This past summer, I had the opportunity to study abroad at Fudan University in Shanghai, China. With the funds from the Myers Family Scholarship, I was able to study the Chinese language as well as the business culture of China, one of the fastest growing economies in the world.
Being a Chinese-American, I was very interested in visiting the country where my parents have grown up. My family never had the money or the time to go anywhere outside of the United States, let alone halfway across the world to China. I was really excited, yet nervous, to travel to a completely different place all by myself. However, I really wanted to practice my Chinese language skills and thought, by immersing myself in this culture, I would be able to improve drastically. While my language skills did not improve much within the short 6 weeks during which I was there, I did learn something very valuable.
Being surrounded by people who looked just like me and my family, I fitted in perfectly. However, whenever someone came up to me to ask me a question, I wouldn’t be able to understand them. They would then question me, confused that someone who looked Chinese did not speak Chinese. It was very frustrating to have people laugh, mock or be downright angry at me for not being able to communicate with them when I should have been able to. In my Chinese class, I was the only Chinese person among the diverse students from all different countries around the world. A non-Chinese person was seen as smart for knowing how to speak Chinese, where as I was looked down upon because I was supposed to know.
Although it made me discouraged, my peers were able to support me and
instead I am now trying to overcome negative judgments and focus on my
studies. I want to continue studying the Chinese language at the
remainder of my time here at Binghamton University and hopefully study
abroad in China again. I have decided to minor in Chinese as well as
Asian and Asian American Studies. In China, I had discovered how much of
my own culture I had lost touch with growing up in the United States.
It made me realize how important my culture is to my identity and
question what it really means to be a Chinese-American.
I hope that I can inspire others to not only study abroad, but to
explore the culture within your family as well as different ones
outside. The world is a big place and there are endless discoveries to
be made out there, and within yourself.
Anita Wong, Undergraduate Student in the School of Management, Binghamton University
Heleen Ettes (English major) from Utrecht University, the Netherlands; Junyan Gao (Psychology major) from Soochow University, China; Luke Hale (Chemistry major) from Murdoch University (Australia); Laurenz Rosemann (Mechanical Engineering major) from Hamburg University, Germany; Joon Hyung (Brad) Kim (Business Administration major) from Korea University Business School, South Korea; and Yuchen (Winters) Huo (Finance major) from Lancaster University, United Kingdom
Q) What do you like about Binghamton University thus far?
Laurenz “I like having several assignments
spread throughout the semester. In most of the universities in Germany,
you’d have only one unbelievably difficult final exam at the end of the
Luke “I agree. Having bits of everything
from daily assignments to quizzes mixed throughout the semester actually
gives me time to study and really grasp what I’m learning.”
Heleen & Junyan “I like that the school offers a lot of extra academic help, such as giving extra credits and curves.”
Q) What special items did you
bring from your home country besides necessities? Or what didn’t you
bring from your home country that you regret you didn’t?
I didn’t know Binghamton gets that much cold and snow
Heleen, Luke & Brad “I should have brought more winter clothes. I didn’t know Binghamton gets that much cold and snow.”
Brad “I brought some presents from Korea. I’d give them to my friends here in Binghamton before I leave after the semester is over.”
Heleen “I didn’t think to bring Dutch
snacks with me at first. After I arrived here, my parents brought me
some Dutch cookies and peanut butter, which are my favorite food.”
Q) What is one piece of advice that you would give to prospective Binghamton-bound study abroad students?
If you don’t have a car, think twice before you decide to live off-campus!
Laurenz “Get as many tips as you can from
other students who studied abroad. I regret that I didn’t spend enough
time preparing for my study abroad. I just packed my clothes and shoes a
couple of days before I departed Germany, but now I realize that’s not a
good way to prepare your study abroad…”
Junyan, Luke & Winters “If you don’t have a
car, you should think twice before you decide to live off-campus. There
are buses running everywhere, but I think having a car would be much
more convenient if you live off-campus.”
