Falling in love with China: My study abroad experience

Photo courtesy of Yujin Pyun ’18 || Yujin Pyun ’18 at the Great Wall of China while on her study abroad experience.

Photo courtesy of Yujin Pyun ’18 || Yujin Pyun ’18 at the Great Wall of China while on her study abroad experience.


Yujin Pyun ‘18
Contributing Writer

Let me tell you, it was a long journey.

It was a total of eight months of restless marathon, which was full of unexpected turnouts.

Although there were ups, there also existed unexpected incidents and emotional downs. Luckily, there were more ups than downs and many more cherishable memories.

I signed up for a study abroad program that was sponsored by the University of Massachusetts, Amherst called Fulbright-Hays Chinese Immersion Program.

Unlike the other one-to-two year programs, this was a short-term program that included three academic terms: winter, spring and summer. The program included a combination of modern history classes, language courses, sight-seeing trips in between the semesters and an internship during the very last few weeks.

I was with a total of 15 other Fulbrighters who had also been selected from across the America.

We were all Fulbright scholars, 19 to 28 years old, with beginning to intermediate level Chinese language skills. Accepting our admission to this program meant that we were all in the same boat for eight months from early January to late August.

During the eight months of stay in China, the 16 of us did everything together: taking language courses, presenting projects in front of each other, traveling and interning. During this process, we became each other’s life-long mentors and friends.

If I were to talk about the most valuable memories, they would be the memories I cherished from every city I traveled and explored.

I got to travel to a number of cities in China and also traveled to different countries during the program. Cities in China that we visited included Guilin, Chengdu, Jiuzhaigou, Yan’an and Beijing; places in other countries included Daegu, S. Korea and Ho Chi Minh, Danang, Hoian and Halong Bay, Vietnam. I’ve never travelled as much as this: I took a plane or a train just to travel every month. I had numerous chances to be deeply immersed in the beauty of nature and certainly countless times to be thankful of my situation given that I could afford those trips and come back home safely. It is pretty cheesy of me to say, but the saying “studying abroad does help you broaden your perspective and helps you to mature and grow as a person” is indeed true. By encountering different situations and making myself vulnerable, I was able to know and understand what kind of person I am and what I really want in my life.

To be honest, it was not easy for me to take another semester off after taking a semester off last year to study theology in Kona, Hawaii; however, I made my decision believing that this Fulbright program would offer the opportunity to study China in more depth and clearly see the picture of what I want to do in the future.

I don’t think I would have experienced the China that I got to know this year if I had not enrolled in this study abroad program.

I had the opportunity to spend time with Chinese families during the Spring Festival, making authentic Chinese dumplings and sharing drinks together over hilarious Chinese style jokes and compliments. It was truly an opportunity to experience and feel the love that was naturally flowing over me; it was also the moment that I felt that language and culture does not really matter when I could perfectly communicate my honest feelings and humble heart to Chinese families.

I also feel grateful towards this program because I had many chances to give back to the community in Xi’an, China. One such opportunity was to teach and share knowledge with Chinese middle school students. As a cultural ambassador of America, I had the responsibility of sharing my experience of the States with the curious Chinese students who had numerous questions and were filled with eagerness to learn. I honestly feel that since I gained so much experience speaking in public during the program, I have overcome my fear of public speaking. I can’t believe I have gone through presenting so many times in Chinese when I even get nervous using English when speaking in public.

Oh yes, I have one more wonderful story to share. I will make my debut as an actress in China soon. No, I did not get the main role, but I did have the amazing opportunity to be in a Chinese movie sponsored by CCTV, China’s biggest television channel. It was amazing to be filmed be in the presence of Chinese actors and people from the Chinese entertainment industry. Who would have thought that I could be in a Chinese movie? When I look back, I feel as if I took every opportunity to try everything, even something very extreme. Could you believe that I volunteered to work as a translator? It was not even translator work that only consisted of casual conversation. I had the chance to work as a translator for really serious business transactions, my work could either make or break a business deal.

I worked as a translator for a company that sold its products in the conference sponsored by the Korean government’s agricultural ministry. Without much explanation of the job description, I had no option but to jump straight into working; however, looking back I’ve learned a lot in terms of using Chinese jargon for the first time and communicating with the Chinese businessmen that flew into Xi’an from different cities all across the country. Again, I tried to push myself further by thinking “how else would I have this kind of opportunity.”

During my eight months in Xi’an, China, every moment was worth cherishing. Looking back, I can’t help but smile and laugh about the little jokes and stories that I pride myself on as if they were my medals. It was not easy to make China my home for eight months, to get used to the food and keep myself motivated; however, as I finish writing about my experience, I have had the opportunity not only to learn the language and the culture but also to experience the real China for eight months. It is questionable if I still want to go back to China in a few years either to study or to work, but I can say with confidence that I was one of the lucky few to enjoy and appreciate China and represent America as a cultural ambassador.

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