China Exchange Debriefings: Students' Own Words

Georgia Tech students of Chinese have the opportunity to study in Mainland China and Taiwan through a number of channels beyond the China LBAT program.  The School of Modern Languages has worked to establish semester exchange with Shanghai Jiaotong University, Renmin University (Beijing), as well as other scholarship opportunities through connections to the Taiwan Ministry of Education as well as Hunan University in Changsha. This page includes student created briefings on their experiences in a number of these exchange and scholarship programs. Peruse through these descriptions to get an idea of the opportunities available to the proactive student of Chinese in a diverse representation of language learning venues!

Contents:


Studying at the Mandarin Training Center (国语中心) in Taiwan.

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By Austin Steed 司徒德 (International Affairs and Modern Languages), Summer 2011.

I was surprised when I learned last year that scholarships to study Mandarin in Taiwan existed. I was even more surprised when I received one of the Huayu Enrichment Scholarships offered through Georgia Tech by the Taiwan Economic and Cultural Office for 2011. I proceeded to embark on a more unique and rewarding study abroad experience than I could have imagined. As a recipient, I was allowed to pick from a long list of distinguished language schools for a three-month term, but I opted for Taishida (National Taiwan Normal University 台湾师范大学) in the capital of Taipei. It’s been in the Chinese teaching business for decades and has a corresponding reputation, which gave me confidence I could learn something there. 

Though I have studied Chinese at GT for a few years, my textbooks were all based on the PRC’s standard, and all in simplified characters. Taiwan uses traditional characters and took some getting used to. In addition, I didn’t know anyone over there and found myself more immersed than I could have imagined. I landed in Taibei and hit the ground running, found an apartment, and was starting school about a week later. In the first few days I could tell it was going to be a great experience; the food was great, the people were great and there was way more to do than my schedule could accommodate.

And now for a plug of my school. Tashiida 台师大 gave me a strong learning environment since it takes students from all over the world whose common language is frequently only Chinese. The class sizes are comfortable, with a maximum of ten or so people. The professors were interesting, talented, and the school provided numerous extracurricular activities for some off-the-clock learning like dragon boat racing, karaoke, martial arts, etc. The workload was heavy but definitely helped me make a lot of progress. As for the scholarship, the Ministry of Education dispensed it through the school directly, which handled everything great.

Outside of class, Taiwan really shone as a place to spend a semester abroad. Making use of the super-modern transportation infrastructure I traveled the island, hiked mountains and gorges, surfed and relaxed on beautiful beaches, and rode gondolas over dense jungle. Eating is a national pastime and I quickly became connoisseur of local delicacies like stinky tofu 臭豆腐 and congyoubing 葱油饼. The best part is that all this was in or within a few hours of Taibei. I have nothing bad to say about the mainland, but Taiwan is kind of like a resort getaway at times.

I can’t recommend Taiwan highly enough, and especially Taibei as a place to hone Chinese skills. Not only was it top tier education, but I had so much fun being there that I was going out, speaking and interacting constantly. Traditional characters were hard, but definitely a cool thing to add to my repertoire. Surprisingly enough, I found it a lot easier to read signs in the mainland after studying in Taibei. Taiwan is definitely off the beaten path for most students studying abroad, but its personality and culture are one of the best available for learning the language. I can’t wait to go back!

Hunan University Academic Year Abroad, 2010-2011, Changsha, Hunan Province

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By Andrew Morgan 毛安迪

  • Hunan University 湖南大学
  • Intensive Chinese Study, Academic Year Abroad 2010-2011
  • Hunan University Scholarship Covers Housing
  • Changsha, Hunan – “Real” China – The Entertainment City
  • Mao Zedong’s Home Province
  • Beautiful Mountain Hiking
  • English Teaching Opportunities

Changsha, a second tier city of the People's Republic of China, is known to the Chinese as the Entertainment City. It is a city of ancient history and modern day rapid development. When I first began to explore the possibility of studying abroad in China, I didn't know where I wanted to go, but I knew I didn't want to go to somewhere mainstream or greatly influenced by the Western World. My goal was to live in the real China, somewhere far away from upstaged Olympic events or Western tourist attractions (but not in the countryside either). When I discovered the Hunan University exchange program through Dr. Paul Foster and Dr. Haizheng Li, I knew this was the place I wanted to go.

Hunan, first and foremost, is a province located in the south-central Chinese interior. The climate varies from warm summers to below freezing winters. Precipitation is very frequent with a steady humidity level similar to Florida or south Georgia. Hunan's central location in relation to China is a great starting point for almost any planned exploration, from Hong Kong to Beijing. In addition, Hunan itself houses many famous points of interest, such as Zhang Jia Jie and Fenghuang. Overall, Hunan is one the best locations in China for its moderate climate and ease of domestic access.

