This past year I was stressed out about finding a study abroad program to fulfill my major requirements. I kept putting off submitting any applications since I felt overwhelmed with my workload. I ended up missing all the deadlines for the programs I was interested in.
I was at that threshold of being a senior and realized that taking a year off to study abroad, as I had wanted to do originally, was now impractical if I wanted to graduate on time. I wanted to find a program in between semesters that was as long as possible so I could get the most from the experience without delaying my graduation. There were a handful of programs in Europe that I was interested in; but they were ultimately either too brief or went beyond what I was willing to pay for.
It wasn’t until during a lecture that a classmate of mine mentioned two programs that were being offered in the summer. One was the Summer Service Learning Program (SSLP) that was three weeks long and would assign participants to a school in China to teach students from 1st to 12th grade. Being a Liberal Studies pre-major, I was instantly interested in the idea of being able to gain experience teaching English to students learning it as a second language; something I know I will have to do in my future career.
The second program preceding the SSLP, the Beijing program, acted as a four week language course in Mandarin with weekend excursions to popular tourist sites in the city. Since I already had an interest in the SSLP I saw a wonderful opportunity to be a part of both programs so that I would be immersed in Chinese culture. I felt that it was only fitting to also be learning another language while abroad to help me become more empathetic to the students I would be teaching.
After doing research on my own about the two programs I saw that combined they cost considerably less compared to the summer programs offered in Europe, and for more than twice the amount of time! I had finally found the perfect program that would take up half of my summer. I felt extremely excited about the prospect of being outside of my comfort zone and learning a language while being completely immersed within its culture. After turning in all the necessary paperwork, I was accepted into both programs, and eagerly waited for the day I would depart for my experience.
My mother was not as enthused about my country choice as I was, to put it lightly. She was apprehensive about everything that could possibly happen to me abroad. For instance, I had a history of asthma in my childhood and would be staying in a city with severe air pollution. Another concern was that I had never really traveled far from home before in my life—this would be the farthest I had been from home and for the longest amount of time.
To help alleviate her fears, I contacted a student who had done both programs a year before me. I asked her to help me reassure my mother about my decision. I was able to tell my mom that the two programs had been going on for years through SDSU and that the participating instructors would make our safety their top priority. As far as my physical health, I got all necessary vaccines, an inhaler prescription and face masks should the air pollution have an effect on me while I stay there.
Eventually, my efforts showed my mom how serious I was about studying abroad and she told me that she felt confident in my judgement to make the best decisions in any given situation while away. It was well worth the tedious effort to help alleviate my mother’s concerns, for both of our sakes. I would not have been able to leave with peace of mind if I knew she would continue to feel apprehensive about me studying in China.
I have now been in Beijing for then days at Capital Normal University. I study Mandarin five days a week with the school’s teachers. In my spare time, I try to learn as much about the country as I can as well as explore the city with my classmates. This past weekend, my group went to the Forbidden and Summer Palace, and I already feel greatly humbled by the city’s history. I am truly grateful to be given the opportunity to learn first hand about China and I look forward to each remaining day and what I will learn from it!
Jasmin Gonzalez Varela blogs from Beijing, China in the summer of 2015. The Liberal Arts major chose an ISEP Direct program for her international experience.