Lessons from China: Why You Should Study Abroad

by Deja Watkins

Lessons from China: Why You Should Study Abroad

Ever thought about studying abroad? If so, do you have any specific places in mind? There are so many students who want to study abroad and often have so many questions about doing so. Hopefully, by the time you finish reading this, some of your questions will have been answered!

My name is Deja and I’m currently a senior at Mason! I’m a double major in Global Affairs and Computational & Data Sciences, along with a minor in Chinese! I participated in the Tsinghua University study abroad program for an entire year.

Before I even decided to study abroad at Tsinghua University, even before I came to Mason, I had a long road (several years!) of advice and encouragement from others while I studied Chinese. When I arrived at Mason, I already had 4 years of experience learning Chinese under my belt. My high school Chinese teacher always kept up with me to make sure that I NEVER EVER stopped studying Chinese. Because of him, I was familiar with the Confucius Institute (CI), as I had studied with a Confucius Institute in my home state of North Carolina. So, of course, I became involved with Mason’s CI and Chinese department (I recommend visiting the CI—they have weekly activities that will certainly enhance your knowledge of China and its culture!) But what does this have to do with studying abroad?

Well, both the CI and the Chinese department aided me in my preparation for going to China! I had so much help with what I should expect so that culture shock wouldn’t get the best of me. I kept hearing that studying abroad would help me to better understand the language I had been studying for so long. I wanted to see what China was really like. Does it really help you become a well-rounded person to study abroad? (YES!!!) I was so curious and just had to see what both my Chinese and American friends who had been to China were talking about.

The Global Education Office (GEO) recommended program options and even put me in touch with students who had studied abroad. This helped me tremendously in selecting the program that I wanted to participate in. Knowing who to contact in case of an emergency as well as knowing that the GEO would keep an eye out for every student abroad made my family feel so much at ease about my departure, since that was the first time I was leaving the country and they didn’t know anyone in China. I decided on the Tsinghua University exchange program and figured that if I was going to do this, I might as well do it big and go for a whole year.

Now, I will say that while I knew quite a few people in China, I was N-E-R-V-O-U-S! Those first 2 weeks in China were my hardest as I had to adjust. It wasn’t a bad adjustment, as I was used to adjusting to unfamiliar places here in the US, but I wasn’t used to everything being in Chinese. I adapted fast and learned that my Chinese teachers here in the US had taught me well, as I ended up translating and guiding other students who had trouble getting around. My teachers at Tsinghua recommended that we all go out and speak to locals as much as we could. I can honestly say that with all of the guidance that I received, I have improved not only my Chinese language skills, but life skills that I had never thought about before. I’ve met so many people that I never thought I would meet and now it’s unthinkable how we were never friends before. Traveling to Inner Mongolia to visit its desert and grasslands, spending Chinese New Year in the countryside, or going to various schools to speak to high school students…I never imagined I would have done any of those things – but studying abroad provided me with those opportunities.

I say all of this to tell you that, yes, you absolutely should study abroad. You’ll experience more than you’ll ever be able to explain to your friends and family at home. You may go into a program for a simple exchange, whether it’s to study a language or to take classes for your major abroad, but I promise that you’ll finish your study abroad program with so much more than that.