While abroad, one of the most essential opportunities that must be taken advantage of is travel. I visited Hong Kong, Beijing, Shenzhen, and Zhang Jia Jie among other tourist destinations. I also traveled a bit in the city of Changsha, visiting many tourist attractions and historical monuments there, this being Mao Zedong’s home province. The Chinese are a very proud people, and physical proof of this is not too hard to find in their numerous municipal, provincial, and national museums, parks, and monuments. My favorite destination was Zhang Jia Jie. Being the principal inspiration for the floating mountains in James Cameron's Avatar, this string of mountains is absolutely awe inspiring. There are hiking trails and various areas of complete serenity and beauty. I highly recommend hiking Tianmen Shan.

While in Changsha, I managed to keep very busy and involved with the community around me. I located a small coffee shop called “The Fifth Tone,” which is owned by an American who has lived in China for many years. This helped me to make a few Chinese friends immediately, mainly students in the area that attend the weekly English Corner event on Tuesdays. Of course, there are many young Chinese to be met on the Hunan University campus as well, but “The Fifth Tone” is a great place to expand your boundaries, and also to find a few foreign friends. Changsha also offers many great entertainment experiences, being particularly famous for its foot massages. A Changsha foot massage is unrivaled in China, and a must for a first time guest to the city. Changsha nightlife is very vibrant as well. The city hosts many bars, nightclubs, and karaoke bars, along with various shopping malls, all located at the city center, Wuyi Guangchang. I also did a bit of teaching in a small town a few hours from Changsha. Any American with a passport to prove his or her nationality is an instant hit with the various language schools all over China. It isn't technically legal in China for people with student visas to work, but teaching young Chinese children English for a weekend here and there was an unregrettable experience. China is full of opportunities, and most of them are random and unexpected. The Chinese are not big on planning, so be prepared for morning phone calls about day long expeditions to the countryside or knocks on the door for students looking for an English tutor.

Hunan University is comprised of two campuses, a north and a south, of which the north was my home. The university is split by Yuelu Shan, famous home to the Song Dynasty Yuelu Academy of Confucius Learning. I took five classes taught in Chinese at the intermediate level from 8-12AM each day for a total of 15 credit hours per semester. Along with me in class were students from all over the world, namely Korea, Japan, Vietnam, the Middle East, and various countries in Africa. Mainly, foreigners use Chinese as a common language, although students from non-Asian countries generally speak decent English. In terms of the actual classwork, dedication and study is very much required. I never really studied too much until I went to China and took Chinese there. Intensive language study is not a walk in the park, and the learning curve for Chinese is very steep. However, it is very possible to succeed, and opportunities are everywhere that invite you to do so. The Chinese love to speak English, and will chase you begging for practice without rest. You must seek to carefully balance your English speaking and non-English speaking Chinese friends. Some are more willing to speak Chinese to you than others; some will write you off as incapable at the first sign of communication lapse; some will refuse to answer you in Chinese even if you are speaking it to them. Your success outside of the classroom will directly contribute to your grades in the classroom, and will largely determine the extent of your linguistic development.

I attended Hunan University using my HOPE Scholarship. It mostly covered the tuition for the exchange program and fees, although there was a bit leftover that I financed myself. Also, be prepared to self-finance after the Fall semester due to the mistiming of semester beginnings and endings between Hunan and Georgia Tech. You will not be able to send your grades back to Georgia Tech until long after tuition is due. At Hunan University I was provided furnished housing, a one bedroom apartment with a foreign roommate. Everything else was up to me to figure out, including food and setting up internet access (there is a phone jack that can be used for DSL access in the foreign student dormitories, and they were working on campus wide wireless when I left). At first, small things like this stressed me out a bit, but I quickly learned to appreciate the interaction it forced me to embrace. I was forced to adapt quickly to a local accent with which I was completely unfamiliar, along with various ways of doing things that still puzzle me today. Independent problem solving is something you will learn very quickly in China. In terms of living expenses, China is not an expensive place. I ate at a restaurant around campus on a daily basis, paying up to $5 or so for each meal, sometimes less. Going to the city center or eating at a Western restaurant will always cost you much more. I highly recommend Changsha's cuisine. It is very famous and quite delicious, although generally very spicy.

