Hi! I’m Stella Huang, a junior majoring in Chinese studies and a Pipe Dream PRISM contributor. Last semester, I spent six months abroad in China studying Mandarin and came back in August feeling as though the world as I knew it had changed completely (in the best way, of course). As the fall semester draws to a close, I’d like to look back on the memorable moments of this year and write an article dedicated to my time studying abroad in China.
In the spring of 2018, I traveled to Suzhou, China to spend a semester at Soochow University as a Binghamton University exchange student. Suzhou is a second-tier city located half an hour away from Shanghai, one of the biggest metropolitan centers in the world, by the high-speed rail. A beautiful and fast-growing city, Suzhou retains the charm of old China and also offers the convenience of a modernized city. It’s a city famous for its water towns, cultural sites from an era long past and its gardens, which are considered UNESCO World Heritage sites. People from all over China and the world come to Suzhou to visit places like Pingjiang Road and the Humble Administrator’s Garden. There’s a famous saying in China that goes: “In the sky, there’s heaven. On Earth, there’s Suzhou and Hangzhou.” A place where the old lives in harmony with the new, Suzhou truly is one of the world’s most beautiful and unique cities.
Soochow University, whose main campus (one of seven) is located in the heart of Downtown Suzhou, is one of the nation’s top universities. Students from all over the country come there to study at its nationally ranked Business School, Law School, Medical School and English School, among others. International students, too, have their own school, located on Main Campus in a beautiful, newly renovated three-story building. Strategically located near the cluster of Humanities Buildings on the Main Campus, where the Foreign Languages School is also situated, the International Students Building is a social hub that not only brings students from all over the world to one place, but also allows them to meet native speakers majoring in foreign languages.
Besides the many student-run activities available on campus, the city itself is a place where it’s impossible to be bored. Suzhou Center Mall, which recently opened in 2017, was awarded “Best New Shopping Centre” at the 2018 MAPIC Awards, which recognizes “innovation and creativity in the retail real estate industry.” With an indoor skating rink, Imax cinema, arcade, food court and both Western and Asian clothing stores located across a stunning 300,000 square meters, Suzhou Center Mall proves that its award is well-deserved. Besides the mall, there are places like Jinji Lake, a public park that provides an excellent view of the skyline and Guanqian Street, a traditional-style shopping street full of street food stalls, clothing stores and ancient temples. In fact, just outside the North Gate of Soochow University is the Xiangmen Metro Station, which provides an extremely convenient mode of transportation to just about any part of the city. And if on the off-chance you are bored, or just want to experience more of Chinese culture, Shanghai and other cities are just a high-speed train ride way.
Studying at Soochow University was an amazing experience, one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. I was able to experience a different culture, meet people from all over the world, and step outside my comfort zone and learn more about things foreign to me. I realized that the world was much bigger than I initially thought, much more diverse than one can comprehend, and so rich with culture that a lifetime wouldn’t be enough to really see and understand the world we live in. It was a truly enriching experience, and I can definitely say that spending time abroad has impacted me in so many positive ways. I met many kind, generous, talented people and I’m so grateful to be able to consider them lifelong friends. The language immersion component of the program also allowed me to improve my Mandarin skills quickly and gain firsthand knowledge on how Mandarin is really spoken by native speakers. This real-life experience, along with classroom and textbook learning, proved to be invaluable in the language-learning process.
I’d say, looking back now, that my life has been divided by this one singular experience into two parts: pre-China and post-China. Everything before my trip is a blur, and everything afterward pales in comparison. I truly feel as though my life would have suffered in comparison if I hadn’t had this experience, and for that, I’m so incredibly grateful to have been able to study abroad. As our world continues to globalize, cultural understanding becomes increasingly important, not just for our individual benefits as human beings, but also for the benefit of the world we live in today. There is truth in the quote: “Knowledge is power.” Cultural knowledge benefits all.
Therefore, I encourage everyone to step outside your comfort zones and travel abroad. Whether for a semester, a year or even a couple of weeks, studying abroad will change your life. There are so many wonderful experiences waiting for you, and so many opportunities available to you. Go for it!
I’m so thankful to all the wonderful staff at the Office of International Education and Global Initiatives who introduced me to this program and who work hard to give BU students the best opportunities possible. I would also like to specifically thank Allison Nyamuame, an Education Abroad adviser, and Chenqing Song, the program organizer and an associate professor of Asian and Asian American studies. Without them, this wouldn’t have been possible. Finally, I would like to thank the committee members of the Dr. Israel J. Rosefsky Language and Culture Scholarship, who also helped make my semester abroad possible. Thank you so much!