Abby first discovered her love of Chinese in middle school through a Chinese-American classmate. As the two became close friends, Abby began to hear and observe the language and culture. “I was immediately fascinated with how different it was from my own. I also was interested in the beautiful characters, which to the art-lover in me looked like small, intricate drawings.”
Abby’s interest in Chinese continued to grow as she entered high school, and she hoped to study abroad in China after graduating. She learned about NSLI-Y from a friend who knew of her desire to study abroad. “I liked the language-focus that NSLI-Y had compared to other study abroad programs as I wanted, above all, to eventually reach fluency in Chinese.” She applied for NSLI-Y as a senior and was accepted to the 2015-2016 academic year program in Beijing.
Upon arriving in China, Abby was initially disenchanted by the smog and endless rows of identical apartment buildings. As she experienced more of the city however, she fell in love with Beijing. “I love that Beijing is a mesh of the new and the old, where I can go to ancient monuments in the morning and an upscale shopping mall in the afternoon. I also loved that despite being such a large city with an even larger population, Beijing has a fair amount of green space…I loved that around every corner there was something new to discover. I also would be lying if I said I didn’t already miss the delicious Beijing food.” Some of her favorite spots are the 798 Art District, the Olympic Forest Park, the National Art Museum, the Great Wall, the Summer Palace, Sanlitun and any restaurant that serves Peking duck. While learning to navigate the complicated subway system was challenging, she also found it could be very rewarding and allowed her to practice her Chinese. Often, whisking along in a subway car with crowds of locals, she would begin to feel a sense of belonging.
On weekends, Abby lived with a Chinese host family, which consisted of a mother, a father and a daughter, who happened to be the same age as Abby’s sister back home. “They were very friendly, energetic and active people. They also were curious about the differences in our cultures and were quite willing to talk to me for extended lengths of time about the US, China, and everything in between.” Particularly, she would spend time with host mom during long walks, meals, or when cooking together. One memory she looks back on with particular fondness is of helping her host mom cook in preparation for the Spring Festival celebrations. Occasionally they would ask Abby whether something was better in the US or China, which was tricky for her to answer as she did not want to offend anyone. Her approach was to respond to these questions by focusing on the differences and similarities rather than saying one was better than the other.
“There were many nights that we would stay up discussing topics such as our lives, dreams, regrets, and fears.”
During the week, she lived at and attended a local Chinese high school. Her roommate at school was a Chinese student, which provided many opportunities for language practice and cultural exchange. Abby recalls how at the very beginning of the year, she had a hard time understanding something as simple as her roommate asking for her to pass a tissue. However, as her language abilities improved, they became close friends. “There were many nights that we would stay up discussing topics such as our lives, dreams, regrets, and fears.”
Her language classes were Monday to Friday and consisted of Chinese reading, writing and listening with several electives. One of Abby’s electives was a class she took three days a week studying Chinese art. She was able to expand her artistic knowledge and skills by studying and practicing the Chinese style and produced several impressive works of her own.
Like many who venture abroad, one of the challenges Abby faced was homesickness. To deal with this challenge, she tried to focus on her studies, opportunities she had, and the positive experiences in each day. She would also plan time on weekends to Skype with family members back home. She says that the best advice she can give is to stay optimistic.
Since returning home, Abby has looked for ways to continue her language studies. She uses apps such as Memrise to study new vocabulary, reads Chinese language books, and takes advantage of weekly free tutoring sessions offered at her local Confucius Institute. She is currently attending the University of Michigan. She is studying Art and Asian Studies, and hopes to incorporate business later on. She looks forward to studying Chinese at the university level this fall.
Abby was a NSLI-Y participant in the 2015-2016 China Academic Year program.