Posts Tagged ‘classes’


Margaret: 手表 包 DVD – shǒubiǎo bāo DVD – watch bag DVD

September 13, 2011

It’s been a little more than three years since I first went to Tiananmen Square and the notorious silk street market, and I must say, not much has changed!  The weird bits are 1. I am no longer a tourist, and the fact that I actually live here gives going to both places a new feeling, and 2. I can actually speak some Chinese now, which made silk street a whole different ballgame.

Of course when I woke up this morning, it was pouring rain, so what better activity to do on a rainy day than going to Tiananmen, right?  There was something glorious and whimsical about being there, splashing about in the puddles in the midst of Communism Communism Communism.  I was actually really happy to be there in the bad weather and found myself singing “Singing in the Rain” on the very pavement that the gate to the Forbidden City was built by the Ming Dynasty in 1420, thousands of students were murdered during the 1989 protests, and five Falun Gong members light themselves ablaze in 2001, though there is some speculation that this incident was a hoax instigated by the government to turn public opinion against the banned spiritual movement.  Sorry Minneapolis, your history just can’t compare.  

Silk street is a giant multi-level shopping center that is a popular tourist attraction due to its wide selection of counterfeit brand name items.  You will find everything from Chanel to Dolce and Gabana to Nike to Abercrombie to Prada to just about anything you could ask for.  However, you can usually find something about the products that makes it just a little bit off.  For example, we found one coat on which the tag read something like Budurbarry, a far cry from Burberry.  The quality of the clothing and shoes and actually just about everything else is especially poor.  It may look nice on the hanger, but once a sweater is examined more closely, one will notice that the fabric is extremely thin.  Skirts and dresses may be unlined and completely see-through.  

That’s why it’s incredibly important to not pay too much.  However, this is the hard part, especially if you have baise de pifu, or white skin.  The stalls are arranged in seven or eight foot cubes, each with one or two clerks, 95 percent of whom are women.  As a white woman, I will walk down an aisle and from every stall I hear some combination of “Hello pretty lady, want to buy?  How are you?  We have bag-es, you want to buy?  Good price just for you.  I give you good price.  Come see, come in.  Watchbagdvd.  For your mother, for your sister, you need earrings?”  Sometimes they will grab at my arms or hands.  If I see something I like, I will first inspect it for quality and then decide on my starting price.  Let’s just say I’m going to buy an I ❤ BJ tourist shirt.  For something like this, I would want to offer 10 RMB, less than $2 USD, as a starting price.  The clerks usually make you punch your numbers into a calculator even though most speak English.  Often times, they will give the price first, and more often than not, they will ask for 300+ RMB, upwards of $50 USD.  I figure they do this with the idea that foreigners don’t understand the exchange rate.  If I bring a Chinese friend, they are inclined to discount their starting price because they know I have someone who can tell me if I’m being ripped off.  When they suggest the first price, I usually laugh or shake my head or something and then offer up my price of 10 RMB.  The theatricals ensue.  Some of them pretend to cry or they scowl or they say “Oh my gawd” in their most American English.  The bargaining begins.  Their prices drop, and depending on the item, my prices go up because I usually start with a lower price than I actually intent to pay.  When they offer up their “minimum price,” I then walk away saying it’s too expensive.  They always call me back with a discounted price, and if it’s low enough, this is when I will buy.  I bought a tourist shirt today for 20 RMB, or just over $3 USD.  It’s a game that always leaves me feeling awful after (which I attribute to my Minnesotan upbringing), and I don’t intend to return to the silk street anytime soon.

This journey down the street was so very different from my experience in 2008 because this time I could do all of my bargaining in Chinese.  This would usually anger the clerks.  They insisted on speaking English to me.  In their head I am a foreign tourist with no idea of the exchange rate who they intend to rip off as bad as possible.  I insist on speaking Chinese with them.  It’s a bizarre flip flopped scenario, the Chinese person speaking English and the white person speaking Chinese.  Little do any of them know that I study Chinese at BeiDa, China’s premier university…

Although I had what I would call a “good day for Chinese,” this week was not without extreme frustration.  My kouyu class has made absolutely clear to me that I never learned how to speak Chinese.  Back home at Minnesota, any time we had to speak in Chinese class, we were given the prompts ahead of time.  I could go home, write my piece, make sure all the grammar is correct, make sure I have all of the tones down, return to class the next day and spit everything back mindlessly, word for word.  Does this help in having conversation in the real world?  Heck no.  I struggled struggled struggled so much in class this week, at times wanting to cry.  It’s one thing to sit in an organic chemistry lecture and have no idea what the prof is talking about.  It’s a completely different ballgame when you can’t understand the professor’s language!  It’s been embarrassing, and at the end of class everyday I worry that I didn’t even hear and understand that night’s homework assignment correctly.  However, I’ve talked to a few other students who have done this before, and they all say that they, like me, drowned for a little while until BAM!  They one day begin to have long intricate conversations in Chinese all the time.  Here’s to hoping that moment comes soon. Read the rest of this entry ?


