Beauty, by Sidney Ehrenborg

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Sidney is an incoming Freshman who will be joining the Chinese Flagship Program at WKU this month. She has just completed her first trip to China on a U.S. Department of State National Security Language Initiative for Youth (NSLI-Y) Scholarship.

Beauty has no bounds, no region of life in which it cannot thrive even if largely and unfortunately overlooked.  From the simple, subtle beauty of the mountains to the ornate, man-made beauty of the Imperial Palace, beauty of all types and sorts exists everywhere.   Beauty is what has shaped my experiences in China and what has drawn me to the language and the people.  I search for beauty in everything, but most of the time, beauty ends up finding me.

My project embraces two mediums of beauty: the written word and the spoken word. By reading the poem Xiang Si by Wang Wei, I have the opportunity to learn and taste the beauty of the Chinese written word. Poetry is a universal beauty crossing cultures, ethnicities, and religions. It is this beauty that has continually reminded me that people are people, and all people are beautiful, in a unique yet similar way. We all have ideas and thoughts that tumble onto the pages of novels, poetry, biographies, and the like. These thoughts and ideas are then inevitably shared, disregarding different distances, languages, and times preserved in scribbled words. The idea and thoughts of the previous ages have taught those of us in this age; and the ideas and thoughts of this age will teach the next generation. The beauty of each generation is pressed, like a delicate flower, onto the pages of the written word. My time in China has only exemplified this idea: from the intricacies of the roofs of the Imperial Palace buildings to the names, carved in stone, of those who passed the Confucius.

The spoken word is just as important, if not more, than the written word. Spoken word and song predates writing, and many of the earliest texts discovered were oral traditions for years before they were penned.  Ages ago, spoken word was all that was used to pass the thoughts and ideas that make up the beauty of each generation of people. Now we are blessed with the written word, but it is the spoken word that originally embraced the emotions. The spoken word can cause you to love, to hate, to follow, to lead. The spoken word is a powerful tool. In the beginning of this trip, I noticed what a tonal language Mandarin is. It seemed to me that, while the tones were (and still are) difficult to learn, they are beautiful to listen to. As I moved further into my stay here, I had the opportunity to listen to Chinese music. It is beautiful. The voices are incredible, and I love the language. One song that I heard stuck out to me. The name is 童话, or in English, Fairytale. The song, which has an equally moving music video to it, is about a boy wanting to be his girlfriends Fairytale. In the end, the girl dies, and he remembers all of the things they did together. Although sad, I think this song is absolutely, breathtakingly, beautiful. Not because of his voice (which is very good) or the music notes, but because of the beauty of his heart.  The meaning if this song is like many other songs across the world, yet unique in it’s own story. The beauty of the heart is a multicultural substance, the story, individualistic.

Although beauty is cross-cultural, China has it’s own very distinct beauty. From the written word of a poem about red berries and love to a song about love and loss, China and this trip has left a lasting impression on me, a stamp on my heart. Although this trip is coming to a close, and a new chapter of my life is starting, I know that I will come back to China. This trip, this glance into the deep, beautiful Chinese culture has strengthened my desire to continue my study of Chinese.

On being an “old foreigner,” by Tyler Prochazka

Tyler is on his first trip to China, participating in the Princeton in Beijing summer program, and reflects on the more awkward aspects of being a foreigner.

A striking characteristic of China (and imminently noticeable when visiting) is that the vast majority of the population is made up of the Han ethnicity. This makes international travelers and students somewhat of an oddity to many Chinese people. Even in cities, where seeing foreigners is not rare, I still have encountered a lot of curiosity as I have wandered the streets of Beijing. A few stories come to mind.

While eating dinner with a classmate, I noticed a middle-aged Chinese man staring at our table. By the time we had nearly finished eating, I saw he had taken out his phone and was taking pictures of me. I asked him “uhhh…Ni hao?” He started asking me where I was from and what I was doing here (something also very common). He then forced his way to my table, sat down and showed me the pictures he took of me. He had my friend take a picture of us together so he could “give to his 10 year old daughter.” I replied that I was famous and named “Justin Bieber.” I’m still not sure what was going on there.

