So my time in China is sadly coming to a close. It has been a blast. These past two months have been packed with classes and cultural excursions. I have traveled to 4 different cities, participated in a Chinese medicine class, and watched a traditional martial arts performance. I have both a quiz and a homework assignment due every day and both a written and oral test every week. We had a language pledge so I only spoke Chinese during my stay. It’s been pretty exhausting and trying to balance work with travelling around and having fun has been difficult. But by the end of this program my understanding of Chinese culture and language has increased exponentially. While living with a host family has had its challenges, there is no better way to understand Chinese culture. I believe that in China it is really easy to create your own bubble and kind of isolate yourself from really assimilating. This bubble is even easier to create in smaller Chinese cities because many of them have had very little, if any, contact with foreigners. Many people will point at you, some will yell out 外国人 or 老外 (meaning foreigner), and others will walk up to you and take a picture of you. You are in for trouble if you find this behavior rude or annoying. These people are really just curious about who you are and why you are there. I believe that if you were able to use this as an opportunity to talk with these people it can be extremely rewarding and can help to bridge the gap.
For people learning Chinese I think it is really important to choose a smaller Chinese city. Places like Beijing and Shanghai are the go-to Chinese cities for a reason. They are massive cities filled with fun and excitement. I also see the allure of these cities, so next semester I will be going to Shanghai. But learning a foreign language is extremely difficult and in these cities it will be easy to fall back on English. In a city like Dalian you don’t have the option of switching to English. Having a sink-or-swim mentality is the best way to rapidly progress your language ability. That being said a tough reality that I’ve had to face is how long it truly takes to learn a language. But the positive is that I will be spending more time in China.