Doug: Back to school!

September 12, 2011

Well I guess it’s time to start the real “study” part of “study abroad” (couldn’t avoid it forever I guess). Last week we started our first week of real classes after returning from a 5-day-long orientation at Lake Nakuru National Park. Highlights from orientation week included:

  • Trying to learn 21 new names. So far it has been just the 5 of us who came early for the August-Intensive Swahili Pre-Session. Now there are 26 of us total—making it a lot more difficult to go places. A group of 26 wazungu is a pretty big target for pick pockets. One girl already had her bag stolen from underneath a table.)
  • I also had my first experience of being successfully robbed. I was heading downtown with two friends to meet up with the large group of newly arrived semester students. We boarded a bus, and not long afterwards three men with large envelopes (a sure sign of pickpockets) got on after us. They moved to sit closer to us as soon as they could, and when our stop arrived, we stood up to get off. Instantly they started crowding us, “accidentally” pushing me back into my seat, and blocking the exit of the bus. My friend Chelsea realized what was going on and shoved the guy blocking the exit out of the stopped bus. We pushed our way out, and booked it to the other side of the street—only to realize that my travel water bottle had been stolen from the outside of my bag.  Luckily nothing valuable, but still a good reminder that we can never be too careful here.
  • After our 3-hour-long bus ride west of Nairobi to Nakuru National Park, we arrived to the compound in the heart of the park, where we would be staying. We spent the next few days in talks about safety, health, host family stays etc. , doing cheesy bonding games (takes me back to beginning of freshman year of college), and doing evening game drives through the park. Lions, zebra, flamingoes, and buffalo. Oh my! (Going from Arusha National Park in Tanzania, to Nakuru, I’ve seen enough animals to satisfy for the time being).
  • Every morning, afternoon, and evening, a large family of baboons would hop the fence into our compound, and just hang out for an hour or so. We would be sitting in a circle outside, doing one of our talks, and a massive baboon would just come strolling by. It definitely kept things interesting. Periodically our director would have to grab a big stick and chase them away.

Since I haven’t talked about what I’m actually studying here, I’ll briefly tell you guys. The program (University of Minnesota Studies in International Development) is focused on development (surprise!) and there are 4 main academic components:

1)      International Development—here we study developmental theories, what has worked, what hasn’t (and why it hasn’t) and the biggest developmental issues facing Kenya right now. What’s really cool though is that we get to choose a specialization track (Education, Social Services, Microfinance, Environment, or Public Health). I was torn between Education and Social Services, but for now am going with the Social Services track, since I’m thinking of maybe doing Social Work in the future.

2)      Kenya Country Analysis—this is basically overview of Kenyan history, pre-colonial, colonial, and post-colonial, Kenyan political structures, etc.

3)      Swahili—the never ending attempt to become conversational in Swahili continues (I think I’m getting pretty close)

4)      Internship—this part does not come until late October. At that point we all split off and are sent to different parts of Kenya to work an internship with a developmental NGO for 6 weeks, based on what our development interests are. I finally found out (I was a little impatient) that I will be interning at The Wema Centre (Swahili for ‘goodness’)—a children’s home/ orphanage in the rural coastal town of Bamburi, 20 minutes north of Mombasa. Part of what they do is go into the city of Mombasa and work to get begging street children out of the city and into the orphanage, where many children ages 4-14 live, go to school, and eat meals—(much more to come on this once I get there). Oh, and I also found out I will be living with a Muslim family, with young kids, in a Muslim community, so that should be really interesting (again, more to come later)

Classes here in Kenya are a little different than back home for a few reasons. They almost never start on time, often get out early, and while our professors actually are very intelligent and the classes so far have been very interesting, the academic climate is just much different. Nobody is freaking out about GPA, grades, etc. I love Tufts, but let’s just say I’m not sad to learn for learning’s sake, in a much more chill environment.


Grace: Getting sick…

September 10, 2011

…with no electricity and only one bucket of water majorly sucks.  That is all.

Okay, wait, that is not all, this post would be way too depressing if I left it just like that.  Besides getting super sick and feeling really sorry for myself, this week was great.  We started all our regular classes (I’m taking Wolof, French, International Development, Country Analysis, Microfinance, and Public Health), and they were all really interesting and good.  My favorite class right now is Wolof because it is very applicable to my life right now, and the professor is hilarious.  It’s been fun coming home and impressing my family with practicing the Wolof I’ve learned in class.  I’m pretty impressed with myself for all the Wolof I now know, but I’m sure my family still thinks I’m mildly retarded when it comes to learning languages.  I’m sure they wonder why I still struggle to form intelligent French sentence structures after 6 weeks of living here.  But oh well.