Laurenz “Oh, and you should attend the
General Interest Meetings if you are interested in anything. Even if
you’re not too much into, let’s say, sports, movies, or whatever, you
will build networks with your peers anyhow, and I think joining a
student association is one of the biggest benefits you will get as a
Q) Would you recommend your American
friends to study abroad? If yes, then what do you think they will
benefit the most from studying abroad based on your own experience?
Now I know how to cook myself and get up early for class myself
Brad & Winters “You will “really” get to
experience different cultures once you leave your home country. The U.S.
does attract a lot of people from various places around the world, but
actually immersing yourself into another country is completely different
from just seeing international people walking around you.”
Junyan“You will experience different
educational setting, too. It can be challenging but you will really
appreciate the experience in the end. You will have better understanding
of how the American educational system is different from others.”
Luke “Also, you will gain much independence. I
am 19 years old and have lived with my parents my entire life. But now I
know how to cook myself and get up early for class myself :).”
***Thank you Heleen, Junyan, Luke, Laurenz, Brad, and Winters for
having such an interesting and engaging interview with us! We hope you
all will enjoy your semester in Binghamton University and have every
possible positive experience you can have while you stay in the United
“What’s up?” “Um… I… don’t have anything
special, just going to class and having to do some homework and… I mean
there is nothing special or important that I feel I should share with
you, you know…?”
If you have had a conversation like the one
above with a student on campus, you probably met an exchange student who
is unfamiliar with the American notion of “What’s up?”, not necessarily
asking you what really you’ve been up to, but just saying hello.
In the middle of the fourth week of the semester, we had the opportunity to interview six of the exchange students attending Binghamton University for the fall 2015 term: Heleen Ettes (English major) from Utrecht University, the Netherlands; Junyan Gao (Psychology major) from Soochow University, China; Luke Hale (Chemistry major) from Murdoch University, Australia; Laurenz Rosemann (Mechanical Engineering major) from Hamburg University, Germany; Joon Hyung (Brad) Kim (Business Administration major) from Korea University Business School, South Korea; and Yuchen (Winters) Huo (Finance major) from Lancaster University, United Kingdom
Q) What made you decide to study in the United States?
I really love being in this melting pot!
engineering major, I wanted to learn how the engineering programs are
taught in the U.S. and what kinds of research are being conducted
specifically in Binghamton University.”
Brad “I wanted to
improve my English language skills and thought spending a semester in
the U.S. would provide me with lots of opportunities which I wouldn’t be
able to have if I stayed in Korea. I actually plan to stay in the U.S.
after I finish my undergraduate study.”
Winters “As a
Chinese living in the U.K., I wanted to experience something different.
Studying abroad in the U.S., I thought, would let me experience
Luke “I just
wanted to taste the American culture. In Australia, the majority of
people speak only English but here, you can actually communicate with
others even if you speak another language.”
always dreamed of coming to the U.S. to experience the life in a
multicultural setting. I really love being in this melting pot!”
Q) What were your initial perceptions of the U.S. and Binghamton? How have these changed after spending a few weeks here?
Heleen & Luke “I
thought the U.S. would be similar to my home country, but little things
in daily life like using a differen metric system, reading temperature
in Fahrenheit, and driving on the right side are difficult to adjust
Laurenz “I thought
the U.S. would be a completely different world from Germany; however, I
find a lot more similarities than differences here, which surprise me
Junyan “The bus system is really different from that in China. I never expected to wait at least 30 minutes for a bus.”
Brad & Winters
“I thought the entire New York State would be like New York City, and
realized I was certainly wrong as soon as I arrived in Binghamton.”
Q) What is one thing you would want your American friends to know about your home country?
I don’t have a kangaroo in my backyard…
definitely – I noticed that American students typically eat unhealthy,
greasy food and snacks. I’d like to introduce to them the healthy food
and snacks that are easily found in my hometown in China.”
