Have you ever thought about a study abroad program? I studied abroad in France ( haven’t talked to you guys about that yet!) and for the next few weeks I’m going to highlight different travelers that have studied abroad. You can study abroad in high school, college, or after college (like I did!). There are really no limits to studying in a different country.
The White House recently held a Summit for Travel Bloggers to raise awareness of the study abroad possibilities for students. Since my friends and I are global citizens, we thought we would share our experiences in hopes of shining a light on studying abroad. My first interview is with Adedana.
1. Where did you study?
I studied abroad in Beijing twice. First for a semester during college and then for a year after I graduated.
2. Why did you choose that location?
I chose Beijing because my university only had two programs where you could study abroad and still earn university credit, the options were London and Beijing. I was, and still am, interested in environmental policy and the China-Africa relationship so Beijing was a great place to go. I didn’t have to know Mandarin to go but we were required to study the language while we were there. After 5+ years of studying Spanish, I was excited to try something new. The pound was about 2:1 to the US dollar back then so the decision was made a lot easier lol.
3. What program did you use?
My semester abroad was with the Peking University-Yale University Joint Undergraduate Program. Sadly the program no longer exists but it was quite unique. We were the only international students allowed to live with Chinese roommates, they were students from the university’s top Yuanpei program. Peking University (Beida for short) was the first modern university founded in China and it is widely regarded as either the #1 or #2 higher ed institution in the country (the other being Tsinghua University, also in Beijing). I learned a lot from my Yale and Chinese roommates and I still keep in touch with many of them nearly 7 years later.
I returned because I received the China Cultural Scholarship to study Mandarin full-time. This time I was at Beijing Normal University (Beishida for short). I listed my top 3 choices for schools on the scholarship application- admittedly Beishida wasn’t my top choice but I’m sooo glad it worked out the way it did. I made a lot of friends and had great Mandarin teachers.
4. How long were you gone?
I spent 4 months at Beida and 1 year at Beishida.
5. Did you speak the language of the country you studied in?
I didn’t when I first arrived in February 2009. When I left in June I had a conversation with a woman in Mandarin for about an hour while waiting for my flight. I felt a real sense of accomplishment. I remember the moment I could read characters for the first time, I nearly cried tears of joy- and then I quickly realized there were about 3000 more where that came from so I couldn’t get complacent lol. I returned to Yale, studied Mandarin during my senior year and then I returned to Beijing after graduation. When I left the second time, I could watch the news and understand most of it.
6. Did you stay with a host family or other accommodations?
I stayed in a dorm both times. The second time my hallmates were from Cape Verde, Vietnam, USA, Slovakia, Italy, and Madagascar and my roommate was from Japan. They were all amazing women. I had a great time chatting with them, eating their food and listening to their music lol.
7. What were your goals for studying abroad?
When I first arrived in China I wanted to get a grasp for a country I’d only heard about and seemed so far away. Back in 2008 the “China Rising” headline was everywhere and I wanted to see that progress and story for myself and I did. When I left at the end of the semester I knew I had to find a way to go back. Studying in China was an incredible experience. Sure there were moments I missed home and some things were frustrating, but all in all I gained so much. I’m lucky I was able to return.
My goal the second time was to get a better grasp of the language but also to explore the city as much as I could. I didn’t really go out much my first time in Beijing by comparison, I was up until 4 studying Mandarin (class started at 2pm so it wasn’t so bad). The second time around I had the benefit of having already graduated so unlike some of my classmates I wasn’t worried about grades. This allowed me to make the most of all opportunities, in and out of the classroom. I got an internship at City Weekend Magazine, got to write bar and restaurant reviews (best job ever) as well as some news pieces. It was good exposure to media and journalism which I ended up pursuing further.
8. How did studying abroad affect your general perspective of people/life?
The more and more you travel the more and more you realize that most people really just want the same thing. To provide for themselves and their loved ones and to hopefully be happy while doing that. Those 4 months at Beida were the longest and farthest I’d ever been from home so that was an important step for me personally. Little did I know I’d be back for much longer.
9. Can you remember a funny anecdote from your experience?
I was in a cab after a night out (nights out in Beijing were incredible) with two of my Yale classmates. One of them was an American Born Chinese (ABC) girl and the other was black guy (you’ll see why I’m describing them in a second). He was in the passenger side of the cab and a woman approaches our cab, I believe to ask the driver for directions. She approaches from the passenger side and when he rolls down the window so she can talk to the driver, her face changes so quickly, she’s stunned and yells, “我天啊! or WO TIAN A!!!”- which is the Mandarin equivalent of an “Oh my God!”- and the three of us just die of laughter. Maybe you had to be there but it was hilarious. The Olympics were held not too long after so I’m sure she wouldn’t be as shocked now.
Beijing is a diplomatic, business, and cultural hub but some of the locals, mostly those who have arrived from more rural areas, are somewhere between amazed and excited at seeing foreigners. If you think about it, especially in terms of China’s long history, the country hasn’t been open to the world for very long. for My parents became celebrities when they visited me and if I remember correctly someone on the Great Wall thought I was Beyonce (as if).
10. Would you recommend studying abroad and why?
Definitely. And for so many reasons. For me, studying abroad was a source of inspiration, for other places I wanted to see, things I wanted to accomplish, etc. Depending on your program you can come away with a great experience both inside and outside of the classroom. I’ve been fortunate. If you want to leave the clichés aside about “getting to know yourself” (which are all true), studying abroad also makes good business sense. The world is increasingly globalized: our economies are connected and if you look at social media, so are our cultures and movements. Learning about another culture, history, language, and economy adds a great deal to your resume. If you play it right, you can translate your study abroad experience into the job/life you want.
Adedana is a freelance writer originally from the DC metro area. Her secret dream is to become the Ethiopian-American hybrid of Mindy Kaling, Aisha Tyler, Jean Grae, and Tina Fey. In the meantime, she lives in Nairobi where she is working on her travel memoir. You can follow her travels on Twitter and Instagram at @AdedanaAbroad.