The study of foreign languages is becoming more important for American students, with the increasing globalization of the world economy. Some American students view the study of foreign language as merely the fulfillment of an academic requirement, but in reality it has the potential to offer students so much more, particularly when combined with a study abroad experience.
The study of the Chinese language can introduce American students to Chinese culture and the Chinese people. That is what happened when I began studying Chinese in the third grade, learning vocabulary, grammar, tones, and characters. I used the internet to research how to practice calligraphy and to look up interesting facts about Chinese history and customs. I had my first opportunity to study abroad in China when I was in seventh grade. I really did not understand just how much the experience would deepen my understanding of China, its language, and its culture. Now that I have just finished my second trip to China, I can say without a doubt that my study abroad experiences in China have played a very important role in my overall education.
My abroad trips also increased my understanding of culture, politics, and economics. Students’ intonation, vocabulary, and writing improve from being surrounded by a variety of native speakers and seeing the writing on everything from street signs, to newspapers, to menus. Hearing Chinese all day and seeing it everywhere, enables a student to notice and eventually understand more nuanced language like jokes, sarcasm and slang. My study abroad experience also allowed me the opportunity to visit important landmarks like the Great Wall, the Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square. My study abroad deepened my respect for the significance of China’s historical events and fueled my desire to learn more.
I believe that the skills and understanding I gained from studying abroad in China will prove beneficial when I eventually enter the professional world. If my professional work involves China, I will not need to speak through an interpreter during a business meeting with a client. I will be able to use my Chinese language skills. I will also be able to connect on a deeper level by sharing my travel and cultural experiences just as my teachers shared their stories with me when I was younger.
The United States of America and China are two of the largest economic powers that will have more and more contact in the future. Study abroad opportunities help improve understanding and communications between the people of these countries, which in turn helps form connections in business and education. I encourage any student considering a study abroad experience to seize the opportunity. It will provide you with a deeper understanding of yourself and the country you visit.
Katherine Seiter is part of the US-China Strong Foundation Student Ambassador Program.