I’ve also been bombarded with requests for money. As a foreigner, it is automatically assumed that I am full of wealth and riches. The most interesting request was from a mother and daughter who asked if I could speak Chinese. When I told the mother yes, she told me a story of how she lost her purse and her child was starving, or as she put it “hungry to death.” Her daughter looked downtrodden and sad while her mother spoke. The problem was her story wasn’t very convincing since they both appeared pretty wealthy, even by American standards (which could be a consequence of her fooling enough foreigners). I told her I only had three RMB and a 100 RMB bill. She said she would settle with 100 RMB (approximately $20 US dollars). I gave her three RMB. I’ve lost much of my sympathy and gullibility since unintentionally buying a fake iPhone, and subsequently having that same phone stolen. But that’s another story.

Coincidentally, our class just wrapped up a lesson on Chinese people’s views of foreigners. They have plenty of derogatory terms for us, including the foreign devil. Some of that sentiment still exists in China, although my encounters have been with Chinese people who are antagonistic toward the American government, rather than the American people. The most glaring instance was a shopkeeper who ranted to me about America interfering in China’s affairs and how America can’t match the greatness of China. I told her I think both countries have their beauty.

For the most part though, nowadays Chinese people settled on calling us “lao wai,” which literally translated means old foreigner. I’ll take that over foreign devil.

My Summer at the Flagship Chinese Institute at IU-Bloomington, by Laurel Clutts

Laurel has just completed an intensive Chinese summer immersion program located at Indiana University. The curriculum of the Flagship Chinese Institute is roughly equivalent to a year’s worth of Chinese packed into 8 weeks, and students must maintain a language pledge to use only Chinese at all times. 

Laurel with her class. Can you spot her? Hint: She is the only one with curly hair!

Laurel with her class. Can you spot her? Hint: She is the only one with curly hair!

To summarize my experience at FCI in a short, sweet way, I want to start by saying that I’m more than glad I participated, not only because of the improvement of my Chinese skills, but because of the wonderful friends I’ve made. The program truly is an experience for those who are willing to meet new people and give their best effort and, although it isn’t easy, I never once felt that I couldn’t meet the challenges put before me.

I can also say that the FCI I imagined and the FCI I participated in were two different things; it wasn’t nearly as difficult as I imagined it would be and I felt right at home in the classroom. Despite the fact that there were a few situational difficulties during our time at the program, I think the staff did a great job of making the experience as enjoyable as possible, and the students who didn’t enjoy themselves were those who remained unwilling to think positively during our time together. I have full confidence that next year’s program will be even better, and I strongly recommend that anyone with a desire to learn participates for the sake of bettering their Chinese. If you’re anything like I am, you’ll be crying when you leave and spend the next few weeks trying to keep yourself from using inside jokes in Chinese around family members who can’t understand you.

A summer in Suzhou, by Cody Hutchins

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Cody is studying in Suzhou, China this summer on a U.S. Department of State Critical Language Scholarship.

黄山 1 - CodyAs the Critical Language Scholarship (CLS) summer program in Suzhou is coming to a close I’m having a hard time summarizing all the experiences that we have had. We started our two month journey at the beginning of June and since then we have surely come a long way. While I’ve definitely been challenged to focus on Chinese more than ever before, I’ve also had a lot of fun exploring the different cities and further learning about China’s unique culture.

A few aspects are particularly notable about the program. The first being the dedication of the students and professors to the language pledge and how it has immensely improved all of the students’ Chinese proficiency. Although all of my classmates are American it has been more than rare to hear English spoken in our program. As a result of speaking Chinese 24/7, I’ve begun to understand the language in a new light and sometimes I even dream in Chinese-which still freaks me out every time! It’s quite exciting!

