Nadia LUCAS FS2015-16, MIT | to China
My time abroad in Beijing was a very immersive program into the Chinese language and culture. I spent the entire month doing intensive Chinese language learning with CET Academic Programs. We were not allowed to speak English the entire month and used Chinese to learn about current Chinese social and environmental issues and traditional Chinese culture. The program left a lasting impact on me and I believe I will be pursuing Chinese studies later on in life.
The specific skills I picked up from this program was a huge improvement in my Chinese speaking and writing skills, along with an improved ability to communicate with Chinese people. Living in Beijing for a month gave me the unique opportunity to use my Chinese in everyday settings in order to go about my daily life. I also attended a fast-paced Chinese class five days a week. In this class we sped through a lot of new characters and grammar every day but we also took the time to learn about Chinese culture and current issues affecting China. Additionally, we would often go out to interview Chinese people about these issues to practice talking about them outside of a classroom setting. The specific topics my class covered were: modern day family units in China, the aging population crisis, environmental and pollution problems in Beijing, traditional Chinese customs (sending gifts, weddings, going out to eat), Chinese Spring Festival, a brief overview of Chinese history, Chinese geography, and Confucius. It was incredible to be learning about so many new things while also doing so exclusively in Chinese. I also had many opportunities to speak in front of a large audience using only Chinese which I believe developed my public speaking skills.
In addition to classes there were also many excursions and extracurricular classes offered and many opportunities to connect with Chinese students at the host university. The program planned many excursions including a visit to a rural village, climbing the Great Wall, and seeing the Peking Acrobats. Additionally, we were offered many classes outside of the language learning ones that included calligraphy, martial arts, Chinese chess, Mahjong, and paper cutting. I took advantage of all of these excursions and classes in order to better immerse myself in the culture and get a better education out of my time spent in Beijing. Most importantly, I got to really connect with students at Capital Normal University. My roommate was a Master’s student at the University and by the end of the program, we had grown very close. She took me out to meet her entire family and we would spend at least an hour every night just talking in Chinese about everything from new policy enacted in Beijing to cultural differences and family life.
My time abroad has greatly influenced my academic and career plans. I have already been switching my academic focus from engineering to economics and policy which is why I wanted to go to China in the first place. Seeing Beijing first-hand really reinforced my academic shift in focus. Additionally, it made me want to study more the effect of such a rapidly growing economy on the lives of the Chinese people. Beijing, especially, is the center of a lot of issues affecting China right now and seeing those problems first-hand was not only a form of culture shock but also a motivation to understand the root of the problem and think of solutions. I would like to pursue studies in China in the future and would like to include work in China in my future career plans.
I believe the greatest thing I gained from going to Beijing over the Independent Activities Period (IAP) was personal development. My mother was born and grew up in Northeastern China during a time of great political turmoil. She often looks back on her time in China with very mixed feelings and because of the hardship she faced there, my family does not often go to visit China. I had not gone back in almost ten years. However, many of her family members still live in China and going back there for IAP, I got the opportunity to see many of her cousins and her friends that I had never met before or did not remember meeting before. I got to connect with my cultural roots in a way that I had never done before and it really made me appreciate the rich culture that China has to offer. Most of all, I really enjoyed getting to see first-hand the paradoxical nature of the fast-paced development of the Chinese economy paired with strong Communist Party loyalty. I think this sort of culture is really what makes China unique as a nation and I would love to continue pursuing study in this area of not only Chinese economics but Chinese cultural identity.
Overall, this experience taught me not only cultural and language skills but it really piqued my interest in Chinese economics and policy and provided a unique opportunity for me to develop as a person and connect with my roots. I am very glad I chose to study abroad this IAP and would recommend it to any other student at MIT thinking about going to China. It was an experience unlike any other in my undergraduate time here. I connected with people in a way that I never could have done before and gained countless skills that I could not have gotten from a classroom setting, and am very grateful to the Fung Foundation for providing me with the funds to have this experience.