This article is a part of the East-West Center - US-China Strong Foundation Guest Contributor Program, which shares the experiences of American students currently or previously studying in China.
On my 28th birthday, I began my first day of Chinese class at Western Kentucky University (WKU). I first came to my university with the goal to study history, attend grad school, and eventually become a professor of Modern East Asian history. I have had an interest in Chinese culture from the age of four. Within a year of studying Chinese, it was apparent that becoming a history professor would not be my career path, as the Chinese language became my passion and the final piece in the puzzle that formed my childhood dream to visit China. After two years of language study, I was appointed President of the WKU Chinese Club. In the same week, I received notice that I was one of 10 Americans to win the American Association of Colleges and Universities (AASCU) Study China scholarship for one academic year of language study.
In China, my greatest lessons came from the cafeteria table at which my friends and fellow international students discussed the political and social issues of our countries. Through their stories, I understood the diversity of countries with which China shares diplomatic relations. Moreover, living in China gave me both the opportunity to meet Chinese people from other provinces, and the opportunity to build friendships with international students who have since become my closest friends.
Upon my return from China, I served as a peer advisor in the WKU Office of Study Abroad & Global Learning. Advising my classmates on how to study abroad in China was a rewarding experience. As for my history degree, the topic of my undergraduate thesis was the emergence of Chinese-American identity in the late-19th and mid-20th centuries. Because of my experiences in China, I gained enough knowledge about Chinese and Chinese American culture to write and discuss my topic with the confidence of a scholar.
There is a Chinese proverb that says, “A child is like a piece of paper on which every passerby leaves its mark.” Through my China experience, the language, the people I met, and the friendships I formed have left their marks on me. The opportunity to study in China was the fulfillment of a childhood dream. I graduated in 2016 with a dual degree in History and Chinese language. Now that China has left its mark on me, I look forward to being a “passerby” leaving my mark on future world travelers.
Isabella Greene is part of the US-China Strong Foundation Student Ambassador Program.