Columns, Opinion

GIESELMANN: Expectations

This February, I will begin the single scariest experience of my life: a semester studying abroad in Shanghai.

I choose the word “scary” to describe my feelings toward this experience because of the intense culture shock I expect to go through during the first couple of weeks. I feel as if I’ve been preparing for this next semester for the past six years, starting with my first Chinese language classes at my high school in San Francisco. I chose to study Chinese and study abroad in China because of my love for the language and culture. I am forcefully removing myself from my friends and family in order to familiarize myself with a culture I have studied from a distance for some time.

I came to appreciate China and the Chinese language because of my dislike of Spanish class. Same as almost every middle-school student in America, I was placed into Spanish classes in seventh grade and I, well, hated it. It wasn’t an issue of disdain for the language or culture, but my own failure to grasp the vocabulary and grammar. Especially the grammar. I would often try and say a sentence believing myself to be completely correct only to be corrected because of some grammatical slip-up.

When I finally arrived in high school, I chose to take Chinese classes in order to avoid Spanish in the most drastic fashion imaginable. I had neither any preconceived notions of Chinese nor any knowledge of the Chinese culture except what I garnered from the occasional trip to the local take-out restaurant.

I originally didn’t know what I was getting myself into, but I ended up loving the classes I took. By the time I graduated high school I was committed to becoming fluent in Mandarin Chinese.

In my three years at Boston University I’ve continued my education in the Chinese language. Though I haven’t always been the best student — 8 a.m. Chinese classes would be rough for anyone — I’ve continued my path to proficiency.

I’ve had a few lucky occurrences while at BU as well.  My freshman year roommate was from Shanghai and a few of my coworkers at the Warren Towers Starbucks are from Chongqing, and they have each helped me practice my Chinese (and somehow managed to refrain from laughing at my accent too much).

This past semester I took classes on Chinese Politics and Culture, learning about what life in China will probably be like. After taking this class I now understand a bit more of the cultural differences between American and Chinese culture.

But, I also now know more than ever that I will undergo an experience opposite of my current life in Boston. I’m not expecting to see larger-than-life statues of Mao Zedong everywhere I go, but the more I learn about the Chinese Communist Party the more I understand that some of the perception of propaganda and politics in China is very real. Regardless of my growing knowledge of the Chinese language, I understand that no amount of proficiency gained in a classroom will sufficiently prepare me for life in Shanghai.

It feels like everyone I know is studying abroad in London next semester; I envy them because of the beauty of the city and the relative ease it is to transition to life in the United Kingdom.

Though I try to remain cautious entering my semester abroad, I am far too excited to let my trepidations get in the way of my time in Shanghai. I plan on taking an eight-credit Chinese language course to try and fully immerse myself. Along with my language class I’m participating in an internship program to integrate myself in the Shanghai professional community and hopefully taking a class on Chinese film. China’s extensive culture has gone through a number of changes throughout its 3,000-year history, and I hope to experience as much of it as possible.

I want to use my time in the East to travel: I hope to see Beijing and Hong Kong, as well as possibly visit a friend from BU who lives in Bombay. These educational and travel experiences promise to make this next semester one of my best. I am looking  forward to making friends from China as well as with fellow international students, playing basketball as much as possible on the local courts and sampling the variety of foods.

Though I fear I am giving up a lot to study abroad, the amount that I will gain will likely surpass whatever concessions I make. I hope to keep the BU community updated via this weekly column on my life in China.


再见,朋友们 – ­Bye, friends!

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