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Put yourself into new shoes with study abroad

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The Great Wall of China (Dragonwoman/Flickr)

The Great Wall of China (Dragonwoman/Flickr)

While not all students manage to fit studying abroad into their time at the University of Massachusetts, it is an invaluable part of one’s self-development and I urge everyone to find a way to go. The friends you meet, the insects you eat and the breathtaking scenery you visit can make spending a year or a semester abroad one of the most valuable experiences of your undergraduate career.

My year in China with the China Educational Travel program had all of this and more, including double-deep fried pork and being on a televised dating show. I left home simply looking to improve my ability to speak Chinese but my host culture sent me back with a slew of new experiences and a new awareness of my fellow human beings.

We rarely consider others until we try on their shoes and what better way to gain empathy for a whole new way of life than by living in another country?

Living without potable tap water or the obligation to tip can make you appreciate your home and host cultures all the more. While I lost out on water fountains, I found hot water dispensers throughout the halls in China, making refilling my thermos of tea a snap and providing a much needed stream of caffeine.

However, I gleaned the most education from learning a new way of speaking and studying Chinese, which completely changed how I thought about other people back home and abroad.

Slowly but surely, I found myself developing a new personality when I spoke Chinese. I was more confident, more boisterous and spent many a night cracking jokes with my host roommate in front of China’s version of “The Voice.” I found myself talking and behaving more like my roommate Wan Jing, and I felt like I could truly understand his background in southern China.

My new and improved Chinese also opened the door to provincial television. Going on a dating show was one of my most exciting yet harrowing experiences abroad. Fortunately, my skills were up to the challenge and I sang, danced and talked my way to the final round before being eliminated in the dating show due to my lack of a car, house or job.

Chatting with my fellow contestants backstage, however, gave me pause. Many of them had really come seeking a spouse, which seemed like a lofty goal for spending 15 minutes onstage with 12 women.

How could you possibly hope to get to know them well? I thanked my stars that I didn’t have to date that way.

Finally, some of the effects of the language shift didn’t arise until I came back home. In Mandarin, “he,” “she” and “it” are all pronounced the same: “ta, ta, ta” with a level tone. When I started speaking English again, I found that whenever I told a story with “he said’ or “she said,” I often had to pause and remember which pronoun to use.

Eventually, I got exasperated and thought, “Why does it matter which gender they were? They’re still them! It doesn’t change who they are!”

This small realization has helped me continue educate myself about and empathize with people who identify as transgender or gender non-conforming, providing me with much needed understanding for people who struggle with others not recognizing them every day.

Every day I think about returning to China.

I constantly wonder what my friends there are doing. Fortunately, I can easily put myself back into their shoes given our shared experiences. I remain eternally grateful to Wan Jing and my fellow dating show contestants for further educating me about Chinese culture. Their lessons stay with me, helping me imagine myself in the place of people I may never get the chance to meet or be.

Every day now I try to put myself into someone else’s shoes, be it my stressed professor, the student pushing past me on the way to class or the victim of an attack in the news. As the world becomes more and more global, a college education must prepare us as young professionals to deal with unfamiliar cultures and people.

While your classes abroad might not stick after graduation, learning how to empathize and understand others stays with you throughout life.

Jakob Lengacher is a Collegian correspondent and can be reached at [email protected]

2 Comments

2 Responses to “Put yourself into new shoes with study abroad”

  1. Pavel on April 7th, 2015 3:34 am

    Academy of Tourism in Antalya will give you a unique opportunity in the knowledge of the Turkish culture and its history, so you learn Turkish and English in the college and you always practice it on the streets. There are many foreign students from Morocco, Bangladesh, etc. in college. I really love college. Thank you for everything! I got a great experience!

  2. Zhaniya on April 13th, 2015 3:42 am

    When I was a child I had a dream to travel and to see the whole so I set a goal to study tourism because I think exactly in this Sphere ill make my dream come true. Antalya is one of the most popular tourists city of the world so where if not here you can get high level education in Tourism Sphere. Academy Of Tourism in Antalya makes your dream come true

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