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My Second Academic Year in China

June 28, 2018

Can you briefly introduce yourself?

My name is Veronica Lewis (Roni). I grew up in D.C., but my university is in Denver, Regis University. I’m an East Asian Studies major with a concentration in Mandarin, and a community food systems/ farming minor.

What sparked your interest in China, and why did you come here in the first place?

To be honest, I just had not applied to any universities so I didn’t really have much to do, and I hadn’t really considered coming to China before. The 2008 Beijing Olympics had a big impression on me; the opening ceremony was really cool and I wanted to learn a new language because I grew up speaking English and Spanish and I wanted to learn something completely different from those.

What did your family and friends back home think about your decision to come to China?

Well, the first time they thought it was quite random, and a little bit out there maybe, they were honestly concerned. First time I came here was in mid-2014 and I was not yet 18 so I think they were just worried about me going so far away, they also, there’s an absurd amount of misconceptions about China, so they were worried about weird things, like I remember my mom’s friend told me to bring my own toothpaste because the toothpaste here was made with dog pee, and these random things, I don’t know where that comes from! Yeah, so I’d get weird warnings about stuff before I left which made me super nervous for absolutely no reason. Once I got here I figured out this is a very normal, like China is a normal country that has everything that other countries have.

Roni in Xi’an

And what do they feel about your decision now?

They’re used to it. I’m at a little over two years here so I think that they’re a little just… interested maybe? Intrigued about why I keep coming back. They all think that I’m fluent, they all think that I’m the China expert; anything even slightly having to do with China they’re like, “oh, Roni!” But I like to tell them that I’m nowhere near fluent in Chinese, I am nowhere near an expert of China in any way and even if I were to live here for the rest of my life I don’t think I would be, but I have gained more of an understanding than they have…. (laughs)

You mentioned you’ve been here for two years, so what are your favorite aspects of China, Chinese culture, Chinese people?

It’s really cool how long the history is, I mean being from a baby country, like I mean a newborn, fetus country compared to China it’s pretty cool that this land, at least, has such a long history. The religious background that exists in China is really different from what I grew up in which is cool. Chinese babies are super cute. I don’t really like children but if I had to be around children I would choose Chinese children. The food is way better and tastier, I didn’t know what real food tasted like, basically, until I got to China. It’s opened my eyes to the world of spice, I didn’t know that so many different types of spice existed and that it could actually be tolerable sometimes if it’s mild… I like… this might sound kind of weird, but I like there’s not such a defined necessity for personal space here. Like, everyone’s kind of in your business and it makes it feel, I don’t know, It kind of makes everyone feel closer, it’s not as lonely, I think. I like that people just ask me questions, and they’re not reserved like they are in The United States… everyone’s so reserved. It’s not like that here, people will just ask you whatever. Even in like, public bathrooms and stuff.

Did they ever come off as judgmental?

In the over two years that I’ve been here there’s been one time that it felt judgmental. But other than that, no. Just pure inquiring.

Can you share a moment that you were completely stunned or shocked by the different things that you weren’t used to in your home country?

Well, the one thing that comes to mind which doesn’t really have to do with the culture but more the language; I remember the first time; I was like a month and a half into my first semester in Shanghai and I was going to a park I went to like three times, four times a week, and there was this woman with this cute dog, and I was petting the dog and she asked me in Chinese if I went to the University nearby, and I said yes, and then I like stopped for a second and looked at her, and realized that that I had just understood what she said in Chinese and then I responded and I had a very big WHHAAAAT! moment because up until that point I had kind of given up on the idea that I would ever be able to do anything with Chinese because it was so hard in the beginning. So that was pretty shocking – it was my first real interaction with someone who didn’t speak English, so it was super exciting to me to see that it was actually physically possible to learn Chinese. Because it is, um, harder than people say it is. It’s harder.

Have you travelled around China and other parts of Asia?

