about their political system, and I know that I am interested in learning more upon my return to Northwestern.

I am counting down the days until I am able to return to China and explore more of the country that I have grown to love. In addition, I am already exploring my next options to study abroad for the next fall term. I truly think that my Northwestern experience would have not been the same without all the experiences and adventures I went through this summer!

Missing the views from our last excursion at the Summer Palace

Missing the views from our last excursion at the Summer Palace

 

 

Readjustment and Growth

My experiences in China feel like a combination of something that happened eons ago and something that happened only yesterday. Coming back to the States, I’ve already fallen into a routine of working on medical school interviews, catching up with friends, performing time-consuming errands, and working out the kinks of the upcoming school year. So much so that sometimes I forget that only a month ago, I was trekking the remote regions of the Great Wall trying to not slide off the slippery rocks. Yet some days, I wake up fully prepared to walk downstairs to grab jianbing (Chinese breakfast burrito) and soy milk before heading off to Chinese class.

An exhausting and an unforgettable experience

An exhausting and an unforgettable experience at a part of the wild Great Wall

Whether it’s during my med school interviews or just in general conversation with friends back home, it’s almost inevitable that I begin to talk profusely about my experiences in China. The more I talk about these experiences the more I realize how much they have impacted my world views and views regarding my potential future in healthcare.

I miss these people already!!

I miss these people already!!

Perhaps one of the most valuable aspects of this entire experience was the people I was fortunate enough to meet and befriend. We bonded over our intense Chinese classes, the exciting and adventurous excursions, our eclectic talent show in the end, and our passion for China–the willingness to try new things and really explore the culture. And what I have come to realize is that these relationships I’ve established during the course of this trip are not over. The trip to China was an opportunity that brought all of us together, a chance where we realized that we had common interests and similar passions. As this school year begins, I’m excited to see how everyone grows. My hope is that I will be able to maintain the valuable relationships we were able to form while pushing each other to become more socially aware global citizens.

My heart is still in China.

It’s been exactly a month since my return home, and I still remember it like it was yesterday. Now that I’m back on campus, my friends want to know everything about my time abroad. But the experience I had there simply can’t be described in just a few words. There’s nothing like being in the country and experiencing the culture for yourself.

 

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Prior to this trip, I set out to improve my language skills and knowledge of the country. And while I certainly did that, I gained something even more valuable: the ability to see the world in a new lens. It was important for me to be able to see the world from their view and not just my own American view. It was troubling for me to think of Chinese customs as “weird” or “foreign” because to them it’s their way of life and it assumes that American customs are somehow more “normal” or “dominant.” Deconstructing those views and tendencies was difficult, but important. Being able to see the country for what it is, but also to understand why it is was a humbling and life-changing experience. It felt as if my life-goal of being a global citizen had been realized for the first time. Reflecting on it now, the realization that there exists a whole other world outside the U.S was both peaceful and fulfilling. And I believe that I have much more to learn.

 

My lovely Chinese 3 crew.

My lovely Chinese 3 crew.

 

From climbing very large mountains to making new friends, my trip to China was one of growth and exploration. To anyone thinking of studying abroad, I’d say do it if you have the chance. The difficulty and exhaustion that it brings is worth the adventure and newfound appreciation for the world that you’ll come away with.

Absence Makes the Heart Grow Fonder

I had high expectations for China. The Political and Economic Development Program looked like it was made for me: it was hosted by my father’s alma mater, it was in my mom’s hometown with all of my relatives, and I LOVE economics, there was no way that it could not be totally perfect. But the first day, on the bus ride to Peking University, all I saw were dreary, identical communist-era apartment buildings, blending together in the grey smog-covered skies, and I was drowning, not only under my expectations, but also under the humidity and heat of China in the dead of summer.

But my problem was not China, it was the fact that I expected my life to change in one day, and it was the fact that I expected it to all happen at once. My life did change, I absolutely did have that life-changing, once-in-a-lifetime study abroad experience, but it took until now to realize what I truly gained. I see now what people say about the importance of reflection, because I really needed this distance, physical and in the context of time, to see how this journey benefitted me.

