Immersing Myself in Culture




I’m so glad I chose a yearlong program for studying abroad. Reflecting upon last semester, I spent a majority of my time with other students from my program (all Californians) so I never got the chance to really immerse myself. This semester I plan to take advantage of my last couple of months here to really explore the local culture and make Chinese friends.

This semester has been heavier in the workload compared to my last semester. This time I’m taking lower advanced written and spoken Chinese and an audio-visual elective course. Every day I have quizzes on vocabulary. This means I need to know how to write the characters, how the words are pronounced  (tones included!), and their definition. I’ve been using quizlet to make flashcards that I can use to study anywhere. I like to bring them out when I’m on the subway or waiting in a long line for food/dinner.

Anyways recently I discovered a small study flaw of mine. I prioritize learning how to say and write the characters instead of learning the definition. This was made really clear during my last small quiz where I could read everything on the page but had no idea what all my new vocabulary meant! When our teacher gave our exams back she wasn’t too happy with our class. She told us nobody got a 20 (full points) but nobody got a 10 and under. Today we had another small quiz and I felt more prepared. This time I switched up my flashcards to have the characters show and I had to know the definitions. The quiz felt easier but still remained challenging.

My audio-visual course is watching a famous old TV sitcom called “Family with Kids (家有儿女)”. The class is fun as we get to watch a TV show a lot of Chinese people our age grew up watching and learn from it! It is difficult in the sense this TV show was designed for Chinese people to watch so the speaking is very fast paced and uses a lot of speaking language versus book language. Our teacher makes this class bearable by explaining all the quirks of spoken language and allowing us to write in pinyin if we forget some words when we have our quizzes.

Outside of classes I signed up for the judo club, have my weekly meetings with my language buddy, and play mahjong with my classmates! I used to practice judo when I was a kid and a bit in high school and was fortunate to get a judo flyer shoved in my hands during club week. These biweekly club meetings allow me to surround myself with more Chinese people. All the lessons are conducted in Chinese (duh) to get to not only practice judo but my listening and speaking skills. Everyone there is pretty surprised to find out I’m an American. One look at me and I blend in well with them but the moment I tell them “you try” in Chinese, their face says it all. My accent is very different than theirs so they always ask me where I’m from and then if I’m a 华裔 (a person of Chinese descent). A lot of them are willing to explain things to me in simpler Chinese and explain how it is written if it blanks on me.

My language buddy and I try to get together once a week at a café to study together. She helps me correct my reports and I help her with her English. She usually wants to practice her oral language skills and I want to practice my Chinese with her so it works out very well.

Finally, mahjong with my classmates has been very fun and interesting. We’ve only met up once but the first time we played for 2 hours learning the rules of the game. We’re supposed to meet up tomorrow and hopefully, we can start using solely Chinese to play.

One of my buddies also introduced me to this APP called Coursera and apparently certain classes available on there can potentially count as G.E courses (too bad I already finished all my G.Es). It has test preps by my university for a standardized Chinese test known as the HSK short for 汉语水平考试. I plan to finish the courses on this APP to prepare for the HSK 5!