What is one piece of advice you'd give future students traveling with your program?
Laura: I have two pieces of advice. One, is don't pack too much clothing. Seriously. You don't need as much as you think.In Shanghai, you can get clothes made for a reasonable price and those can act as great souvenirs. Pick versatile clothing and bring layers.
The second, is to make a list of places you'd like to visit on weekend trips and for the week you have free to travel. And if you can, start making plans to go before you even arrive in China. You'll make friends on your trip that may want to come along and it's much less stressful planning a weekend trip when you already know which bus company or train you'd like to take, for example.
Describe a goal you set and how you went about accomplishing it.
Laura: This was the second time I'd been to China and the first time, I did not step out of my comfort zone with practicing my Mandarin. This time, I was determined to improve. I always spoke Chinese when I could, even with my American friends.
It was also helpful to be surrounded by the Chinese roommates because they are incredibly helpful when you're struggling or even just practicing. I also kept a journal with characters I often forgot. I also filled it with characters I saw often but did not know the meaning of. That helped me develop both my colloquial vocabulary and character retention.
Do you think your program changed you as a person?
Laura: Yes, it most definitely did. My biggest take away from my study abroad experience was the confidence I gained as a foreign language speaker, traveler, and adult. I learned how to navigate a new city and now feel much more confident that I can adapt to living abroad in the future.
This trip changed me for the better. The valuable traveling skills I acquired will help me both when I'm in the US and when I got abroad again. Linguistically speaking, I now understand how silly I was to be afraid to make mistakes when I speak. My language skills definitely improved and now I have a new perspective on learning foreign languages. I became more confident in myself and the experience was incredibly valuable.
What was the best place you visited outside of your home-base city?
Laura: During the week travel period, the whole 21st century city program and those in the program in Beijing went to Yunnan province with our program directors. While we were there, we visited a city called Xishuangbanna. The name seems quite long, I know, but the city was quite beautiful. It's near the border with Myanmar so it was warm and the food had some more tropical influences.
During our trip, we rode bicycles through banana fields near an area with many temples. That's also the city where I experienced my first "dry wash" which is an intensive hair wash including a massage and styling after. It felt amazing. I loved the weather, food, and exploring we did there.