Alumni Spotlight: Shelby Riddle

Shelby majored in Russian in college but after a few decades decided that it was time to learn Mandarin. She works full time, has other hobbies, but thought that language learning would be a great way to keep her brain active, meet new people, and see new lands. After finishing Rosetta Stone, she decided that it was time to go to China.

Why did you pick this program?

A woman posing for a photo.

I picked That's Mandarin because they offered private lessons, rather than the standard small group lesson. They arranged a home stay for me as well, with a family that spoke no English. The school was fun but also very intensive, with a lot of emphasis on spoken Chinese. I took 6 hours of class five days a week for a month.

What is the most important thing you learned abroad?

I learned that the Chinese people have a lot in common with us. They complain about how little government pension (social security), they get. They wish their salaries were higher as well. Finally, they are very polite and non-confrontational and it was a pleasure to live in Beijing for a month.

What do you tell your friends who are thinking about going abroad?

I tell them that living in the country, even for a short time, beats traveling as a tourist. I wandered the temples and streets of Beijing and saw lots of memorable things that I would never have seen in a tour group. When I did do my first tour in China and wandered away from the group, I ran into "trouble", but once I was out on my own, and could speak a little Chinese, it was much easier.

A group of people posing for a picture.

What was the hardest part about going abroad?

Since I can communicate adequately in Chinese, that made things a lot more fun and a lot easier than the first time I went, as few Chinese speak English. The hardest part was trying to take the bus, as there are no bus schedules in English for all of the routes, anywhere. I now have one in Chinese, but even that was hard to find. Hopefully, I'll be able to read it the next time I go!

What's your favorite story to tell about your time abroad?

The Chinese people will not discuss politics. I was talking with my host and his wife about why I'd had to postpone my trip. I said that my husband had been ill. They looked around nervously, and then said "what?". I repeated that my husband had been ill. They just stared, and I finally realized that what I'd actually said was that my government had been ill. Apparently, that isn't something someone would say in China-ever.

What made this experience unique and special?

A group of students gathered.

I am a veterinarian and was lucky to run into an American vet who worked at a practice in Beijing. I visited the practice twice, spoke to the owner, who was Chinese American, and learned a lot about how my profession is run in China. That meant a lot to me.

Would you go back to China?

I would definitely like to go back to study for another month in China, but it can be a hard country to be in for many reasons. I don't know if I would ever take a job there for the standard one to three year contract because of this.