By Yanshu Li
Three people, who have oversea studying experience, shared their stories. They are a Chinese engineering doctorate in the United States of America, an American journalism student who was in France, and an American linguistic undergrad in China.
New Start In The Fifth Year
It’s the fifth year for Haiding Sun studying in U.S. He just began to get a sense of being as an American.
Haiding Sun, 29, is from Ningbo, China. Four years ago, he was admitted into the electronic engineering program at Boston University. When he stepped on this rich land, he didn’t find himself entirely strange.
“Boston has so many Chinese,” he says. “I am a very open guy, and I can take it easy.”
It was easy because his high-school friend was in Boston too. This friend was Sun’s trustee, the daily life guide.
In the beginning, Sun immersed himself with the Chinese. Through this comfort bubble, he saw Americans are open. They plan things early and are well organized.
Sun says, “You cannot make an appointment in the last minute.”
He cooked Chinese food mostly. During weekends, he went to parties which he calls “play hard.”
“I like ‘work hard, and play hard.’” Sun says about an expression that fits his life here.
In fact, Sun’s “work hard” earned him a scholarship and teaching fellowship that helped him with the tuition at BU.
Now, Sun is preparing a start-up in the Semi-Conduct field. It’s when the American way hits him semi-hard – it’s challenging to manage his American interns.
“There’s a huge culture difference till now I realize it,” Sun says.
He thinks that the Americans are very straightforward with their thoughts. They share ideas, but not taking things too seriously. In contrast, Chinese people express themselves like curve ball on a Ping-Pong table. He thinks that the Chinese say something while meaning something else.
Sun has to adapt himself to this new way of communication – direct and polite.
“Yes or no. That’s it,” Sun says. “I don’t need to worry about it.”
When he balances things into good shape, Sun steps forward.
In this summer, he had an American intern to make a cold call. It was like a sales’ call, without a previous appointment. The intern never did something similar. So he stuck. Calling from an American to another American, the intern didn’t know what to say first.
It intrigued Sun. He realized that, rather than being bossy, being encouraging is more helpful.
Now Sun immerses himself in American way much more. He hangs out with his good American friends, and tries to say hi and starts a conversation when eyes meet with a stranger. Because for Chinese, Sun thinks that they usually turn their eyes away.
Currently, Sun wants to learn more about American history. He pushed his interns to get things done on time. He likes fresh seafood in Boston. And he also knows his logic is still very much Chinese.
“Eventually, I could do business with the Americans,” Sun says about his career blueprint. “China is becoming better and better, so we (the company) could probably go back to China in the future.”
Ça Va? /!/. …
“I just love ca va,” Brooke Eckstrom says. “ca va? ca va! ca va. …Like it could mean literally anything.” It’s an informal phrase to say how’s it going in French.
Brooke Eckstrom is a senior majoring in journalism at Boston University College of Communication. She studied in Paris, France a year earlier for one semester.
Eckstrom arrived in Paris in the morning, jet-lagged, finding her driver wasn’t there to pick her up.
“I almost had a mental breakdown,” Eckstrom says.
Speaking in an American accent under stress, Eckstrom asked for help from the French staff at the airport. One hour later, she got on the right bus.
Despite this little episode, Eckstrom enjoyed studying in Paris very much. She took literature, theater, and French grammar classes. She visited museums, theaters often as she valued her time there.
“It was more like a routine on a daily basis,” she says. “I would go to the museums to culture myself.”
As Eckstrom was fitting into the city, she found herself surprisingly was into being alone. She says, “Paris is good to walk around and everywhere was amazingly pretty.” She also observed that it’s socially normal to sit in a café alone, and to be alone.
“I think it’s a good thing to learn,” she says.
For Eckstrom, conversing in French was not a problem. French became a part of her life ever since the seventh grade. She chose BU was that the Study Oversea Program here offers the opportunity to experience Paris.
“I’ve always wanted to go to Paris. It just looks cool,” Eckstrom says. “And I wanted to actually to be able to use the language, because I’ve been learning for so long, and seemed pointless that not ever use it.”
The only tricky thing in communication was when cultural characteristics met.
