My journey to China started in summer 2011 when I encountered Melinda Edgerton at H4, the Honors Freshman Orientation Retreat. She was promoting the Chinese Flagship program and I quickly agreed to sign up. At the time, I couldn’t have predicted how much this decision would shape my experience at WKU.
After trekking through six semesters worth of Chinese I had the possibility of actually going to China in the summer of 2013. I began the process of filling out what felt like an unending amount of applications. I took the approach of applying for every opportunity possible. It was painstaking but it was really worth the time and effort.
When it was clear that I would actually be going to China, I kept telling my friends it hadn’t hit me that I really was going to China. And it hadn’t.
It wasn’t until the moment right before I landed in Beijing that the mix of excitement, happiness, and nervousness from traveling abroad hit me all at once. Seeing strange looking Chinese structures with Chinese characters on their roofs is oddly what triggered my excitement.
The first thing that struck me was how frightening transportation is in Beijing. There seems to be a general acceptance that chaos is perfectly natural while driving. Public transportation is usually the best method, but at one point a subway train was so crowded I literally had to leap into a crowd of people to avoid being smashed by the train door.
Luckily, I didn’t get smashed, and in general Beijing turned out to be a really incredible city. I had it drilled into my head that I wouldn’t understand a lot of China until I experienced it for myself. This is such a true statement. I had a decently constructed caricature of China prior to arriving here, but I would say that I have a much fuller picture now. For instance, I didn’t fully appreciate how severe Beijing’s pollution problem was until I had to breathe it. Every day. On the other hand, it is also difficult to understand the magnificence of the Great Wall without seeing it first-hand.
I would expand the idea of this “true understanding” to the Chinese language as well. I have felt a strong connection between my confidence with the language and living in China. There have been far more occasions since I’ve been in China when I thought I was listening to an English speaker, when they were actually speaking Chinese.
I wrote this with about three weeks left in the Princeton in Beijing (PiB) language program. On paper, I gained a plethora of benefits from this experience: improving my Chinese ability, exposure to Chinese culture, etc. But what I gained from coming to China and participating in PiB goes beyond that. I think it is one of many steps toward the development of myself as a person and a crucial refinement of my understanding of China.
*Tyler used his LTE grant to fund thesis research while participating in Princeton in Beijing, an intensive language program.