One day I pondered why I was leading a life full of struggle. I dreamed of seeing the world. How could I better learn firsthand a culture outside of Korea. It was then I decided to apply for Sookmyung Women’s University exchange student program. Just the thought of it excited me: living overseas, learning a foreign language, having new experiences! And, I was not wrong. I had an unforgettable time, perhaps the best time of my life. My one year in China has affected everything I do. I not only learned the Chinese language and got familiar with Chinese culture, I also became more confident in everything I do.
Heaven Above, Suzhou and Hangzhou Below
The Chinese saying, ‘Heaven above, Suzhou and Hangzhou below‘ is very similar to the expression ‘heaven on Earth’. My days in China were really heaven-like. As an exchange student, I lived in Hangzhou, China. Hangzhou is the capital and most populous city of Zhejiang Province in East China. Hangzhou is renowned for its historic relics and natural beauty. Hangzhou Normal University is a comprehensive university specializing in teacher training and professional development. The university consists of 18 schools and offers 49 undergraduate majors. I attended Chinese language classes. After class, I would hang out with friends, go to the movies, or listen to music. I was able to learn Chinese throughout daily life.
Life on campus was splendid. There are various kinds of club activities for students including singing and dancing. Among them, I joined an exhibition planning club. Besides the multitude of club activities, there are also several events held on campus. In addition to the welcoming party for foreign students, there is a cooking contest, a Chinese traditional song festival, and a sports day. In November, the ‘Zhejiang Provincial International Student Talent Show’ was held. It was a contest for foreign students in Zhejiang Province. Every university prepared their foreign students for a performance. I was selected to represent our school. Our team decided to dance at the contest. It was a great chance to interact with all the various international students on campus.
There is prejudice against China. Some people say China has poor public security and others say the Chinese are ill-mannered. Being careful anywhere is important, but the risk of danger was not that serious in China. China is very spacious, and its people are various. It is ridiculous to generalize all people in China.
China is the world’s most populous state, and the fourth-largest state by total area. China’s landscape is vast and diverse, ranging from forest steps and deserts to subtropical forests. I traveled a lot of these areas. Travel is the best way to understand the Chinese, and it is a great way to improve one’s spoken Chinese. I planned and adapted each of my trips alone in China. That process gave me self-confidence. I traveled as often as I could. I was able to travel to 18 cities in just a year. There are plenty of places to visit in China.
China officially recognizes 56 distinct ethnic groups, and there are as many as 292 living languages in China. I met a lot of people, including a friend from the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. She told me about Xinjiang culture and taught me Xinjiang language, too. The culture of Xinjiang is far different from Han, the largest ethnic group in China. I soon felt the cultural diversity of China. As I mentioned earlier, it is impossible to define China in a word.
China is known as ‘The World’s Factory’. ‘Made in China’ products are everywhere. Besides its manufacturing industry, China’s Information technology industry is also quickly becoming a world frontrunner as is its internet technology. Globally, the smartphone has become part of life. Many people enjoy internet shopping and use their smartphones make online payments. However, China has a unique internet censorship system that blocks internet users within Mainland China from accessing material deemed undesirable such as foreign news sites and sites with dissident political content. Internet censorship in China is quite extreme due to its numerous laws and administrative regulations. Because of this, Chinese companies such as Baidu, Tencent, and Alibaba are popular with its citizens.
A Final Word
There are many Korean students in China, but if you go there, I recommend spending time with and getting to know Chinese students and students from other countries. In my case, I met students majoring in Korean language once a week. We had a language exchange gathering, which really helped me to perfect my Chinese language skills. It’s definitely worth spending time with locals when you go abroad.
Every country has traditional festivals and special events. I attended the Hangzhou International Forum, the China International Cartoon & Animation Festival, and the Shanghai International Film Festival. They were great experiences. Attending these activities is a good way to understand foreign culture.
Studying abroad can be both a trying yet enjoyable experience, but it is, in my opinion, the best way to learn a foreign language and its culture. After careful consideration, I applied for the exchange program, and I have no regrets. Before going, I was not good at Chinese, but after a year of hard studies and being active in China, I improved greatly. Going overseas is worth it.