After week 6, I’m finally starting to feel comfortable with the culture here, and I don’t feel as totally lost as I used to.  That’s not to say that I never feel totally lost, but now I feel like I know a little better what to expect, what I’m supposed to do, etc. Being here has definitely been a challenge, but it’s also been a lot of fun, and I’ve learned a lot in the process: about myself, and about both Senegalese and American cultures.  I still have like 12 weeks left, and I’m excited to learn even more.

Okay, I’m sure the electricity is gonna go out soon (it’s been on for like 5 hours…this is suspiciously long) so I’m gonna go ahead and post this.


Mary: Tales from Dharamsala

September 9, 2011

I’ve been trying to write about our epic Dharamsala escapade for the last few weeks but I just kept getting (surprise) side-tracked. For the most part though, things have been pretty quiet in Jaipur since we got back. I’ve mainly just been focusing on school, which we have from 9:30 to 4:30 every day, and reading in my free time. They’ve really amped up the Hindi lessons! We’ve finally transitioned away from the English transcription system we were using to read and learn new vocab words and now we just write everything in the script! I’m incredibly excited because it finally feels like I’m making significant progress with Hindi but it’s also a lot harder than I expected! It feels so strange to struggle through each individual word, slowly pronouncing the sound each letter makes. It really is like being in kindergarten and learning to read all over again. But still, it’s so thrilling to finally be able to read and write in such a strange and beautiful new language!

Anyways, I’m mainly writing this post to share the story of my journey in Dharamsala! I shall start off my swash-buckling account of the small hill station in the northernmost reaches of this vast and wondrous country with the simple and beautiful truth – we didn’t really do much of anything that week. Though I am sure a collective note of confusion may now be heard rising up from the befuddled peanut gallery, allow me to explain. Fact: the city of Jaipur is exhilarating and fills me each and every day with a sense of awe and admiration for the multitude of ways that humans have come to call this planet we live on home. Unfortunately, I believe that in that week leading up to our departure for the north, I had come to experience firsthand a little phenomenon, all too familiar amongst foreign travelers to India, known as “sensory overload”. I was getting a bit, shall we say, frazzled. I was more than ready for a little vacation to somewhere that wasn’t exceedingly hot and wasn’t plagued with the constant blare of traffic horns. Regrettably, the roughly 30 hour rickshaw-train-rickshaw-train-bus-ricksaw ride it took to get from Jaipur to Delhi to Pathankot to Dharamsala was, quite frankly, miserable. I don’t think I’ve ever had feelings of being dirty, sleepy, hungry, and grouchy combine in as great a magnitude as they did that first evening in Dharamsala. To top it all off, as we wandered the streets looking for a hotel, it was dark and pouring down rain. However, good news is that when things start off going that poorly, they can really only improve. We finally found a hotel, negotiated a reasonable rate for the six of us, had a hot meal (complete with carrot cake and chai) in the upstairs café, took pleasantly warm showers and crawled into very comfortable beds and immediately fell asleep.

The next morning, all troubles of the day before were negated and negligible upon our first look out the window. It was indescribably magical. I actually had the feeling of being in some other world where prayer flags wave invitingly from the forests, tiny little women beckon me forward to feel the yak wool shawls they have just finished knitting, monks with shaved heads draped in curtains of brightest saffron orange meander through the streets and the clouds normally drift down to say nameste and hang lazily about all morning. It was also on this first morning that I had one of my most memorable experiences in India to date.