Along with the language immersion I have been able to travel to a few new places in China that have completely blown me away. Last weekend I took an overnight train with a few friends to the beautiful mountains of Huang Shan and spent two days there hiking. Saturday night we slept in a hostel on top of the mountain and woke up at 4:30 a.m. to catch one of the most gorgeous sunrises I have ever seen in my life. Some of our tutors journeyed alongside us giving us ample opportunities to further practice our Chinese, and when the weekend was over it was safe to say that everyone had a great time.

Altogether the CLS summer program has been very interesting and a great experience that I will surely never forget. While we have definitely had our ups and downs dealing with the high intensity of the classes, I have no doubt that in the past two months I have rapidly improved my Chinese faster than ever before. I feel very fortunate that God’s given me this awesome opportunity, and I look forward to hearing about more WKU Flagship students participating in the CLS program in the future.

亲爱的青岛: Bonjour, Mon Amour! by Dare Norman

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You can also follow Dare’s personal blog at http://darenorman.blogspot.com/

Creink. Hiss – Clackclack thunk. “Shàng chē! Shàng chē!” Kkrrrum, Vroom thunk k k, hiss. Bunk bunk. MEEEP.This is the song of the Chinese public transportation system. Usually, this is the soundtrack of my daily thirty-minute trip to and from Ocean University of China in the Fushan district of Qingdao.

One day, though, it wasn’t.

After an hour of poring through A Chinese Discourse on Sino-American Relation with my tutor, I was sinking. My brain was sweating and making heavy puddles on my spirits – and it was raining outside. Great. I thought. A nice, slippery, wet, muddy, humid, smelly, crowded bus ride home is just what I need.

     Grouchy, I paid my 2¥ and pushed to the back of the bus, sliding my pack around front for safe-keeping. Fog covered the windows and blurred my view of the street, but I could tell from the chorus of car horns: we were in slow-moving traffic.

Sigh. I took out my iPod and pressed play.

*Cheery accordion, smooth clarinet and lazy guitar waltzed in my ears and sang melodies like warm Nutella on French toast, stripes of black and white and red, gentle sunshine on the Seine and the slight smell of oil paint.

Wait, no, it didn’t sing of those things. Where was I? Bumping noisily down the packed streets of Qingdao, in the fog, by the sea. Outside, women in wide-brimmed hats and fancy heels tapping down the sidewalk, gently splashing mud. A flock of brightly-colored umbrellas hovering around each bus stop. Look! There’s that shop with taro- and melon-flavored ice cream! Underneath a tattered, dripping tent, older gentleman huddled intensely around a game Mahjong. Salesmen with their carts of peaches, others selling kites or clam shells or bird-whistles or patterned socks. People living in Qingdao, in all of their different styles and circumstances – beautifully.

Elbow-to-elbow between two damp strangers and an umbrella dripping at my feet, I suddenly grinned. We were picturesque.

*”Under Paris Skies,” by The Paris Musette. Album: The Music of France.

如在画图中 (Like in Paintings), by Jessica Brumley

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Jessica is currently studying in Suzhou, China on a U.S. Department of State Critical Language Scholarship.

“如在画图中”

Suzhou is known for its beauty. Pale stone bridges intersect over murky canals, where fishermen guide rickety wooden boats against a lazy tide. If the light is just right, the river shines at some point just above the horizon, and the view is so clear, it takes a second glance to make sure the scene is real. Tranquility is a Suzhou specialty, served hot and humid every morning on my walk to class.

But there is something out of place. Something in this picture is not the same as everything else. I will give you three guesses…and the first two don’t count.

老外。The Chinese love to point out foreigners on the streets. No matter where I go, I get stares and the occasional eager student wanting to practice their English. But, at the end of the sixth week of my Critical Language Scholarship program, I was hoping I would start to blend in.

