My name is Crystal Wegner, I am an International Affairs student in my 5th year (and last semester!) at Northeastern University, and this is my blog about my 4-month study abroad experience in Xi’an China.
I arrived in Beijing last Wednesday on February 12th for the Alliance for a Global Education orientation of the Xi’an and the Silk Road study abroad program. A few days later we took the overnight train to Xi’an, got acquainted with the Shaanxi Normal University campus, and started up our Mandarin languages classes.
Just to give you a bit of background into my senior year thus far: from August up until the end of January I had been doing an International co-op with an NGO called Supporting Kids in Peru (SKIP) in Trujillo, Peru. At SKIP I was teaching children in SKIP’s afterschool program and doing microfinance and economic development work with the mother’s involved in the organization. Going from Peru on January 31st to Boston for ten days to Beijing on February 11th made me think my head might explode a little (it hasn’t yet). Also, saying goodbye to my friends, coworkers, students, and life in Peru is too sad to not describe outside of a tragic love poem (still in draft phase), and seeing my family and friends in Boston obviously made me want to stay there forever (they are truly lovely).
With this in mind, when I arrived in Beijing, China for the orientation with Alliance for a Global Education I was feeling a bit removed from the whole experience; still processing how I could have left summer and the beach in Northern Peru for winter and smog in Northern China! I understand this is awful though. I was in the capital city of China and it was my first time ever seeing China! I should have been elated! But it happened and I’m happy to report that since arriving in Xi’an I’ve been able to settle into my new home a bit more and have stopped being such a crybaby. Now I’m back to feeling like one of the luckiest humans around for getting to travel to so many really incredible places for my senior year.
Some things that I am really looking forward to this semester in Xi’an are my classes with Alliance and volunteer opportunities in Xi’an.
CLASSES: Our Mandarin language class is probably the hardest class I’ve ever taken. This past week has been a bit of a roller coaster ride of feeling REALLY excited to start classes, horrified by the amount of homework and how behind I am with Chinese characters, panic that I definitely am not in the right level and they misplaced me, and quiet acceptance… or maybe it can be called feeling up to the challenge. It’s only been 4 days, but I already feel like I’m recognizing way more characters and am able to read the dialogues a lot faster. The first day it took me about 4 hours to individually draw into my phone and annotate each individual character. Now I am down to about two hours and reading the dialogues is becoming a lot easier. All in 4 days! I am incredible.
As for volunteer opportunities, in China the children are adorable. It is winter and they are all wearing the puffiest winter coats ever created and animal shaped hats. It is so cute. If I find out it is culturally acceptable to take pictures of random children I will absolutely post pictures. It’s only been a few weeks but I already miss working with kids. Lucky for me there is a conveniently placed kindergarten on Shaanxi Normal University’s campus and they offer volunteer opportunities to teach English to the kids!
Our Program Director, Orion – maybe one of the nicest people alive – also informed me of a volunteer opportunity with an Art Museum in Xi’an with which Alliance has connections. The woman who runs the museum is also looking for foreign volunteers with an interest in art and curating.
Both of these opportunities would be amazing. I love volunteering in foreign countries because it really forces you to get out into the community and meet locals. Also, you can do some really great things like help curate museums. I feel like it’s especially important to volunteer when studying abroad so that you don’t get trapped into the ex-pat bubble. Also it really helps with your language skills!