Hannah and I had gotten separated from the rest of the group, lingering a bit longer at some little shop. We were walking down the street, looking for breakfast when a small boy with thin, ungainly limbs and a wide but crooked smile stepped out of the shadows of the early morning mist, eager to chat. “Hallo!” he called, “How do you like Dharamsala? You are travelers? Where are you from?” He reeled of a series of questions, determined to demonstrate his mastery of the English language, hoping to keep us engaged. We were used to this type of behavior from the local street children, the pestering attention this boy was giving us, and I had a very strong feeling he was about to seek our charity. But I could feel something different about this boy, something more genuine. Perhaps it was his persistent yet determinedly casual knack for keeping up a conversation, or the fact that he did not immediately hold out his hand and ask for money, like so many others, which caused me to pay him a bit more attention. As we meandered down the small street, poking our heads into shops selling everything from yak cheesecake to singing bowls, we continued in the boy’s company. A solid ten minutes went by without him asking for anything. It was only when Hannah and I eventually found and were about to enter a restaurant for breakfast that the boy spoke up, “Please madams I was curious, I will not ask for money, but if you would buy me some rice before going in?” Since my arrival in India it has been my personal decision to refuse to give money to beggars but occasionally if I have a piece of fruit or pack of crackers with me I will pass it on. As the boy stared up at me with silent pleading eyes, I found myself answering his question with one of my own, “Would you like to come to breakfast with us?” He looked hesitant; I could see him weighing in his mind the price of missing out on potential tourists against the luxury of a warm meal. Keen to hear more of this boy’s story, I offered the added promise of buying him a bag of rice afterwards if he came with us, which did the trick. We sat down at a table outside with an excellent view of the surrounding mountains and launched into conversation. I learned that his name was Suratch and that he had lived in Dharamsala all his life. He lived with his older brother and his wife, a younger sister, and his mother. He was 11 years old and had never been to school. He told me he learned English from talking to tourists, and he promptly rattled off phrases in French and “Israeli” (which I took to be Hebrew), saying those were the most common languages he heard besides English. When I asked why he wasn’t in school he looked a bit confused and said simply “I am needed at home”. When it came time to order our food, he explained that while he would rather have the chocolate pancakes, they would be gone like that (with a snap of the fingers) and so he would like to have the porridge with bananas because it would be a better meal. We continued to chat through the rest of breakfast about nothing in particular; it felt a bit like meeting a new kid I was babysitting for the first time. As we left the restaurant and I took Suratch to a nearby food stall to buy his promised bag of rice, we were laughing together at the monkeys and he promised that he was going to marry me next time I returned to Dharamsala. When at last we shook hands goodbye, he looked me in the eyes with an enormous smile and said earnestly “I thank you Mary, I thank you, you are so nice, I won’t forget!” Watching him walk away, I was filled with genuine sadness that I wouldn’t see him again. I honestly cannot tell you why that particular morning I decided to spend around 500 rupees to buy breakfast and a bag of rice for a street kid, when every other morning on my way to school I walk unblinkingly past dozens of women and children holding upturned palms in my direction. I can, however, guarantee that the memory of sharing a meal with the little boy who gave me a glimpse of unadulterated human goodness was well worth it. Read the rest of this entry ?


Grace: Korité, theft, & chocopain

September 8, 2011

Okay so let’s see, what have I done since my last post…I’ve finished my pre-session French class, learned some more Wolof, eaten lots more chocopain (the nutella-ish stuff that I love), completed the month of Ramadan (feeling like this is a major accomplishment, not that I fasted or anything…), celebrated said ending of Ramadan, had my cell phone stolen while buying an outfit for the aforementioned celebration, and made lots of new friends, both American and Senegalese.

Alrighty, let’s talk about Ramadan. I got to Senegal the day before it started, so I have gotten the full Ramadan experience. Before coming here, I knew what Ramadan was, but I thought all it really involved was skipping lunch. Turns out, it actually involves more than just not eating during the day.  During Ramadan, people don’t really hang out with friends, or go dancing (all the dance clubs in Dakar have been closed), or see their boyfriends/girlfriends, or wear makeup, or play sports. They pretty much avoid fun.

So on Tuesday evening, my family was frantically searching the night sky for the moon, which has to be there for the end of Ramadan to happen. We couldn’t find it anywhere. Thankfully, the moon-less sky was only in Dakar, and other places in Senegal saw it (don’t really understand this, but whatever). So Ramadan was officially over! This meant that Wednesday was “La Korité”, the end of Ramadan celebration. 

I really didn’t know what to expect with Korité, but I had heard that everybody buys new, traditional-style outfits for it, so last Saturday Anne and I went to the market to find dresses.  This was an experience. And I don’t really mean that in a good way. It was sooo hot, and there were pretty much a billion people there, pushing and shoving, 500 million of whom were trying to sell stuff to me or give me a henna tattoo. We had to squeeze our way into the center of the market where the pre-made, Korité-appropriate clothes were and try to find something that was a decent color and wouldn’t make us look obese. In the end, we were successful, and each found something we liked for about $20. We then managed to squeeze our way out of the market again and took a car-rapide home. And then I got home and discovered that I no longer had a cell phone…

So I don’t think I’ve explained car-rapides yet.  These are small, brightly colored buses that are the traditional means of public transportation in Dakar. Anne and I have been wanting to ride them this whole month, but we didn’t know how they worked and were a little scared, so we’ve just stuck with the boring old taxis. But Saturday was the day, and with the help of Ami, one of my family’s maids, who took us to the market, we got the car-rapide experience. Basically, there’s a guy hanging off the back of the bus and you hop on and tell him where you’re going and pay him (the going rate is like 20 cents).  Then you squeeze onto the rickety bus and try (and usually fail) to find a seat in between all the bodies.  When the bus gets to where you want to get off, the guy on the back hits the side of the bus and the driver stops and lets you off. 

Your typical car-rapide.

