By MARY BURGER – STAFF WRITER
Learning about a culture by experiencing it firsthand is one of the greatest advantages of Centre’s study abroad programs. Centre students are truly blessed to have so many opportunities to leave Danville and experience the larger world in an academic setting.
One of the many study abroad programs that Centre offers is Centre-in-China, located at Tongji University in Shanghai, China. Junior Rachel Kinnison, international studies and economics double major, explained what her life has been like in Shanghai this semester.
Q: What is a typical day like for you?
A: [Monday through Friday,] I wake up at 6:30 a.m. and go to my Chinese language class from 8:00-11:40 a.m.
For lunch, I often grab some fried potatoes and tofu from our favorite street vendor right outside campus. Or, I walk to the best baozi seller in Shanghai, which is conveniently only two blocks from campus. Baozi are steamed buns/dumplings filled with veggies, beef noodles, tofu, etc.
The mid-day break is also often used to meet up with Chinese language partners and/or buddies [to get to know the Chinese culture and language better]. [In the afternoon] I have class again in the form of one of the various electives I have selected.
At 5 p.m, it is dinnertime, usually with various fellow Centre students or other foreign students from our classes. Dinner is normally [from] the cafeteria, street food, or Family Mart. After dinner it’s homework time, prepping for language class the next day or meeting with group projects for my electives.
Q: What was your biggest adjustment when you first arrived? Is there anything that still presents a major challenge to you?
A: Definitely the biggest adjustmentwas (and still is!) the food and the amount of class time. Contrary to what most people may think, the issues with food stems not from the fact that I am forced to eat chicken feet on a regular basis (although I have seen that listed at restaurants…).
Rather, it is because SO much of the food provided on campus or nearby is fried and/or soaked in oils. I have never craved plain, steamed vegetables and a leafy salad more in my life. Furthermore, we do not possess refrigerators in our room, a working stove, or a microwave.
Therefore, cooking for yourself is not an option unless all it requires is boiled water. Finally, the sanitation of restaurants isn’t the best. As a result, all of the students from Centre have been sick from food at least once.
As for class time, it’s just a lot! Chinese language [class is] every day for 3.5 hours, plus an additional class Mon.-Thurs. for 1.5 hours. I am certainly learning a lot, [but] it’s still an adjustment!
Q: How much Chinese did you know before you left?
A: I knew next to no Chinese before I arrived in Shanghai. I knew how to say hello (Nǐ hǎo: 你好) and that was about it. I received some tips from a family friend over the summer about learning Chinese, which helped immensely when I actually started learning Chinese.
Q: How is your Chinese now?
A: My Chinese is rapidly improving. But after only a month and a half, I still feel like I know very little Chinese when I am on the streets of Shanghai. My survival Chinese (ordering food and shopping terms) is definitely passable though. I love the fact that I can recognize Chinese characters on the streets now as I walk around Shanghai. By the end of this semester, I am sure my Chinese will be leaps and bounds above what I could have gotten in one semester at Centre.
Q: How is the school similar to Centre?
A: The Chinese version of Speedway (Family Mart) is located just outside our dorm. Class size is no more than 40 people. And the campus is quite pretty and green, which is nice in such a large urban setting.
Q: How is your school different from Centre?
A: The school is HUGE and in a HUGE city. All the study buildings close at 10 p.m. You can take a Tai Chi class with the two sweetest old ladies on the planet, you have to pay to use any athletic facilities/the gym, and a dominating statue of Mao greets you every time you step off the metro onto campus. “Holiday breaks” are made up on the weekends prior to or after the break.
Q: What has been your most unique experience so far?
A: [That would have to be my] trip to Inner Mongolia over the National Holiday Week break with six other students from Centre. In Inner Mongolia, I rode a horse through the barren grasslands, took in the most star-filled sky I have ever seen, slept in a traditional Mongolian yurt, witnessed a Mongolian cup dance, experienced Tibetan throat singing karaoke, rode a camel through the Kubuqi desert, wrote Chinese calligraphy in the sand, and rode a train standing for nine hours because no other tickets were available due to the National Holiday week travel rush.
Q: Do you have any advice for other students interested in the Centre-in-China program?
A: I would highly recommend using whatever time you have to travel and get away from Shanghai. Shanghai provides you with an exciting, modern city to explore, which reflects China’s rapid rise in economic power. However, Shanghai is very Westernized. Going outside of Shanghai allows you to truly gain a more uniquely ‘Chinese’ experience/perspective.