Heleen “Unlike the usual perception that the Netherlands is static and monotonous, it has a lot of dynamics and diversity. “
Luke “I don’t have
a kangaroo in my backyard, or eat it for every dinner… I need to get
out of my town and drive a long way to get to a restaurant that actually
sells dishes that have it.”
Laurenz “Germans are not boring people. Actually, we can be fun people.”
Brad “I want to introduce K-pop to my friends here, though, everyone I’ve met seemed to know and like K-pop already.”
Winters “I’d like to introduce the unique British drinking culture to my American friends.”
Q) Do you notice any difference in the way English is spoken here?
How should I answer back to questions like “How are you?” or “What’s up?”
Winters “Yes, I do. The American accent sounds awkward to me.”
Luke, Winters & Heleen “The spellings of some words are hard to remember, like color.”
Laurenz “I often
don’t understand small talks. The conversation I’d have with a cashier
at a supermarket is really different from the one I’d have with my
classmates. I sometimes don’t understand the subject of the conversation
they’d bring up, so I’d just stand there and listen, though, I don’t
understand what’s really going on.”
Junyan “A lot of Americans I’ve met spoke too fast…”
Luke & Winters
“Americans pronounce “r” too heavily, you know what I mean? It’s not
that I don’t pronounce “r” at all – I surely do recognize that “r” is
there – but I don’t stress it as much as Americans do.”
should I answer back to questions like “How are you?” or “What’s up?” Am
I obligated to really give an answer to these questions…? Or are these
even questions? It’s like a stranger walks up to me and asks “Hi, how
are you?” and then just walks away without even looking back to me. I
still haven’t figured out how to react to these questions or greetings
or whatever these are…”
As a Chinese immigrant and Marketing major and Korean minor, I naturally became interested in working in the market involving Asian-American populations. In particular, South Korea attracted my attention as the perfect place in which I would like to work in the future because its market has something that was unknown to me but made me curious to learn what that is. Besides my career goal as a marketing professional in South Korea, I personally love the Korean culture.
My interest in studying abroad in South Korea, however, collided with my plan on finishing my undergraduate study a year earlier. If I were to study abroad for a full semester, then I thought I would not be able to squeeze in all my Korean language and culture classes which I had to take to fulfill the Korea minor requirements. In the midst of figuring out how to fit study abroad in my busy academic schedule, I found this awesome Binghamton summer international program in Hanyang University in Seoul, which would allow me take the required classes for my minor over four weeks during the summer! In so doing, I enrolled in the Hanyang international summer program and not only learned Korean language in depth but also experienced all different aspects of the
I remember the first week in Seoul, I had difficulty communicating with Korean people I met due to my lack of Korean speaking skills. There were times when I even felt embarrassed, but over time, I learned how to communicate via body language. Gradually, I realized that as long as I don’t give up, I would eventually adapt to whatever environment in which I am thrown. During the time I stayed in South Korea, I made a lot of Korean and non-Korean friends who helped me understand the rich Korean culture in depth. Though it took me some time to adjust myself to the new environment, I no doubt had the most amazing time in Seoul and am still totally in love with the country and its culture! I was also surprised at how I could relate my Chinese American culture to the Korean culture and my experience as a youth immigrant in the United States to the study abroad experience in South Korea.
I badly wanted to stay there longer and now, I wish to go back and
possibly start my career there. I could not be more thankful that I
received the Myers Family Scholarship, which ultimately enabled me to
have this wonderful opportunity to study abroad in South Korea. With the
scholarship funds, I was able to further pursue my study in Korean
language and business in South Korea. After I returned to Binghamton, my
career goal has been reaffirmed; I will visit the country again next
summer and find an internship opportunity which will eventually help me
land on a job in South Korea.