So after buying a new outfit, and hearing about Korité for weeks, I was expecting a pretty big shebang.  However, Korité day actually wasn’t that different. We ate lunch, which was new, but I’m assuming that starting today that won’t be that unusual. Oh, and we had this sweet yogurt-y stuff on top of oatmeal for breakfast (instead of chocopain like usual…this was sad).  Other than that, everyone just kinda sat around all afternoon and napped.  Towards the evening everyone changed into nice clothes, but nothing really special happened then either, except that the kids in the neighborhood came around to all the houses asking for money (it’s a little like Halloween, but not).

With my cousins (Aisha, can’t remember the baby’s name but she’s adorable, and Suley) in the courtyard of my house on Korité (note my new outfit)

Oh, and something else exciting that happened this week was that the rest of the study abroad group came! So now there are 18 Americans here, which means lots of new friends, yay! We start classes on Monday. I’ll be taking French, Country Analysis (culture/history of Senegal), Wolof (actually super pumped for this), International Development, and Public Health.  All in French. I’m pretty excited, I don’t know if I’ve ever had a semester before where I’m actually legitimately interested in all my classes.


Chiyo: We’re not in America any more

September 7, 2011

Today was my first day of class, and the first time I’ve ever had to commute “off campus” to get to my classes. I’ve been in London for exactly a week now, and I thought I would blog a little bit about the cultural differences between the UK and the U.S. Sure, we both speak English, but there are a lot of differences in the workplace, school, food, etc. 

During my interview for my internship with Esprit, the first thing I noticed was how laid-back everyone was compared to companies in the states. They’re not used to our American “peppy-ness” but still know how to have a good time at their jobs. There was music playing, and in my showroom they have a constant flow of coffee, water, tea (a British staple), cakes, biscuits, and crisps. Transportation is like any other big city in the states, where they mainly rely on the tube, or the bus system. Yes, everyone is in a rush to get to their workplace like they would be in say, New York City, but they all queue up whereas we would be pushing our way through the gates. Also, they’re very structured in their transportation systems. For example, there are signs on the steps that will say, “keep to the left” so you know which way to walk up, and which way to walk down. The escalators are the same way. If you’re in a hurry, you walk up on the right hand side, and if you have time, you stand to the left in a single file line. There are signs on every road as well on the ground that say, “look right” or “look left” so you know which way to look for oncoming traffic (which is VERY helpful for us tourists) since they drive on the opposite side of the road. 

At my school, I stayed in the same room for the whole day, and normally we would call them “Professor” or some other formal way of saying that they’re a teacher. However here they won’t accept anything but being called by their first name. I’m not sure if that is with all institutions here, but at least at ours that’s how we are supposed to address them. The kids all go to cute little prep schools, and this morning while we were on the bus we saw them queue up to go into their school. They all wear these adorable blazers in colors like royal blue, and emerald green with their woolen shorts and stockings and matching backpacks with the schools crest on it. All of us girls ate it up of course thinking it was the cutest thing we’d ever seen. Because I’m sorry, but a child with a British accent is just too damn cute. 

Oh how I miss American food. I’m longing for Kraft Mac and Cheese, and Noodle’s and Company, and of course Jimmy Johns. The food here is just…different. The pizza doesn’t taste the same, they don’t have mac and cheese that comes in a blue box that we’re all so familiar with, and a lot of the food sold in groceries is in much smaller portions. Even the soda bottles are skinnier! Food here is also VERY pricey, as is everything in London. So due to the high price in food, purchasing groceries has become quite the challenge to overcome because you don’t want to spend a lot on food, yet you’ve got to eat! I’ve literally been eating sandwiches, crackers, and cereal. Besides the occasional going out with friends, it’s been those few staple items. I can’t wait for when I get back to the states and just gobble up everything in sight (or the amount that will fit in my stomach). Alcohol is also way too expensive here, so we rarely go out as often I would back at the U. A mixed drink here is almost 8 U.S. dollars at a lower end pub, and a pint of beer is close to 6 U.S. dollars. You definitely have to budget living in a city like London. 

I can’t wait for what’s to come, and I’ve already had the time of my life in week one. However, I’m so busy this month with side trips, events, internship, classes, and trying to slip in some “fun times” that I can’t wait for the best month of all, when in exactly one month from today it is my 21 “Part B” birthday extravaganza!


Sarah: School

September 6, 2011

I’m in the spirit of school today, because for most students back in Minnesota, today is (once again) the first day of school. For the college freshman, it is their first first day of school. For the seniors, it may be their last first day of school. I, however, had my first day of Venezuelan school exactly 14 days ago, and nonetheless I feel like being a part of the big back-to-school hype.

I remember watching the video of my 5-year-old self getting off the school bus outside of Windom Open School on my first day of Kindergarten. I had my address and phone number memorized, and had ridden the bus all by myself. My grandpa was waiting outside with the video camera as I walked off of the bus, ready to capture my first footsteps as a “big kid”.

