My experience in Hangzhou last semester helped me grow and learn a lot about the Chinese culture, language, and myself. The Middlebury Language Schools is a very academically rigorous program and students must be prepared for this from the beginning. We all had a language pledge which helped immensely with language improvement. However, on the other hand, it also hindered the social scene. I felt isolated at times during this program, confined to my room and stuck doing my homework. We had week excursions, but they did not seem as relaxed and casual because teachers and program directors also came. I wish there had been more activities with the other local Chinese roommates and the other American students in the program as well. I felt very stressed because of the academics because the classes were very small and the pressure to perform well increased since the teachers' focus was on their very small class of students. I also personally put a lot of pressure on myself to do well and learn the language, but that hindered my social enjoyment of the overall experience. I finally found frisbee, a few people in my program played frisbee. We went to local fields in Hangzhou to practice with other players weekly. This made my experience so much better and I am very grateful for having that outlet during my time in China. It gave me exercise, a place to meet people, and a outlet from my stress. The teachers were very kind and patient and sweet and very good at teaching us Chinese. The food and transportation in China is very affordable.
Additionally, as an adoptee from China, I look Chinese. This made it hard for me to interact with local people because they always assumed I spoke fluent Chinese, especially when with other foreigners/white people. They always assumed I was their local translator and got confused and frustrated when it became apparent that I could not speak fluent Chinese. It made my lack of language skills feel more obvious than the other American students and foreigners there because it was deliberately pointed out and drawn to attention. They also (perhaps subconsciously) went easier on white or foreign looking people, thinking it was a feat just when they could say one or two phrases in Chinese. However, when I spoke, they thought it was just surprising I couldn't speak better and I was just speaking bad Chinese. It was also hard to explain, and for Chinese people to understand, my status as an adoptee from China who had two white parents and no relation to China, other than just being born there. They asked where my parents were from, assuming they had immigrated to the United States from China earlier, or something like that situation. However, it always got a little awkward when I had to explain they were white and I don't speak Chinese at home and they were born and raised in the United States.
Overall, this experienced made me grow as a person. It made me realize that I should not take my ability to speak English and communicate freely in the United States for granted. I developed more confidence in myself because I now know I can live and travel in China where I can barely speak the language, then I must be able to do well for myself in the country I grew up in and can fluently speak its language in.