Study journal entry by Madeleine Khamnei

Today was one of the complete “immersion days” that we experience on our NSLIY trip. Every student is expected to speak only Chinese from the break of dawn until sundown. While immersion days are difficult, they change your perspective of your Chinese ability, especially in everyday life. From ordering food, answering questions, and greeting people as the day goes on, I have personally found that the “immersion days” are the easiest way to become comfortable with one’s speaking ability.
           Meals are one of the easiest ways to meet new people in China, and today I had a unique encounter with a student getting his Bachelor’s Degree at Xiamen University. I sat down at the table and asked if I could sit (in Chinese.) The man simply nodded his head and looked down at his food. I have a tendency to sit with more girls or younger students because of their general welcoming spirit, but today I took the initiative to challenge myself. I started to ask some simple questions, (ex.) “What is your name?” “Do you attend Xiamen University?” The man slowly looked up from his dish, and responded, “Sorry, I don’t speak Chinese!” We both started to laugh, quickly realizing that we were both exchange students. We then introduced ourselves, “Mi Tu” (the man’s name) is from Northern India, and is studying his Bachelors in organic chemistry at Xiamen University. I soon discovered that he had been living in Xiamen for over a year, yet had not learned a drop of Chinese, in his defense: “Everyone speaks English.” Though this may be true, I saw a powerful correlation between his Chinese ability and his lack of belonging. Mi Tu spoke of feeling lonely in Xiamen, and how I was one of the first people during lunch that he had spoken to. We went on to discuss NSLIY, and Mi Tu seemed to have a different sense of language, that although English can be universal, it doesn’t drive the same connections as a local language.
        Later in the day, all thirty NSLIY students explored GuLangYu. GuLangYu is an island off of Xiamen, which was opened after the First Opium War (1840). Because GuLangYu was used as a treaty port after the Opium War, Japanese, French, British, and New Netherland Victorian-era architecture can be admired along its coastline and inland. At around 6:30 pm we arrived at the crowded dock and took the ferry to GuLangYu. The group was divided into smaller ones, each with a teacher and a chaperon and we explored at our own pace. With my smaller group and chaperone, I enjoyed the “WenHuaYiChan” or “Cultural Heritage” GuLangYu has to offer. While visiting GuLangYu, “WaiGuo” or “foreign country” treatment was quite prominent, as many locals and tourists were excited to see Americans. I found the fascination with Americans to be quite interesting, because many of us haven’t had to face our privilege so directly. Small children, in particular, have a fascination with Americans; one child kept her eyes locked on the NSLIY students, waving her hand continuously as we left the ferry. GuLangYu gave most students good insight on what Xiamen, absent of the college life, feels like. The general public, unlike college students, are less familiar with Americans and more likely to treat us with “WaiGuo” privilege.

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