No matter how old you are, the first day of school always brings the same two of emotions. A little bit of nervousness and excitement to meet new friends and start a new routine. But as you get older, you also feel confident that you’ll get good grades this semester because you’ve done this before, sad because you have another year behind you, apprehensive about graduating from college, and overwhelmed with thoughts of 15 page papers and sleepless nights filled with homework and Pandora. You feel happy to see familiar faces in your classes and recognize professors, and proud that you showed up on time and prepared, with time to sip on your latte and eat your scone before the classroom fills and the professor introduces himself.

Most of all, the first day of school makes me feel excited and comfortable at the same time, and I think that’s why I’ve always liked it.

My goal here is to achieve that same sense comfortability and excitement about school. I’m starting to get there – to be comfortable in my surroundings, find my favorite coffee shops and panaderías, and my favorite hammocks to sink into during breaks between classes. As far as the excitement part goes, I’ve never had such an unpredictable and exciting semester.


Margaret: 超声波 – chāoshēngbō – ultrasonic wave (This is one of my vocab words.)

September 6, 2011

Today was day one of classes!  I was like a kindergartener, up early and all excited for the first day. Last week all the international students sat the Chinese placement exam. Let’s just say it was absolute death.  I was lucky if the listening passages went too quickly in one ear and out the other. I would say I was guessing on 95% of the exam. The reading passages continued to get longer and longer, followed by fewer and fewer questions. I struggled through the essay in extremely elementary Chinese. There were many many moments when I wanted to give up and turn my exam in, but I wouldn’t allow myself to do so. After the exam, I found out many people had done just that, not even attempting the essay. I was proud of myself for finishing.

The next day I arrived outside the Russian building to a see of foreign students all flustered and pushing and shoving to get a glimpse of the bulletin board where the results had been posted. I was relieved: Intermediate hanyu or intensive Chinese level 16 and intermediate kouyu or speaking level 14. I will have hanyu four days a week for two hours at a time, and kouyu three days a week also for two hours at a time. Next week we will begin electives, and since I am an intermediate student, I can take between four and six hours of the following:

  • Intermediate Chinese characters
  • Intermediate business Chinese language
  • Intermediate writing
  • Home with Kids – A Multi-skill Chinese course (uses a comedy series to teach Chinese and about Chinese daily life)
  • Pronunciation correction
  • Intermediate Chinese grammar
  • Intermediate listening comprehension
  • Intermediate newspapers and periodicals reading
  • Series lecture on Chinese culture

I know which ones I am tempted to take, but I think I’ve narrowed it down to Chinese characters and pronunciation correction as I believe these will help me the most in the long run.  The nice thing is I can choose two more next semester, so maybe then I can take business language.

Flustered and sweating profusely already at eight this morning, I found my hanyu class and took a seat. Out of fifteen people, there are four girls including myself. Five of the guys are from Norway and seem to all know each other. How did that happen? There is one other American, who is half Japanese and half Chinese. My teacher, Zhang Laoshi, is very happy and kind, but I could only understand about five percent of what was said in the entire two hours of class.  It sounded something like this:

Jing chang ling zhuan ye shi hao de bu jue guan yi di zhen dao yao Mao Zedong ti zhong da yuan qi qu di nong shui ba er li tian tun bo dun man dan zen cui dui gan zao kuai gai gao goose zi zui ming hu he ping gui mei he fu gu hua lan jiu la le si xi xue lao she qiong mao tai xiong yun huai huan nin zhuang ying gei wo xiao chu shao mai le wan hai liang dou ge jian men gu cheng gong dong you xi ren bie shu wang quan bag liao shi nan di ai hou qian jie ken man.

For two hours. Two hours! Everyone else was nodding and asking questions, so I deduced that I might in fact be the worst in the class. The only time I spoke was to introduce myself, which I handled fine. However, I couldn’t even understand what the homework assignment is! As I result I learned to recognize, write, pronounce, and use in a sentence all thirty-five of the vocabulary words in the first chapter tonight. This was no easy feat. The professor also said something about a mingzi de gushi, or literally “name story,” but I have no idea what a name story is! I may take a stab at it and write an essay tomorrow, but that’s the problem, I don’t know if it’s supposed to be written or spoken or what! We shall see how class goes tomorrow when the professor actually begins teaching out of the book…

