Pushing a cigarette carton towards me with a cigarette halfway hanging out, he asked, “Ni cho yan ma?” I didn’t understand what he said, but the friendly gesture was clear. I wasn’t a smoker, but I took one. The train rumbled lazily on. I heard the ‘clack-clackity-clack” of the wheels scraping the rails. A light breeze came from a crack in the door and the sun shone brightly on green foliage passing by on either side of the car. I was standing in the smoking section of the train because my ticket was for ‘standing room only’ as all the seats on the train were already sold out. It was a 30-hour train ride from Xi’an to Shanghai and it wasn’t even half-way over.
As a business major, studying Chinese just made sense. China is the world’s second largest economy, the US trades heavily with China and China may grow to be the world’s largest national superpower in our own lifetimes. That is why I chose to learn Mandarin Chinese and ultimately why I decided to study in China and enroll in an intensive language program in the coastal city of Shanghai. None of which would have been possible if it wasn’t for the Gilman Scholarship.
It can be difficult to quantify the value of study abroad experiences. Some might say it is nothing more than an extended vacation abroad for privileged students, but I can assert my experience was not even close.
At the time of this writing, I can think of 2 direct benefits of study abroad in my own life. The first is a real work ethic.
My decision to do intensive Chinese language study meant that I studied from morning to night. We had to learn to write 30 new characters a day and read a 500-word story each day and demonstrate fluency in the new vocabulary each day. I couldn’t even slack for one day or I would fall hopelessly behind.
Intensive language study instilled a strong work ethic in me that carries forward to today. At the time of this writing, I am starting an advertising company. I currently work for 11-12 hours every day and I can credit my experience my time in China for giving me the patience and ability to work long hours on something I am passionate about.
The second benefit of study abroad is unparralled boldness. If you find yourself in a foreign country where you have to learn the language to survive, it is sink or swim. For me, the act of approaching people to make conversation, then miserably failing due to my lack of fluency, and repeating this over and over, even in the classroom, made it so much easier to express myself directly when needed.
To anyone interested in studying abroad. It will change your life. It may not be apparent at first, but it will be an experience which will shape you and how you view yourself and others.
If you want to study abroad, but feel like it is prohibitively expensive, apply for the Gilman Scholarship.