I think that college is about more than just a degree and a job; it is about exploration, trying new things, and gaining perspective. So although this didn’t outright change my major or what I want to do in the future, or my direction in life, it did change the way that I see the world, and the way that I carry myself, so it did change the way that I will approach that direction. I can say that, without a doubt, traveling with a group of people that I had previously not been friends with has simultaneously forced me to become more independent, but also challenged me to work on my team skills. I have grown, but in tandem with the other 30/40-something students on this program, and that is something I never had the chance to do in a traditional school setting. I got to learn about China, in the context of China, from professors who grew up in China, and that perspective, unclouded by Western bias was a truly amazing one to be exposed to. All of these personal gains could not have been learned by reading a book or writing an essay, so yes, this study abroad experience changed me. Not all at once, not immediately, but I see the results, and these small personal milestones will carry me to the next ones.

My Chinese Class at the Closing Banquet

My Chinese Class at the Closing Banquet

 

Back home…

September 14, 2016, and it’s been exactly a month since I left Beijing. It’s still hard for me to believe that I spent two months abroad in Beijing. The two months really flew by. It was hard to adjust at first – the language barrier, the different culture, the hot and humid weather, and especially the squat toilets. As I look back on my experience now, I realized that I actually experienced so much. I got to climb the Great Wall, both the restored section and the unrestored section. I also got to see the Forbidden City, Temple of Heaven, the Summer Palace, Peking Opera, and an acrobatic show. Not only did I get to visit famous spots in Beijing, but I also got to travel to Shanghai and experience a different Chinese city and culture. Through the IMC class, I also had the chance to visit big marketing companies, such as Ogilvy, Tencent, BlueFocus, and even Google! I have learned so much about China and its people and its culture during this trip. My perceptions of China before have changed completely after this summer. I also had the chance to eat authentic Chinese food. My favorite was the jianbing station on our way to campus – only 5 yuan but so tasty! All of the eggplant dishes I ate were also really good.

There were tough times during the two months when I wanted to quit and go home, but in the end, I’m still grateful I had the chance to experience the culture, study the language, eat all the foods, and meet great people.

Chinese 3

Chinese 3

Google in Beijing

Google in Beijing

 

3 Weeks Later – Finding Common Ground

25 days ago, I packed up my bags and left my dorm at Beida (PKU), and took a 13-hour flight back to Chicago and a 4-hour drive to west Michigan. I’m home! I honestly can’t believe it’s already been so long – the time’s flown by fast, and I still remember a lot of my experiences in China pretty vividly. With that in mind, I thought I’d share some of my main takeaways from the trip – not so much personal takeaways, but takeaways on China and America themselves.

  1. China's roads are always packed, especially in larger cities.

    China’s roads are always packed, especially in larger cities.

    1. Transportation needs aren’t met in either America or China – although China’s cities have a huge public transportation infrastructure, it’s not nearly enough to change any of the problems China has traditionally had with transportation; namely, pollution and over-congestion. In America, many big cities don’t have the same sort of public transit systems that are in Chinese cities, playing a big role in the number of people here who drive cars and the high cost of rent in cities/suburbs. After going to China, I don’t know if it’s possible to create a transportation infrastructure comprehensive enough for any big city.

2. China’s surveillance system takes away too much liberty, but… – I felt safer walking around Beijing than I would feel walking around many parts of Chicago. It’s very worrying that there are constantly cameras watching everyone, but this does a good job of reducing crime, as there’s a higher potential of facing consequences for doing something illegal. While I believe China goes too far in banning swathes of websites and restricting access to information, America could take many steps to increase surveillance (such as supplying police with body cameras) that could make our country safer.

China isn't very diverse, leading to many people understanding less about other cultures.

China isn’t very diverse, leading to many people understanding less about other cultures.

3. Diversity will make China a better country in the future – many of the problems Chinese people currently face are due to effects of being socially and economically cut off from the rest of the world until the 1970s, and China’s still in the infancy of globalization. While this has allowed its tech sector to blaze past America’s, China is still culturally behind the “first world” in many ways, whether it be views on race, sexuality, or international media at large. When I went to China, the difference in openness and acceptance between Millennials and Baby Boomers/Gen X-ers was massive. China may soon be the largest country economically, but it will take time for people’s social views to evolve as quickly.

As this is my last blog, I just wanted to finish it off by urging anyone reading this to apply to study abroad! I had an amazing experience in China, and without this trip, I would never have been able to experience a different part of the world as extensively as I have now. I can’t say I know how my trip to China has changed me as a person, but I’ve gained so much insight from it that I’ll cherish for a long time. Zàijiàn!

– 布雷特 (Bret)