Stepping off the mountain path, I begin walking towards the highway. Stopping to re-adjust my pack, I anxiously checked my water rations. With only 1 liter left, I wouldn’t last long in the sweltering heat. I had spent the night camping alone in the Great Blue Mountains in Inner Mongolia, Northern China. Despite their name, the Great Blue Mountains are actually sandy desert mountains less than 100 miles from the Gobi Desert’s dunes. There are no natural sources of water, so I carried my own. Cars whizzed by only every five minutes or so. This was just a small memorable moment in my study abroad experience in China.
It was Fall 2016, and I had just received the Gilman scholarship to study abroad in China.
When I first applied for the scholarship, I didn’t feel I was a diverse enough candidate to receive the scholarship, after all, I was just another tall, white male right? In the personal statement essay, I talked about the things that set me apart from other people. I was a little older. I didn’t start college until I was 24 years old. I started at a Grayson College, a local community college before transferring to Austin College, my dream school. I had never been outside of the United States. Not even once.
As a business major, studying Chinese just made sense. China is the world’s second largest economy, the US trades heavily with China and China may grow to be the world’s largest national superpower in our own lifetimes. That is why I chose to learn Mandarin Chinese and ultimately why I decided to study in China and enroll in an intensive language program in the coastal city of Shanghai.
Receiving the Gilman scholarship made my study abroad experience a reality. Every morning, I would wake up, wrote down my list of vocabulary words in both the Chinese characters, their pronunciation, and English meaning. Then, I would eat a small Chinese breakfast, pour some hot tea into my thermos, step outside, light a cigarette, and wait for the bus. Putting my earbuds in, I would listen to the audio lesson that accompanied my Chinese textbook. On the bus, I would begin memorizing my 250-word essay to recite that morning. After arriving at class, I would work for a few hours to practice writing the 30 new characters we would learn each day. Class each day was 4 hours long with 10-minute breaks each hour and a 30-minute lunch break. After class ended, I would begin the 1-hour journey back to my home-stay. Sitting on the bus, I would begin reading the assigned sections for class the next day. When I arrived home, I would eat a quick dinner, spend time with my didi (little brother), then finish our assigned readings and work-sheets for that day’s homework. By the time everything was finished, it was time to go to bed and begin everything again the next day. It was an intense period in my life, but it instilled in me a strong work ethic and a second language.
The experiences I had abroad continue to affect me today. Unfortunately, my Chinese has not gotten any better, but my experiences exposed me to new people and new opportunities upon my return to the States. My own freelance advertising business exploded because of the videos I produced while abroad. My ability to speak and express myself and experiences improved as well. At the time of this writing, I am starting my own advertising agency in my hometown.
If you want to study abroad, but are afraid you don’t have the money to, fill out a Gilman Scholarship application. It doesn’t take too long and could change your life.
If you want to see the rest of the Inner Mongolia story, click here: https://youtu.be/8iA5A2H9jaU