Fei Huang, Undergraduate Student in the School of Management, Binghamton University
I participated in SUNY Oswego Global Laboratory program in Brazil. I chose Brazil because I wanted to experience something that is completely out of my comfort zone, and wanted to challenge myself mentally and academically by placing myself into an unknown environment. At first, I knew nothing about Brazil. It was intimidating – studying in a country that most believes is a dangerous place. However, after my two months in Brazil, my perception changed; anywhere you go can be dangerous, but as long as you’re careful, you’re safe wherever you go.
My biggest and only struggle was not knowing Portuguese because very few people I met in Brazil spoke English. If I had a little more knowledge in Portuguese language, then it would have made my experience better. I was struggling to understand Brazilians who did not speak English, but I was slowly adapting by learning some Portuguese words. I got to meet interesting people who made my time in Brazil more enjoyable. We were able to travel around cities in Brazil to enjoy different activities such as zip lining, kayaking and viewing landscapes. I was amazed most by their culture of music and celebrations. Brazilians would invite anyone to join their festivals to enjoy the time together. This was quite a surprising experience for me, who is a resident of New York City, where most people would not invite strangers into their homes to celebrate holidays. It was refreshing to see the differences in the Brazilian and American culture. Another different cultural aspect is that, I tend to work fast and try to finish work quickly in New York City. In Brazil, however, I was able to take my time and calmly finish my work. It was a different way to do things, but an enjoyable experience..
While enjoying their culture, I was also able to gain more hands on experience with animals. Because I am on the pre-veterinary track, I was looking for opportunities where I could gain as much veterinary experience with animals as I possibly could. The Global Laboratory program places students to their field of interest, and I was able to work in a wildlife animal rehabilitation clinic, which is a rare opportunity to find in the metropolitan cities in the United States. I am thankful that I was able to participate in this study abroad program. I would strongly encourage other students to definitely try applying for the Global Laboratory program – especially in Brazil. It was an enriching experience both academically and personally, and I definitely want to visit Brazil again!
Winnie Chen, a Binghamton University undergraduate student who studied abroad in Brazil through SUNY Oswego’s Global Laboratory Program and a recipient of the Myers Family Scholarship
When I first committed to studying abroad for the fall semester, there were only a few things that I was anxious about. I would say that most students are nervous about traveling alone, making new friends, and having to get accustomed to a completely new culture; I on the other hand was a little anxious about missing the holiday season that I enjoy spending at home with my family each year. Rather than thinking about the new traditions that I would learn, I was dwelling on missing out on cookie-baking, shopping and wrapping, buying a Christmas tree, and decorating my house. Little did I know, experiencing a holiday in a different place, through the lenses of a different culture, can be just as fulfilling as spending the holiday season at home.
It was in early November when the first signs of Christmas appeared in Copenhagen. My friends and I had heard about a celebration called “J-Dag,” or “J-Day,” when translated into English, that is apparently big there, and of course, we didn’t want to miss out. So I did some research: J Dag always falls on the first Friday of November and is when the Carlsberg Group’s Christmas beer, Tuborg Julebrryg, is brewed and launched to the public for the first time each year. I read that in order to see the celebration we needed to be in the city at 9pm.
When J-Dag came, my friends and I went straight to the familiar bars
that we had been going to all semester. But that night, they were
different. The bars were decorated for Christmas with lights, trees,
ornaments, and fake snow around them. Snow machines filled the streets,
so although it wasn’t cold enough for snow, it appeared to be snowing.
At around 9pm, trucks and horse-carriages arrived with men and women
dressed up in blue, which is the color of Christmas in Denmark (due to
the Christmas beer having a blue label). The workers sang, danced, gave
out blue Christmas hats, and brought the Christmas beer into each bar,
not only into the bars on the street that we were on, but throughout the
entire city center. Christmas music was playing in the streets and in
each bar, and although it was only the 8th of November, the Christmas
spirit was well in the air.
