Sophia Wischnewski is a Chinese major at William and Mary. She joined the William and Mary Summer Camp, hosted by Beijing Normal University and sponsored by Confucius Institute, in July 2017. Here are Sophia’s reflections on learning Chinese language and her first-hand experience in China in the summer immersion program.
The Journey Begins
My experience traveling along the journey piqued my curiosity about the new world I was soon to encounter. From the time I was enrolled in a Chinese immersion program at 10 years old, I could only dream of visiting one of the world’s most powerful nations. Nine years later, my dream became reality. William and Mary’s brief immersion program gave me the opportunity to see China outside of my previous Chinese language and culture courses. However, I’ve come to find that reading about China and briefly living in China are completely different.
My first day in Beijing was riddled with culture shock. I was obligated to become independent, and that alone truly helped by forcing me to use my language skills. With out the comforts of Google Translate, I had to figure out the meaning of words on my own. I will always remember the word 厕所 (restroom) because of this experience.
The Real China
I visited four cities in China: Yanjiao, Baotou, Beijing, and Zhuhai. All were completely different. They all had different dialects and words. I thought it was a challenge to understand people in the southern and northern states in the U.S., but now I feel that China, as a nation, is not only a master in the art of Kung Fu, but also a master of languages for being able to understand so many dialects.
I had the opportunity to stay with my friend and her family for a week and a half before returning to Beijing. Since my friend Sally was the only one who spoke any English, I had to speak in Chinese with her family. Sally was strict with me in that she not only refused to give me a fork and learn to eat with chopsticks, but also encouraged me to use my language skills outside of her home as well. I felt that living with her and meeting other people were the greatest experiences I have had in my time learning Chinese.
I not only experienced the language, but the culture as well. During my stay I developed a cold and was brought to the doctor. Traditional Chinese medicine is still a common practice among modern medical solutions. Instead of prescribing me pills or syrup for my symptoms, the doctor looked directly into my eyes and advised me to drink a hot cup of water before going to bed and getting up in the morning. He said I needed more rest and time to get accustomed to the environment. All he gave me was root juice as a vitamin. I was told later by my friend’s mother that Chinese people believe that harmony between one’s diet and life style habits is the essence of good health. Sure enough, after a delicious home-cooked dinner, hot water, and rest, I was in even better health then I was in the U.S.
Chinese vs. American Cultures
Aside from learning about Chinese culture, I thought a lot about modern American culture in the process of learning Chinese. I reflected on how much I, just one person, was representing my own country while being a part of China’s society. I learned China believes in symbolism, so everything created acquires a unique purpose. I also noted that the U.S also associates itself as a symbol of freedom. I found this ideal American concept to be quite fascinating during the program. Not only did the American college and high school students extensively pursue their desires during the time in Beijing, but they also expressed the same American mentality of freedom in their accomplishments.
When I was in Beijing, I noticed differences between Chinese and American college students. A sense of destructiveness and a wild spirit was the impression given off by Americans, especially for the younger generation. During student events, such as the talent show, both American and Chinese students were encouraged to share a talent which embraced a bit of their cultural background. The two groups did very different performances. The acts performed by American students generally included songs about partying, individuality, and carefree actions. This music alone could potentially create misunderstandings of Americans, but it also helps spread American culture and American representation on a global scale. The Chinese music performed was a mixture of Chinese folk and modern day songs. The beats were slow, and the notes were long and drawn out. It created a tranquil ambience along with a happy atmosphere from common themes of love, inspiration, fortune, and tranquility in the lyrics.
The Journey Continues…
I learned so much in so little time. I feel like I cannot fully to express my feelings about my experience in China. The food, the places, and the friendships I’ve made are too valuable to be measured and conveyed into a single paper, and yet, that alone reveals how much this trip has impacted my thoughts and my future.