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The College of Arts Sciences

CAPS in Beijing: From Culture Shock to Gratitude

By: By Clara (Sung Min) Lee , 
Wed, 04/19/2017

I am a junior double-major in CAPS and Government, currently studying at Beida (Peking University) in Beijing. People often ask me, "Why do you study China?" and I tell them the usual repertoire: "I have always had an interest in China. I started learning Chinese characters from my grandfather when I was young, and I have been studying Mandarin for about 6 years now. I also think China is a country of possibilities." But this semester I actually had the opportunity to come to China for the first time and gain first-hand experience living and studying abroad in Beijing. Even though I had taken many classes at Cornell about China, studying in Beijing definitely is different than learning about the country through a book.

When I first came here, I was bombarded by everything: the language, people, rudeness, pollution, traffic, and the oddness of studying abroad in a country where I seem to be part of the majority yet am not—all of this was a culture shock to me. By now, however, I am quite used to the environment and am no longer stumbling over my words to say the simplest of sentences. I have met such a diverse array of people in Beijing, and I appreciate how much they’ve taught me about China that I wouldn't have known if I hadn't met them. I have had the honor, for example, of meeting local Chinese students and other people through my internship at Pangoal Institution. I value all of these opportunities because I think that being on campus in Beijing detaches us somewhat from interacting with locals.

When thinking about leaving after this semester, I can't wait to go back to the United States where I speak fluent English, but this semester has definitely dragged me out of my comfort zone and has made me want to return back to China to experience the fullness of the country. This semester feels merely like a preview of what is to come in my life.