Melissa Lawrence, a Binghamton University undergraduate student and the Study Abroad Ambassador Program manager
I studied abroad this summer in a small town in Italy, south of Naples, called Pisciotta. I chose this specific location because I wanted an “authentic” Italian experience. While abroad I was posed with the question of what “authentic” actually means. This question, along with many discussions in my sociology class for the summer, made me think. I caught myself wondering why I really needed to buy so many souvenirs. Was it because everyone else did, so I felt pressured to do the same? Was it because I genuinely wanted these souvenirs, or because I wanted them for the memories? Or, simply because I wanted them to probe to my friends and family back home that I was there?Amanda
After pondering these ideas, I realized that there was really no reason for all of these excessive material goods. This is why my favorite “souvenirs” were the ones that didn’t come from tacky gift shops. Instead, they came with memories that I cherish far more than any expensive Italian leather or Venetian glass I could have bought.
The first of these souvenirs was a journal that I kept during the course of my trip. For anyone anticipating on studying or traveling abroad I greatly recommend keeping a journal. I saved all my ticket stubs from museums and metro cards to tape into my journal along with flowers and leaves that I would press into it.
As you can see the binding of my journal is about to burst because I filled the pages with so many additional things. The journal not only holds these physical things to remember train rides, museums, boat rides, gelaterias, restaurants and the local foliage but it also holds something even more valuable: my current feelings throughout the span of my trip. I would give up all the other souvenirs I bought for this one journal because it holds some very dear memories that I will look back on one day.
I have one other souvenir that holds a similar value to my journal. This souvenir was an unexpected gift from a woman that I befriended during my time in Pisciotta. Her name is Beatrice and she does not speak a word of English. Not only is my Italian not very good, but her Italian is a dialect. This caused complication when we tried to communicate. We first became friends because she liked my hat. I let her try it on and she insisted that we take a selfie together. She then took my phone to show all of her friends sitting nearby in the piazza. In practicing my Italian I was able to form short simple sentences to converse with her. I complimented the bracelet she was wearing. This was the wrong move because she instantly tried to give me her bracelet. I graciously declined and she accepted this until the next time we met where she would not take no for an answer as she put the bracelet on my wrist.
From then on, every time she saw me in the piazza she would came over to me right away, eager to talk. I had to constantly remind her to slow down because I couldn’t understand. Even though it was difficult to completely convey what I wanted to say, I greatly enjoyed the time I got to spend with Beatrice. I have worn her bracelet every day since she gave it to me.
Overall, my favorite souvenirs are the ones that have strong links to the things I have experienced. They were not obtained in haste because I was running out of time to buy something and they were not attained because I felt like I needed them. They were simply objects that I received by living my life and keeping my mind open to all the new experiences coming my way.
Amanda O’Connor, a Binghamton University undergraduate student in a Language Across Curriculum class
This past summer, I studied abroad in Cusco, Peru through the Peru Service Learning program. I have seen some people think that immigrant students like me do not need to travel or study abroad because we have enough “abroad experience” in the United States. However, coming from New York City, which is packed with people with different ethnicities and nationalities, I strongly believed that it was necessary for me to actually go abroad to learn and understand better about other cultures. Because I took some Spanish language classes in high school, I became very interested in Latin American culture and decided to study abroad in Peru. I also wanted to see how local communities in Peru were developing.
At first, I had a strong presumption that it would be too expensive for me to study abroad; however, I soon found out it was not! I applied to several study abroad scholarships that were available to me, including the Myers Family Scholarship. Thankfully, I received the Myers Family Scholarship, which provided me with tremendous financial support to study abroad in Peru.
