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My Time in China

Natalie Solano

mount st. mary's university campus

Welcome back Mounties! Did you know the Mount plans to restart study abroad experiences next semester after several semesters off due to COVID-19? Studying abroad opens your eyes to new cultures and experiences.

I studied abroad in China. I did not travel through the Mount for my study abroad experience. When I graduated high school, I traveled to Beijing, China by myself where I met a group of people my age and took classes in Chinese history and learned Mandarin. The trip lasted a month and a half. I stayed in the dorms at Beijing Union University which is an American university in China along with my peers.

My culture shock did not begin until I traveled around China. We went to eat street food and look at the public life of Chinese people. Once we got there, I noticed that China is really crowded which is something I was not used to going to school in a small town in Delaware. In this narrow alley, they were selling street food. They had scorpions which is what my friends and I tried: The vendors fried them and put them on a stick like a Kebab. The scorpion tasted good which was shocking because I would never think to eat an insect. I had never been more shocked about culture in my life. As we kept walking, I saw more foods that I would not eat in America, calligraphy art, and shops to buy silk dresses.

The Chinese food we eat in America is nothing like the Chinese food made in China. The food is spicy and way better. I had to learn how to order my own coffee and other foods. I had a meal swipe for lunch so we would go to the cafeteria which was blocks away to get food. The cafeteria food was amazing. There was a noodle station where they would put whatever you wanted on your noodles in a huge bowl. I ate noodles almost every day because they tasted so good. I had to quickly learn how to eat with chopsticks because they do not provide you with a fork, knife, or spoon. The Chinese people use the squat method to use the bathroom. Almost like how we do not want to touch the toilets in a public restroom, they just have a hole on the ground and squat down. No toilet paper is provided you had to bring your own wipes or paper. At first, I experienced so much culture shock that I did not want to leave the university where I was staying, but once I embraced the culture and its differences, it became amazing. Chinese culture allows to participate in a variety of activities: We took a calligraphy class, we did a scavenger hunt around a park that was full of Chinese shops and attractions, we visited a temple, and we watched a Chinese improv.

I missed home at a certain point, so I visited McDonald's and a mall in China, and they were even better than ones I was accustomed to in the States! The McDonald’s reminded me of home, and the malls had four to five levels and the stores were huge. The Chinese people were so nice and accommodating while I was trying to order food or ask questions and use my Mandarin book at the same time. While we were still adjusting, we had to write a research paper and take Mandarin quizzes periodically. My experience studying in China encouraged me to take Chinese as a foreign language at the Mount which turned out to be an amazing choice for me. I learned even more about the language and customs and got to talk to people who knew more about the culture.

The best experience I had in China was climbing the Great Wall and traveling to Shanghai on a train. Climbing the Great Wall was exhausting: There are so many steps to get to the top but in between steps there were statues and other things to look at. Once you get up high enough, the view was amazing. We took a five-minute trip down on a cable car after climbing the Wall for hours. While we were there the Chinese people who had never seen American people were asking to take our pictures. They were so amazed and nice to us and expressed that they really want to go to America. Most people would get upset by this or assume that they were fantasizing but not everyone has the same experiences we do so we must take that into consideration when traveling. When I went to Shanghai, it almost seemed like a city we would see in a movie portraying the future. All the buildings were so tall and clean, and the highways were super clean, it almost seemed unreal. I had the best soup dumplings and learned more about Chinese culture.

I passed my courses with an A and turned out to really love the experience. The culture shock will be over if you learn to love the experience and realize that not every culture is the same. We have so much to learn about the world, and having the opportunity to study abroad really helps to broaden our horizons and make us more aware of cultural differences. I'd highly recommend making time in your schedule to study abroad, and the Mount makes it possible for students to make it a part of their academic experience if they want. With programs over breaks (winter, spring, and summer) and semester-long programs, students have the opportunity to expand their cultural knowlege and to experience life outside of the United States through study abroad experiences. 

Natalie Solano