Nĭ hăo! Wŏ jiào, Nasreen! Hello! I am called, Nasreen! Learning the language Mandarin is incredible! I cannot believe I have never thought to learn it, let alone come explore the Chinese world. But here I am.
I still am not fluent, not even close. Do not even get me started on Chinese characters because I have yet to learn or memorize one. I have to listen to children on the street to understand some words since I am almost (not even close, actually) at their level. The only thing that is easy about this language is that, unlike English, there is no strict grammar. I love learning a new language and I love how a part of my brain feels when I am writing and speaking it. It’s as if a new lobe of my brain is opening.
Speaking of learning a language, school here is very interesting! I am attending East China Normal University. The commute is 40 minutes by metro and a 12 minute drive. Forty minutes may seem like a long time, but I really appreciate how public transportation is available, easy to use and very inexpensive. Round trip, from house to school and back, costs a little over one U.S. dollar. We do have a trolley station at SDSU, but I don’t believe it runs as long or fast as the metro here. Also, the fact that it is so inexpensive and environmentally friendly benefits everyone.
I really hope San Diego, already being in a tree-hugging state, can acquire more ways to be environmental friendly while providing good transportation.
OK, back to my school – sorry I am such a metro supporter. I am taking a beginners’ Chinese language speaking course. My professor’s English name is Christina, but we call her Zhāng Lăoshi (Professor Zhāng). She and all the Chinese teachers here are extremely sweet, patient and helpful. In class, we are learning how to pronounce the Chinese tones and syllables, introduce yourself, count, differentiate fruit and even bargain!
Chinese is difficult, but I enjoy learning the language every second in the place where it originated. I practice my Chinese at home, but the way I have been efficiently learning and have it engraved in my brain is by practicing with the locals. Restaurants, markets, social events — even on a train on my way to see the Terracotta Army — I practice speaking Chinese with the locals; they seem so interested in a foreigner like me.
I have also gone out to eat Cantonese food with another teacher, Wang Lăoshi, and my classmates. She is the teacher for the beginners’ Chinese language writing course. She also led students to one of Shanghai’s ancient water towns, Qibao. There, I got to know more people from all around the world, but mainly I stuck with the American crew. Even after this little adventure to Qibao, I got the opportunity to get closer to my American friends. A couple of weeks later, I went on a trip to Suzhou, a very scenic town that is filled with gardens, pagodas and incredible history, with Kylee, Allie and Kelly. We had such fun on this 4-5 hour trip. It’s something I’ve never done SDSU; exploring a city and its history while getting to know the teachers and my classmates on a more personal level.
I also enjoy my Civilization class! My teacher is such a great lecturer. Even during a three-hour long lecture, he always asks questions to see what we know or asks our opinion. He also provided us with a lot of his personal information just in case we had questions about the lecture — or anything about China really! Right now, we are learning about Chinese superstitions, such as fortune telling, the wŭ xíng (the zodiac signs of the Chinese), the zodiac calendar and compatibility. You may think this is taboo, but a fortune teller that used the wŭ xíng and judged their facial structure predicted that Hillary and Trump would be final two candidates in the U.S. election, and that Trump would win. I was very skeptical about fortune tellers, but that was insane. It made me almost want to go to a fortune teller just to see what she has to say about me.
As you can tell, I am really enjoying my education here. What I would recommend to people when they come to study abroad is to take as few classes as possible if you are in no extreme rush to graduate. That way you can enjoy class time while also enjoying the world around you. But, if you are in a rush to graduate or you do not mind doing extra work while also traveling around, taking everything credit/no credit is wise.
If you are planning to study in China, I suggest to get a tourist visa. With the tourist visa, you have to leave the country after 60 days of arriving in the country. I am on the Tourist Visa, so I am forced to explore the countries around China. If I was on the student visa, I would not even have that option. But even if I had the option to leave the country on the Student Visa, I do not know if I would even do so. It is such a huge hassle to plan a trip, but with the Tourist Visa regulation, I shrug off the idea of planning something complicated and go see some of Asia.
Again and again, studying abroad is a must for anyone. Please, really consider this opportunity that SDSU offers to all students. Even if it is a country that you never thought you would visit, yet alone love!
Nasreen Nabizadeh is a public health junior. She is studying abroad this spring at East China Normal University in Shanghai, China.