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While in Peru, I felt as though I was part of the Peruvian community, though, I faced some challenges regarding communication in Spanish. Every morning and evening, my host family prepared breakfast for me, and my host mother would ask me if I wanted to take pieces of bread to school. I also went out with them for dinner or family trips during weekends. I can say with enough confidence that Cusco is the cultural capital of Peru. Walking around Cusco, I saw a lot of churches from which I could sense that Christianity is vital to Peruvians. In June, there were festivals and parades where Peruvians dressed up with their traditional costumes and danced around the streets, and some of them had marks on their faces. I was both impressed by the spectacular parades which Peruvians demonstrated on the streets and by seeing the ancient buildings made up of stones on Machu Picchu, which showcased that the Incans were able to survive in the midst of the conquer by the Spanish.
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The most rewarding part of my experience in Peru was volunteering at three different service sites—Abre Puertas in Coya, Corazon de Dahlia in Saylla, and Comedor Virgen De Fatima. I renovated these service sites, cut wood and made tables, and played games with children and tutored them math. I learned that the main challenge that these service sites were facing was a lack of funding, and that they were overcoming the challenge through different means, such as getting support and volunteers from their own communities.
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I now absolutely have a better understanding of Latin American culture than I did before I studied abroad in Peru. For instance, one thing I learned in Peru was that Christianity plays an important role in Peruvian lives. Due to their religious practices, like giving humanitarian aids, there are many non-profit organizations eager support their community. I would most definitely like to encourage other students to study abroad. Study abroad provides a platform to exchange ideas with professors, classmates, and local residents. It is an once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Jefferson Xiao, an undergraduate Political Science major, who studied abroad in Cusco in summer 2015 through the Peru: Service-Learning Summer study abroad program
October 2015… I’ve been home for a little over two months now, and I’ve given away the souvenirs I bought for others in the little shops that crowded the Spanish streets. The pieces I’ve kept for myself line my shelves and windowsills for subtle reminds of my time away. But the piece that I hold most dear I could not put into my pocket and bring on the plane home. There wasn’t a trinket that could capture it for me, and so I keep it alive in the pictures, music, memories, and hope for returning.
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While abroad in Spain, I had the opportunity to visit many of the cities surrounding the areas in which I studied. Every weekend I would discover a new place and take in landscapes, architecture, and tidbits of Spanish history and culture. I felt that every new city I explored became my new favorite until I reached one that defined my entire trip. Upon arriving in Ronda, we first visited a park that approached the edge of the very cliff that the city sits atop. Lined with trees and statues, we strolled through the dappled sunlight to look over the vast expansion of hills, country homes, and arid vegetation reached towards a dazzling mountain rage in the distance. Following the path that runs along the cliffs edge and into the town, we wander past a small craft market, the bull fighting ring, and a city square with fountains, shops, spectacular doorways, and cafes filled with people seated outdoors. We continued through winding streets to find a restaurant with the perfect patio to enjoy tapas and practice español, traditional homes shaded from the Spanish heat, and a small church that took my breath away.
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As we continued on our walk and my mind slowly wandered from the tour guide’s words, I began to hear music as we approached the bridge. Unable to find the source, and captivated by the sight of the bridge in the midday heat, I began to feel as though the music were the soundtrack to this very moment in Spain. I left the group to walk to approach the bridge alone and enjoy the music that accompanied my exploration, to find the guitarist sitting under a small umbrella near the bridge. I sat down with him to listen to him play in the sun, and breathed in the aroma of the dry plants growing around the cliffs.
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I feel that during a study abroad experience, one can be overwhelmed without even realizing it. When we find moments that make us take a step back and consider our place and our purpose, they can completely transform the experience and give it much meaning. Ronda fully encapsulates Spain for me. My experience there combined all of the history, culture, landscape, weather, language, food, and romanticism that I was attracted to and hoped to discover abroad. My experience there was the most self-reflective and I feel that of all of the places I went to, it is the most memorable and dear for this reason. I remember being unable to find a postcard that matched the real beauty of that bridge, but I still bought a few to flip through when I listen to the CD from the guitarist on the bridge.
Natalie Knezevic, a Binghamton University undergraduate student in a Language Across Curriculum (LxC) class, who studied abroad in Spain