Since this is my first time posting a blog for the Gilman Global Experience Blog, let me give you all you need to know about me: my name’s Garrett Schuman (or in Chinese, 许可儒); I’m an avid lover of all things edible, readable, and creatable; and I’m more than ecstatic to share my experience with you! At the moment I’m studying abroad in Kunming, China, through CET’s Kunming Summer Intensive Language Program where I’ll be learning the equivalent of one year’s worth of Chinese in only eight weeks. I’ve been in Kunming for close to two weeks now, however my experience has been full of firsts.
In order to get here I rode a plane for the first time in my life, and let me just say that the thing I was most worried about was riding the airplane. I’d already taken a year’s worth of Chinese classes, so I already knew the language semi-well, and back home I’d gotten a small glimpse into Chinese culture through my international friends, so I wasn’t extremely concerned about my studies, just my ride there. Going to the airport was kind of like stepping into the Twilight Zone: nothing was familiar, and albeit, really strange. There was all this commotion (I’m from a small farm town so the only ruckus I seem to hear at home are crickets) and I had an inkling of where to go, but of course I was like a lost child. Even though I was three hours early, I still managed to almost miss my flight. Once aboard the plane, I watched the tarmac like someone watches a final shot in a basketball game, waiting to see what exactly would happen next. In less than a millisecond, my anxiety mixed with this indescribable feeling of amazement.
One airplane tip that can’t be said enough: bring gum (and lots of it)! Takeoff for me was the easiest part, but when we were landing (I’m assuming it was the pressure difference) my head felt like it was being squeezed. After the first time though, it was perfectly fine and I slept all the way through my last flight. So to all you with wanderlust out there: don’t be afraid to fly! It’s a rewarding experience, plus you get a view of the world that you can’t get anywhere else!
Fast forward a couple days, and I’ve been in Kunming a couple days. This really doesn’t do the cultural differences justice but I think the biggest shock I’ve had so far is that the Chinese view on modesty is flip-flopped from the States. Here (from what I’ve gathered), if you’re complimented, it’s totally normal to deny it and insist that you’re not good at all. This exists somewhat back home, but it’s more common to thank the person for their kind words. American culture is very extroverted and focused on individual ability, while Chinese society values things like seniority and in general is introverted and strives for group harmony. I’m going to be extremely frank when I say this, but the thing I miss the most from the United States is our openness to the LGBTQIA community. I’m only mentioning this because I’m gay and for the two weeks I’ve been here, I kind of feel like I’m back in the closet. More than anything I want all of my Chinese friends to know me as intimately as possible, but there is a slight air of unacceptance that I’ve detected. This isn’t to say they’re homophobic; their attitude is gradually shifting as more and more Chinese people within the LGBT community tell their stories.
The thing that I’d insert into my life without hesitation is their tea. China’s culture is centered on tea, and one of my biggest goals is to be able to make Chinese tea (It doesn’t come in tea bags like tea in the US. They use loose ingredients.). All in all, the biggest challenge and benefit of studying abroad is realizing that every country (and even every person within that country) has their own way of life, tradition, and beliefs, whether or not they are amazing or terrible within our own cultural lens. For example, the following foods look kind of strange at first, but they were amazing once I got over my first impressions.
Once we cross our borders, we have the opportunity to learn what the rest of the world is like, all the while passing along our own torch as we become an ambassador for our home.
Until next time! 下次见！
Garrett Schuman 许可儒