Kouyu was much more heshi, or suitable, to my level. Lu Chen is my laoshi, and she seems very sweet and easygoing. There are many Americans in this class, but unfortunately they all seem to be from the same program and therefore know each other already.  It’s amazing how small of a world it is. In my kouyu class alone, there is a guy from Florida who graduated from St. Olaf College. Another guy who goes to Madison tapped me on the shoulder and said he and I have a mutual friend from the U of M.  Funny thing is I never told him my English name or where I was from.  Quite creepy.  A group of my friends met up with another group to eat dinner tonight, and one of the girls said she recognized me.  She asked me if I went to Minnesota and if I lived in Middlebrook Hall on the eighth floor my freshman year.  WHAT!?!?!?!  As it turns out, we had lived on the same residence hall floor for a year, and we had even had a conversation. She had taken a gap year to attend the University of Minnesota in order to set up a chapter of her student group, the Silk Road, at Minnesota before starting her undergrad at Cornell. We had discussed how difficult our Chinese classes were in the Middlebrook study lounge. And now we were in the basement of a Korean BBQ restaurant in Beijing, China. Nuts…

Anyways, I am worried about how my classes are shaping up. As it turns out, nobody tried on the placement exam. I am in the highest level of all of my friends, most of who speak proficient to even fluent conversational Chinese. Oh shoot, I tried too hard. I am somewhat regretting trying so hard now, but no matter what I’m not going down without a fight. I am a student. I came here to be a student, and I will always be first and foremost a student. This and working are what fulfill me in life. I studied Chinese for two years, I filled out all the applications, I tracked down all the scholarships, I wrote essay after countless essay, I made all the connections, sent all the emails, filled out all the visa documents (a special thanks to Mom who helped me schedule appointments and mail things while I was working out in the fields during the workday).  I covered every square inch of this entire process, and often my parents didn’t even know what was going on behind the scenes because I was simply taking care of it myself. To be here now, living this wonderful life, it’s just crazy to think about all of that and know that I made all of this happen. I have had a certain amount of luck, but I’ve fought for so much.  Looking at all of it now, I’m going to give hanyu everything I’ve got, and I know that that is a whole lot.  And when I come out of this, not only will my Chinese be amazing, but I will also have more discipline than anyone else I know.

Okay, so I feel like I’ve spoken quite a bit about how awesome and cheap and convenient everything is, so here the major frustrations I have been grappling with since day one:

My dissatisfaction with my interactions here with other expats has been growing exponentially since day one.  Why?  I have had the same conversation about 109,204,382 times already.  It goes as follows:

  • Are you American?  (If yes, the conversation continues.  If no, the conversation only continues about half the time.)
  • What state are you from?  (Number one answer is California, followed closely by New England states.)
  • So what are you doing at Peking University?  (This is one of three answers: Studying Chinese, getting a Masters in some kind of business-related program, or “ON VACATION DUUUUDE!  YEAH MAN IT’S TOTALLY BALLIN’!  I BASICALLY JUST CAME HERE TO PARTY.”  The latter is exclusively Californian, but not all Californians answer this way.)
  • How is your Chinese? (This is also one of three answers:  very buhao, conversationally proficient thanks to Asian-American parents, or “So I taught English in ______ Province this past summer.  I guess you could say I’m pretty good.”)
  • What is your major back home?  (This has several answers: business, international business, business strategy, business management, business, business, and business.)
  • What do you want to do with your life?  (This is a Margy question. People are either taken totally off guard and can’t answer it, or they say entrepreneurship or investment banking.)

The conversation usually ends there.  Rachel Dewoskin speaks extensively about this in her book Foreign Babes in Beijing: Behind the Scenes of a New China. I wish I had it now so I could get the direct quotations, but even before coming to China, I had an idea of what expats would be like.  When you meet an expatriate, it’s exciting because there’s always this hope that you’re going to make some kind of meaningful connection as two outsiders in this massive city.  And then you have the same conversation, asking the same questions, find out the same information, and there are you’re left, as lonely as when you began. For Rachel, it was loneliness, but I think for me, these conversations leave me entirely intellectually dissatisfied.   I can’t even stand to listen to entrepreneurial mumbo jumbo anymore because it’s all the same!  These white kids want to make some business venture with China, but they don’t know what it’s going to be yet.  I think I need to start trying harder to dig deeper initially with these people in attempts to make a lasting connection.  Hopefully now that I am in class, things will improve. Read the rest of this entry ?


Thomas: 1st week of class

September 2, 2011

Today ends the first week of class and nearly the first week of my time here in Argentina. Tomorrow, my class will take a tour of the city of Buenos Aires and spend time in the barrios (neighborhoods) not frequented by us students on a daily basis. This will provide a great opportunity for us to see the rest of the city, which consists of about 13 million people, and for me to take photos of the city, which will be shared with you.

This week, as one can imagine, has been tiring and slightly overwhelming, however, I have already noticed an improvement in my Spanish and my abilities to commute within the city, which happens to have about 10,000 times as many people as my hometown. My class schedule consists of Spanish for two hours every morning, except Friday, a three hour Latin American politics class on Tuesday afternoons, and a Buenos Aires art class on Thursday afternoons, also lasting three hours. A manageable schedule. The art class includes traveling to museums and monuments throughout the city. It will be a nice way to view and explore the significant aspects of the city with classmates and a professor who is very knowledgeable.