Eckstrom was sharing her joy with the host-mother, after she saw the work of Vincent Van Gogh. Eckstrom pronounced the painter’s name in English sound. Her host mother didn’t get it. Eckstrom explained again. Then her host mother corrected the sound with a hard pronounced G, and said that was the way it should be.
“What they think it’s right. It’s right. That’s it. Unless they are proven wrong,” Eckstrom says.
For the daily meal, Eckstrom cooked for herself on weekdays. One night a week her host parents would cook for her.
The host parents were a wealthy old couple, which allowed her getting close to the French older generation. Her host dad was obsessed with American-Vietnam war movies. He talked about this topic during a typical four hours French dinner. They often kept pouring red wine. Eckstrom liked to stay and talk with them if there was less homework. “It was fun,” Eckstrom says.
After three months of condensed courses, Eckstrom interned one month at the Freedom Press department in a non-profit organization.
One valuable experience she had in there was that, the President of Kenya was about to authorize a law that would destroy the local newspapers; she faxed a petition to his office to stop it and to advocate the press freedom in Kenya.
The law didn’t pass.
“It was pretty cool.” Eckstrom says. “I don’t know whether he read it, but I hope so. It was the plan.”
Eckstrom had a wonderful experience in Paris. The Parisian scent, the glistening Seine, the picnics with friends under the Eiffel tower, listening to accordions on the metro, and traveling to Greece and Spain during vacation – those days still sparkle when she’s on her way to classes at BU right now.
“I live the concept being an entirely different culture and speaking a different language,” Ecktrom says. “I like the challenging part.”
Friendship and Loneliness
Sarah Do, 22, is a linguistic major from Pennsylvania. Her Chinese friends in college cultivated her curiosity about the Chinese culture and the language. After graduating from college, she went to China by herself.
Do studied Chinese in a college near Shanghai, China from 2013 for one year.
“Chinese people are so welcoming and friendly, so I felt like I could really get to know Chinese friends. And I really like that,” Do says. “I think I made friend pretty quickly,”
Before Do went to China, she had in mind about China was from history books and movies – the raw China. After she had arrived in Shanghai, this metropolis locating on the east coast presented her a whole new image.
“I did not expect it so westernized,” Do says.
She met a lot of people who spoke English, which helped her communicating.
“Obviously, that didn’t help me learn Chinese,” Do says. So she asked her friends to speak Chinese to practice.
One year away from home, Do converted her homesick into the action of converging. She tried to eat with chopsticks, even when eating rice. Her Chinese friends were amused and told her they eat rice with spoons.
“I tried so hard to fit in the culture,” Do recalls.
Speaking different languages was not always the reason for feeling lonely. Do was aware that not being understood fully was. She also noticed that everybody felt the same, which was beyond the culture.
Do met her best Chinese friend despite the distinct cultural and lingual differences. She didn’t stop exploring the friendship. The two kept spending time together. They read books, rode bikes and went to parks. Do did not find it hard even though her Chinese wasn’t fluent enough.
She says, “I think I felt even we don’t speak the same language, we still could be friends.”
That was true. At the end of the year, they became good friends.
In the linguistic view, Do observed a subtle variance in one expression – let’s go. Do prefers the Chinese equivalence 走吧(zou ba).
In America, the awkward situation is that when people want to leave, saying let’s go might sound abrupt. She thinks it’s more casual and relaxed in Chinese.
“It sounds so nice in Chinese. Like “Ok, time to go.” Do says.
In this one year, Do learned Chinese, built friendship and being independent. Crossing the Pacific Ocean, it was the first time she was so far away from home. She had fun in the new experiences in a different culture – renting an apartment, taking a taxi, and traveling around.
Do says, “it was fun to do all that in China.”
Leaving was hard. She knew she might not come back as wished; she felt sad.
According to a report by Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development in 2013, almost 4.5 million students were pursuing higher education overseas between 2000 – 2011 around the globe. And the number continues to grow.
Picturing a graph of the airplane tracks in the sky that looks like a huge web over all lands, and think. The web is a sign of endeavor, convergence, also learning. And learning in a foreign country using their languages, it is something more.
Brooke Eckstrom is graduating this semester. When she goes to a job interview, and gets nervous, she thinks about the interview she had done speaking French.
Eckstrom says, “if I could do this in a foreign language, I’m fine.”