Staff Spotlight: Shelby Bourgault


Shelby Bourgault is originally from Southern Maine and grew up in a small coastal town. In 2013, Shelby spent two semesters at the CET Intensive Chinese Language program in Beijing where she learned to speak like a local. Upon returning to the U.S., Shelby decided to intern with the company that had facilitated her wonderful study abroad experience. Although she still has one year left at Connecticut College, Shelby is already thinking about her next international adventure.

Did YOU study abroad?! If so, where and what inspired you to go?

Shelby: Yes! I spent six months in Beijing with CET’s Intensive Chinese Language Program. I had started learning Chinese in college, but was hesitant to go halfway around the world to continue my studies. With a lot of encouragement and support from my professors and CET alumni, I made the decision that nothing would improve my language skills like living in China.

It was certainly one of the best decisions of my life and my entire experience in China was wonderful. Not only did my language abilities improve dramatically, but I also made amazing friends and had opportunities to travel around the country.

Why is language learning and cultural immersion important to you?

Shelby: Language learning has always been a huge interest of mine. Growing up in a small town in Maine, there were very limited opportunities to learn language or experience different cultures. Almost everyone I met from birth to high school was not that different from me, culturally speaking.

This deprivation of diversity made me very curious about people and places outside of my immediate environment. Starting in high school, I tried my best to set myself up for a life of travel and language learning. I believe that in order to deeply understand your own culture, you must engage with another, and language learning is essential in this process.

What language have you always wanted to learn and why​?

Shelby: When I was growing up I always wanted to be able to speak French like my parents, but once I got to high school I decided I wanted to have my own language experience. In junior year, I read an article that declared Mandarin to be the hardest language for native English speakers.

After that I made it my personal goal to learn Chinese, but I had to wait a few more years until I had the right environment and resources in college. Since freshman year at Connecticut College, I have devoted countless hours to improving my Chinese proficiency. The more I study though, the more I realize how much I don’t know how to say!

What does your home-country's culture​ value that is taught in your program?

Shelby: Friendship and camaraderie. I found that in the US, friendship can be interpreted in many different ways as there can be different levels of friends. You can have personal friends, family friends, and gym friends, to name a few. Friends can be categorized and given varying amounts of attention according to their respective category.

In China though, friendship seemed to be more black and white. To be someone’s friend means that you are always there for them and always do your best to help them succeed. Unlike most study abroad programs, CET pairs US students with roommates from the host country.

This might be the biggest advantage and challenge to the US students as differing perceptions of friendship converge. Roommates and students learn to navigate this issue together and I believe the relationship is strengthened as a result.