All of my classes are taught in English, expect of course for Spanish. It was quite a surprise to discover that I was the only student in my Spanish class. My own personal tutor, I thought. However, I learned quickly that each class requires an enormous amount of attention and energy. Following those two hours in the morning, most of the energy I came to school with is nearly gone. It happens to be incredibly draining, but should be extremely beneficial in improving my Spanish over the next several weeks.

I’m sure all of my classes will go well, and will be enjoyable. One nice thing about the classes here in Buenos Aires, the books required are very reasonably priced. At the U of M, one can pay anywhere between $300-$500 on textbooks per semester. All of my books required for my semester abroad will hover around $150. A welcomed change. Another nice change from the U of M is that all of my classes are in one section of a floor, in a building, which happens to also be connected to an upscale shopping mall and an art museum. Quite an interesting educational environment.

Up Next: Argentinean culture and more on food (something porteños take very seriously)!

All classes are in this building


Margaret: Fun and random items

September 1, 2011

Here are a some random items from the past few days I thought I would share: 

1.  I met a girl from Austria today while I was trying to figure out where to purchase a fan ka or meal card.  She asked me what I was studying back in my home country.  When I told her my major and that I had done corn research in Iowa this past summer, she said, “Oh, so you worked for Monsanto?”  She is part of an organization in Austria that is somewhat similar to Greenpeace.  She, like many many other Europeans, believes that plants should “be kept the way they are.”  Gotta love when things get that awkward within the first two minutes of meeting someone…

2.  In America, one of the chapters in my Chinese text was about apartments and apartment hunting. My friend Tiffany from Los Angeles is doing her PhD in business strategy at Peking University. She’ll be here for four years, so she’d like to move into a more permanent apartment than Zhongguanxinyuan. I’ve accompanied her to look at several apartments, and the conversations had are literally straight out of the cheesy situational videos we watched in Chinese class back home. I almost burst out laughing while she was meeting with landlords.

3. At the Great Wall, countless vendors dot the streets below selling fans, fake jade, Communist party hats, and other crap. However, among these are a few gems. During the election, a red and blue poster depicting presidential candidate Barack Obama by artist Shepard Fairey became an icon of the campaign. Some genius decided to take the image, print it on a dark green shirt, and dress up face and shoulders in a communist getup, looking scarily similar to the way Mao often looked in pictures.  The vendors would run after us with the shirts in hand yelling, “O-ba-ma, O-ba-ma.”  We nicknamed them the “Obamao shirts.” An even smarter genius was inspired by the ubiquitous I ❤ NY, I ❤ DC, I ❤ etc. t-shirts in the United States and came out with a shirt reading I ❤ BJ, presumably for Beijing, however while walking on the wall, I noticed all the buyers of these shirts were American “bros” with ear piercings. Surely the guy who designed this shirt knew what he was doing, right?

4.  While spending the summer with my tobacco chewing, country music listening, truck driving coworkers, I felt incredibly un-American and too worldly for my own good.  However, here in China it’s the total opposite; I almost feel, well, country-bumpkin? Maybe it’s in the way other Americans react to the fact that I’m from Minnesota.  Tiffany can’t believe that I’ve never had sushi or Korean food or even shrimp thanks in large part to my dad’s exclusive Midwestern diet of meat and potatoes. She’s also confessed to never having seen a cornfield.  After all the trials and tribulations of this past summer, I just can’t even fathom that. I think most people probably think that I come from a rural area or that I like to hunt and fish.  Other Americans often make fun of my Minnesoooota accent.  Like I said, I haven’t met any other Midwesterners here yet, much less anyone from Minnesota.  Beyond that, I know for a fact that I am only one at this entire university studying agricultural science. It’s funny because this lends even more to my country-bumpkin status. Little does everyone know that I’m from a big city and as girly as the next Cali girl. Before this past summer, I never even thought of Minnesota as a major agricultural production area. Sometimes I feel down about not having anyone else here to relate to, but I think it’s important for me to embrace my Minnesota roots and what I’ve chosen to do with my life. I think my obscure field of study and the even more obscure idea that I’m also studying Chinese and have taken a year off to move to China at the age of twenty makes me unique, sets me apart, and most of all, makes me crazy employable.  In a few weeks I hope to find myself at the doorstep of Monsanto’s Beijing offices and laboratories.  I’m going to say, “Hi, I interned for you in Iowa this past summer and now I’m here learning Chinese.”  And that might be the first and last time that ever happens. I might be country-bumpkin, but honestly it’s pretty cool.

%d bloggers like this: