Georgia I. Salvaryn went to China this past July to study abroad. Her goal is to inspire others to do the same. She believes it is a great experience that allows students to see a part of the world that they have never explored before and make connections with others from around the globe. Salvaryn is a senior majoring in journalism with a minor in Chinese and is currently a staff writer for the Montclarion.
I remember walking on the Great Wall of China like it was yesterday. I was tired, out of breath and sore from climbing up and down the steep, rocky, uneven steps that were crumbling away with age.
Some students pushed forward as many others stayed behind due to the extreme heat and exhaustion from climbing just a few of the ancient steps. Although we were complaining about the weather and the effort it took to climb the Great Wall of China, we soaked in the breathtaking view of the mountains surrounding us.
I chose to study abroad in China because of my Chinese minor. I wanted to expand my knowledge and understanding of the Chinese language, culture, traditions and history.
Dr. Wing Shan Ho, my Chinese language professor at Montclair State University, offered me a chance to apply to a free Chinese summer camp in Beijing. The program would allow me to take Chinese language classes while participating in Chinese culture classes and activities.
The summer camp ran two weeks long. It was offered and hosted by Beijing International Chinese College (BICC). Within the two weeks, I attended language classes twice a day, participated in activities and events, such as the ping-pong competition, and went on off-campus trips to historic sites in Beijing.
One of the first places visited with a small group was Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City. These famous Chinese landmarks are rich with history and left me in amazement. I learned that the Forbidden City, which served as an imperial palace to 24 emperors throughout China’s history, contained 9,999 rooms in total. The size of those buildings and the meticulous architecture of the ancient imperial palace were incredible.
We also visited the stunning Summer Palace. This beautiful garden palace contained many voluptuous gardens and lakes filled with hundreds of lotus flowers. The architecture was outstanding as well. It amazed me that these structures and places have been around for so long.
The camp also offered an exclusive third-week trip to Xi’an and Shanghai at an extra cost. Only nine students, including myself, and a teacher decided to embark there during that third week.
Xi’an, the capital of Shaanxi Province, is the city where the famous Terracotta Army is located. In 1974, a massive life-sized army was discovered there. It is said that these soldiers were built and buried with the first emperor of China to protect his soul in the afterlife. Each soldier contains the signature of its maker and was once painted with color, but over time, the paint has faded away.
I also had the chance to visit Muslim Street, a marketplace in downtown Xi’an City. The street was lined with food markets, bargain shops and street food carts. The hustle and bustle of pedestrians rushing by getting from point A to point B, reminded me so much of Chinatown in Philadelphia. Fortunately, it did not come with the smell of fish and trash.
The last city I visited in China was Shanghai, a very modernized city. It kind of felt like a combination of Tokyo and New York City, especially with the modern buildings, skyscrapers and western-style bathrooms.
The most memorable and exciting place I experienced in Shanghai was the Oriental Pearl Radio & TV Tower. It is a beautifully constructed building that took my breath away, both literally and figuratively. I was able to go on the highest viewing deck in the TV tower, which is about 1,148 feet above the ground, and take stunning photos.
I also viewed Shanghai from the transparent observation deck that is about 850 feet up where I was standing on a glass-bottomed sightseeing floor. It was scary at first, but eventually, I conquered my fear of heights.
Overall, the study abroad experience was the best experience I have had in my life. I have never felt more independent, adventurous and at one with the world.
Other students at Montclair State, such as Katrina Fernandez, a senior business administration student, have also traveled abroad to China and experienced the same program.
“Studying at BICC helped me realize that learning the [Chinese] language and culture opens countless opportunities to connect and network with people,” Fernandez said. “BICC’s intensive curriculum influenced my work ethic as I devote the same dedication to my college studies.”
I would encourage others to study abroad because it is an amazing experience to travel and learn about a different culture, language and society. Traveling abroad has opened my mind to many new ideas about how I should live my life. It has also helped me appreciate what I have in my life and made me prouder to be who I am.