I went to China to learn the language, but I learned so much more that simply can't be explained in just a few words. My Chinese courses, taught in Chinese, explored various key cultural aspects of daily Chinese life, thousands of years of Chinese history, and the Chinese worldview as a whole. I learned Chinese in the context of not only everything Chinese, but the integration of language with everything cultural and historical. Experiencing first hand the rich cultural and historical environment of China is something truly unrivaled by words on a page. It was and forever will be one of the greatest experiences of my life. 

The Chinese Language Center at National Taiwan University  国立台湾大学. Summer Intensive Language Program, 2011.

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By Annie Tsai

  • Chinese Language Center, National Taiwan University
  • Taipei, Taiwan
  • Summer Intensive Language Program
  • International Classmates
  • Great Nightlife

Hey Guys!

My name is Annie Tsai and I am currently a 2nd year at Georgia Tech. Over the Summer (2011), I traveled to Taiwan to visit my relatives, to learn Chinese, and most of all, to relax after a grueling year at Tech. The program that I participated in is from the Chinese Language Center at National Taiwan University (one of the most notable Universities in Taiwan). Here, we have classes three hours per day where we learn how to read, listen, speak, and write Chinese in a classroom setting with no more than five other classmates. With this friendly, tight knit group setting, it helped me improve a lot in my Chinese and it ensured me that I would not fall behind due to the intensive course.

What was great about this course was that many of my classmates are from various parts of the world, such as Korea, Japan, Russia, India, Europe, and many more so you get to learn a bit of other cultures while in Taiwan. Besides, taking classes, there are field trips every once in a while and events that you can participate in. Other than that, you can just take a short walk or bus ride to visit many of the exciting places in Taipei. There are many night markets that are fun to go to (there's one right down the street from the university) where there are street performances, great food, and many stores to browse around. Other than the excitement of city life, right outside of Taipei, there is great scenery where you can bike around and enjoy the vast view of the mountains and the sea. I encourage all of you who are interested in learning Chinese to try out this program!

Post-LBAT Chinese Track to State Department—Lifelong Learning.

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By 谭天涂 (Ted Danowitz) China LBAT 2008; Renmin U Exchange 2008; IAML 2010

  • LBAT + SJTU Bridge Course
  • International Plan
  • Semester Exchange at Renmin University
  • Summer Internship at the U.S. Embassy in Beijing
  • Teaching English in China
  • Working in State Department as Foreign Service Officer

In order to complete 26 weeks abroad required by the International Plan, I strung together the LBAT and a fall semester exchange program at Renmin University, in Beijing. These two programs were bridged by a short-term language class at SJTU. Both the Bridge and Exchange programs were valuable not only because they allowed me to exercise the language skills I’d developed during the LBAT, but also because of the multi-cultural experiences they afforded me.  The language classes are filled with students from all over the world. During my time at Renmin University the only Americans in the classes were another GT student and myself. I made friends with students from all over the world, and still keep in touch with many of them.

Being in China during the school year is a different experience from the LBAT. Chinese students return to campus from their summer vacation and are eager to make friends with native English speakers. I made several Chinese friends who were excited to help me practice my Chinese. They showed me around Shanghai and Beijing, providing me unique opportunities experienced by few visitors.

In the summer of 2009, I landed an internship at the U.S Embassy in Beijing working in the American Citizen Services section. This ideal internship allowed me to combine my language skills and my major studies. Every day of my internship I used Chinese to work with different officials in the Chinese government as well as the Chinese staff at the embassy. The embassy also provided me with a Chinese tutor, who I met with every day for an hour after lunch.  

After graduating from Tech in 2010, I moved to Zhengzhou to teach English at a local university. Zhengzhou is a “small” city of 8 million people in Henan province. By this point, I was sure I had learned everything there was to know about Chinese culture—wrong. Living in a Chinese city with virtually no international tourism was an entirely new experience. No one spoke English and very few people had seen a foreigner before.

I’m now working for the State Department as a Foreign Service Officer. My Chinese ability was an advantage in the recruiting process, and in the end proved useful when selecting my first post. This April, I will be moving to Guangzhou to work at the U.S. Consulate General for two years. As preparation, I am in language training for 5 months. This involves 6 hours of Chinese class a day and each class has a maximum of four people (I’m in one class with only one other student). It is incredibly intense, yet very personalized to each of our learning styles.

It’s important to keep something in mind when you’re learning Chinese: its applications stretch far beyond the classroom. If you really want to utilize what you’ve learned, there are countless in-country opportunities, and each of them will teach you something different. The Chinese language and culture are full of fun surprises, and you never know—your experiences may end up helping you get your dream job.

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