I suppose it is a little difficult to hide my blonde hair and blue eyes, no matter how 地道 my Chinese may become. Sometimes I forget that I look that much different from everyone else, until I see a picture of a foreigner, normally in a clothing store window, and my mind automatically thinks: “外国人”. The students in my program have made a game of pointing out other foreigners on the streets, and even speaking Chinese to them, knowing that they probably won’t understand. I feel like this is a bit like traveler’s hazing, and I normally don’t take part, but I find myself trying to make a slight distinction between myself, my group, and the other foreigners here in China.

I live, eat and breathe Chinese here is Suzhou. Dreaming in Chinese is not an uncommon occurrence (although I must say it is not nearly as entertaining as it sounds).  But, the language alone does not make me Chinese, does not make me a 本地人。There is a whole culture, a whole way of living that an eight week program cannot even scratch the surface of.

The landscapers of the famous Suzhou gardens have a saying: “如在画图中”. It literally means, “as in paint” or “like in paintings”. The architects and landscapers wanted the beauty of the Suzhou gardens to be so picturesque that their reality was questioned. So perfect that it takes a second glance to make sure the scene is real. But what the ancient garden builders did not account for was 外国人。

However, I for one like to believe that there is a beauty even in seeming imperfection. The intensity of the program gives me so many opportunities for error. In fact, my constant state is error. I have allowed myself to accept that it will be a long time, if ever, before my Chinese will actually sound authentic. I stick out like a white girl in China when I am walking to and from studying, and I am often the cause of slight disturbance to an otherwise authentic Chinese scene.

But, this is also a new picture of China. We, as CLS students, interested in a different culture and a foreign way of life, we are painting a new picture that includes both Chinese and Americans, 中国人和美国人, learning from each other and benefiting from the cross-cultural sharing of ideas. And I must say, the future looks very promising.

The Stages of the Foreign Traveler, by Hannah Garland

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When one goes abroad, there are always adjustment stages that must be faced.

The first, and most enjoyable stage, is the stage in which all seems new and exciting. Right when arriving in the new country, one is in a stage of constant bliss. Everything in the culture seems perfect, the food is great, the people are friendly, and life seems perfect.

After this stage, one moves into the dreaded stage of struggling with the culture. At this stage, the small things that never bothered you before are magnified and seem to constantly occur. Small things that were never noticed now seem to occur daily and “mess up” your life. Food that is unavailable is craved, home is missed, and an overall miserable feeling is experienced.

Finally, after a while, the small, bothersome things seem to diminish and the big cultural problems that used to haunt you seem to fade. It is at this time that one learns to appreciate the culture in which she is living, acknowledge the good and the bad, and live in the once foreign culture.

These past few days I have been wrestling with myself through the second phase of this transition. This past weekend, the program I am a part of traveled to a famous mountain in Shandong, China. After getting to the top, a deluge rushed over the mountain, forcing my group to have to walk back down the 7,000 slippery, rock steps to the bottom of the mountain. When arriving back at the hotel, we did not have time to shower, but were, instead, put on a bus for five more hours. We were freezing, hungry, sore, and tired. In addition to the colds we all received from this trip, I believe this trip made most of us involved in the program come to a breaking point.

After not finding the bus I needed yesterday, I was forced to take a taxi, which was then followed by me crying to the taxi driver about the difficulties I have faced this summer, especially over the weekend. As a note, this is not a culturally appropriate action in China, but, hallelujah, the taxi driver was a sweet man who assured me that my Chinese would improve and I had nothing to worry about.

Sitting in the hotel last night, I thought about the difficulties and joys I have faced here. I have had fun times, faced challenges, made close friends, and seen cultural brokenness. One of the most difficult things one will ever face is knowing how to take another culture in, balance the good and bad within this culture, and decide how to react to all this information. Right now, I have seen some good, a lot of brokenness, and am trying to learn how to act accordingly.

