Wednesday, July 7, 2010

A Tale of Two Cities...In China

If anyone out there is planning to make a trip to China for the first time, be prepared to fall in love with the country. The people are engaging, the cities are lively, and the food is outstanding (if you stay away from intestine and blood cakes). Besides that, the U.S. dollar is still stronger than the yuan with $1 USD equaling to ¥ 6.774 CNY. The cheaper goods give Americans the privileges of eating at lavish restaurants, purchasing $3 massages, and hopping to lots of different bars.
The seamless mixture of modern glamour and traditional charm gives Chinese cities a truly unique characteristic that cannot be found anywhere else. The Chinese celebrate the their country’s unprecedented growth while simultaneously grasping to their age-old customs. China is a fantastic place to study abroad.
I have studied in China for two summers, a total of four months. The first time I ever studied there was in the summer of 2008, the same summer the Olympics were being held there. Naturally, I went to Beijing. I had never experienced anything quite like it. The program I went through was called ‘China Study Abroad’, CSA for short. They arrange for drivers to pick their students up from the airport the day they arrive. My driver was very nice and even gave me a beer during the forty-five minute drive from the airport to the Beijing Language and Culture University (北京语言大学). However unconventional it was to me at the time, I thought a beer was the perfect “Welcome to China” gift. Of course, the driver did not drink any. The Beijing Language and Culture University, or BLCU, is the only university in China dedicated to teaching foreigners the Chinese language and this was easily computed by the sheer amount of non-Chinese on the campus. Another clue to the mission of the university was that there were two bars on campus that obviously catered to thirsty Westerners. Also residing on the campus was a convenience store and a Muslim style Chinese restaurant that served as a constant reminder of how diverse China really is. The classes were very educational and the teachers were all very good. On top of that, CSA provided me with a private tutor that met with me five times a week for two hours. We became great friends. She would make me learn the language by only speaking to me in English when I was totally lost. She would also take me around the city and put me in situations where I was forced to speak Chinese. For example, we both got on bus and rode it one stop, then she suddenly got off and told me to ride it another stop and she would be waiting there. By taking me out of my comfort zone, she showed me what it took to learn a language and fully immerse one’s self in a foreign culture.
The second time I journeyed to China, I went to Shanghai. Do not be fooled by the comparisons of Shanghai to Ney York City. The two cities are nothing alike. They are both big and both have tall buildings devoted to business, but that is it. Shanghai is divided into two sections by the Hunagpu river: Pudong and Puxi. Pudong is the side shown in all the glimmering images of Shanghai depicting tall skyscrapers and the famous Pearl Tower. However, besides touring the skyscraper landmarks, there isn’t that much to do in Pudong. I lived in Puxi in an apartment close to Fudan University (复旦大学) where I studied through the same program of CSA. CSA helped me find the apartment after I told them that I could not tolerate my Californian roommate any longer. Fudan University is not as Westernized as BLCU’s campus, however, it does have a giant Western style mall not too far from it with tons of little traditional Chinese restaurants and food stands in between. The Fudan campus I lived on was the main campus in Wujiaochang (五角场) Besides having a Western style mall close by, Fudan also has a Wal-mart in the area as well. That made it easy to shop for Western style to cook at home. I thoroughly enjoyed my classes at Fudan, and I also had a private tutor that time around. We became just as good of friends as my last tutor and I did. We traveled around the city together and she showed me all of the sites to see as well as restaurants that she enjoyed. It was a wonderful learning experience.
Devin Anthony Foil
Asian Studies Major; Chinese and International Affairs Minor
4th year student; George Washington University

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