Yeah, yes I have. I actually did this WeChat program where you could select every city that you’ve been to in every province in China and I got, I think it was 64%. But then again, it highlights the entire province if you’ve been to one city in the province so it’s of course not accurate but I have been to like at least one city in 64% of China’s provinces which is pretty unbelievable I feel really lucky to have been able to do that. I’ve been able to see a couple in the South, a couple in the North, in the West too but mostly on the East Coast. Outside of China I have been to Japan, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand…

Would you say it’s relatively easy to travel around Asia??

Uh… It’s cheaper than going to Europe! I’ve only been to Paris so it’s not like I would know but from what I’ve heard there’s a lot of English going on there but here I don’t think it’s as much. But you kind of find common languages with the people around. Like, I stayed in a hostel in Laos where the lady at the front desk didn’t speak English, but she had learned Japanese in high school, and there was a Japanese tourist that was staying at that hostel who also didn’t speak any English but spoke Chinese! So I was able to speak to the Japanese tourist in Chinese, who then translated in Japanese to the lady at the front desk in this obscure city in Laos. So, I think you can figure it out.

Roni’s family visiting her in Beijing

I think that China and Asia are one of the coolest places that you can go visit because there are a lot of similarities but it’s also incredibly unique everywhere you go. I would say don’t expect that everyone around you is going to speak English, that’s super annoying. So at least learn: hello, I’m sorry, thank you, “this”, “that”, and “how much” and you will get along better than you would have. Also don’t forget to check the visa process so you’re sure because that ruined my opportunity to go to a couple countries.

What do you think about the city of Beijing?

I think Beijing is awesome. It’s way more laid back than Shanghai. It’s incredibly safe and super convenient. Like the public transportation is unbelievably convenient. In Denver I hate taking the bus because its worthless and never on time but Beijing’s is super reliable. The food is amazing, I really like the food, and there’s way more clear days than people think that there are. I think that there’s this idea, misconception, that Beijing doesn’t see the sun ever, which bothers me very much, and also made me very afraid before I came here but it’s just not true.

So, why did you choose to come to TBC for a whole academic year, instead of just a semester?

My university doesn’t really offer that many classes that would help me fulfill my major because we can make thematic majors, which is what my major is, so I needed to go somewhere where I could take a lot of my major credits, and so I got a little under 50% of my major credits here at TBC. Also, my current goal is to one day be an interpreter, hopefully, so that requires being fluent in Chinese and being fluent in Chinese requires staying in China for long periods of time. So, which is why I have been here for as long as I have.

Roni at Old Town Xi’an

Would you recommend a semester or a whole academic year at TBC to someone? Why?

Absolutely. More so the academic year, because if you come here not knowing any Chinese, you’ll learn something in a semester, but not as much as you would in an academic year. The longer you stay here without leaving the way more your Chinese will improve. Of course, that’s like up to you in a lot of ways, you have to be the one to put yourself out there and start conversations with people but that’s beside the point. If you’ve never been to China before, TBC basically holds your hand the entire time, I mean, it’s the safest way to come here. If you’ve been to China before, I mean you’re coming to the capital of this country so if you’ve been to China before and you’re making the decision to come back, it’s because you want do something with China and TBC’s a great way to do it because they have the internship program which can allow you to get more work experience in Beijing. Being in the capital of a country is a good place to be to develop contacts and network, I don’t really see why you wouldn’t come if you have interest in China.

Reflecting on your entire experience in China, not just with TBC, what tips or advice would you give someone about coming to China?

I feel like, when Americans specifically come to China, one of two things will happen. You will either absolutely adore China and want to keep coming back, or you will not like it at all. I think that both need to take a second and reflect on why they’re here and why they chose to come here. I just think that coming here with an open mind and coming here understanding no matter your experience, no matter what you’ve learned, it’s never going to be a completely accurate to what it actually is, so maybe just swallow a little bit of pride and take in everyday, especially within when you’re here at the beginning and take it in little by little and really try and understand, try your best.