As of now, I do not have the answers, but I know that I am here for a reason. Just as the subtitle of my blog states: 塞翁失马。(For the background story, read one of my first blogs). In the end, though the old man in this story thought the circumstance he was in was awful, it ended up bringing him blessings. At this point, I do not see the light at the end of the tunnel, but must trust that it is there. The flowers always bloom after winter. Oh how I look forward to the spring!

Clothes Lines and Open Minds, by Hannah Garland

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Clothes Lines and Open Minds

 Hannah Garland is studying in Qingdao, China on a U.S. Department of State Critical Language Scholarship.

“Hello, I would like to buy a long line that you can hang up on things, like in a room, and can then hang clothes on it to dry. Where are those in your store?”

“…*blank look*…”

“Excuse me, I asked if your store has those long lines.”

“…Um…*look of pity at the foreigner* Let me help you look…I don’t think we do. Sorry, try the next aisle.”

“Ok, thanks. (Thinking: The next aisle?? Why can’t you lead me to the next aisle??)

Next aisle:

“Hello, I would like to buy a long line that you hang clothes on to dry.”

“Yes, we have those. Here they are.” *Points to an electrical cord*

“Um… I do not think that I can hang wet clothes on an electrical cord. That is dangerous.”

“Then, no, we don’t have any.”

“Ok…”

I then proceed to walk to the next aisle and find the CLOTHES LINES (which I do not know how to say in Chinese) hiding underneath the hanger isle. Yes, underneath.

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I have been living in Qingdao, China for almost three weeks now, for the main purpose of studying Chinese intensively. I have class daily, followed by tutoring and then several hours of homework. Though this sounds frightening, I am slowly learning how to manage my schedule so that I have the most possible time to go out and explore the city. Exploring cities in China, however, involve not only going out, sightseeing, taking pictures, etc, but many cultural aspects that one might not realize they will encounter. It is good to not be too shocked by these things when they occur, so to help, I will list a few personal tips and stories about life in China.

1. “Beware of her fair hair.” – Goethe

In China (Beijing and Shanghai are not as bad), if you are a foreigner and have a hair color other than black, people will take pictures of you. This can happen in front of a tourist destination, while you are walking to class, or even while riding a crowded bus (that is definitely the most awkward). At first I was a little annoyed when people would take pictures without asking me (like on the bus…awkward), but now I am getting used to it. As the Chinese always say, “Don’t think too much.” Follow their example on this one and ignore it.

2. Hot water is good for you.

Well, at least that’s what my Chinese friends tell me. Whether hot water is good for you or not, you will be drinking it at every meal. If you don’t like the taste, take some tea leaves to the restaurant and stick them in the tea pot. Everyone at the table will be grateful…especially other foreigners who don’t like hot water either.

3. Invest in a backpack dictionary.

In situations where you need to buy a clothes line (which is not literally translated “clothes line” in Chinese) or need to figure out how to tell someone about your allergy shots, it is really important to have some small kind of dictionary, in paper or on your phone, that you can rely on. Though it can be entertaining describing what a clothes line is to someone for twenty minutes, a dictionary can save unnecessary miscommunication, especially in important situations.

4. Don’t be afraid to try new things…

…as long as it is a safe situation or food that is well cooked. Though I already kind of regret trying the grilled starfish from the roadside cart, it is an experience that I will never forget. Great stories and lessons come from trying new things, making some mistakes, and learning how to do something right the next time. China is a land of new things, so it is quite important that one goes in with an open heart and mind, excited about what she is going to face.

Though there are countless lessons that can be learned in China, these are the ones I have time to list right now. Over the past few weeks, I have learned so many things. One main lesson, however, that has been hammered into me these past weeks is that of flexibility. Once you are more flexible about your life, you have the freedom to enjoy things, though they may at first seem a little unconventional. If you are not flexible, you will only end up being angry that things did not unfold the way in which you planned. Be flexible and enjoy the journey!

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