Day-to-Day, Far Away July 26, 2018

By (Oberlin College) - abroad from 02/26/2018 to 06/08/2018 with

Middlebury Schools Abroad: Middlebury in Kunming

What did you gain/learn from your experience abroad? Was it worthwhile?
Going into this semester I wanted to improve my Chinese, but even more than improving my linguistic and cultural competency I wanted to familiarize and humanize for myself a country which is poorly understood by Americans. I certainly made huge strides on language, but for all the knowledge and unforgettable experiences I gleaned from classes, guest speakers and academic (or extracurricular) travel enabled by the program, equally valuable was simply living in a Chinese city, negotiating a society shaped by history, circumstances and values different from my own.

Review Photos

Middlebury Schools Abroad: Middlebury in Kunming Photo Middlebury Schools Abroad: Middlebury in Kunming Photo

Personal Information

How much international exposure did you have prior to this program? 1 month - 6 months

Review Your Program

* Overall educational experience

Academic rigor, intensity, resources, etc.

I was very satisfied with the program academically. Aside from a few nits to pick, the classes were engaging and helpful, with ample opportunity to practice new grammar and vocabulary. I think it could have been more rigorous—perhaps not more vocabulary, as each week would already introduce dozens of new words in each class, but maybe more vocabulary tests to ensure students are learning and retaining the vocabulary. But I did feel challenged by the courses, and I certainly improved immensely over the course of the semester.

* Host Country Program Administration

On-site administration of your program

All of the program staff were consummately professional, helpful and friendly.

* Housing:

How satisfied were you with your living arrangements?

Having Chinese roommates was a really important aspect of the program. Without having our roommates around it would have been much harder to make Chinese friends, and I think the Middlebury program students would have been much more isolated from the rest of the college. I became friends with my roommate and went on several trips with him over the course of the semester, including to visit his family in a city nearby, which was an invaluable experience. I was very satisfied with the Yunnan University Hotel where we stayed.

* Food:

The food was fantastic. I fell in love with Yunnan's cuisine—ever since returning home I've been dying for a 酸辣 (sour-spicy) bowl of 小锅米线 (rice noodle soup with ground pork and pickled vegetables) or some 凉粉 (cold mung bean jelly). The cafeteria at the university was the cheapest option, and had a good range of dishes available at each meal, but I ended up eating at local restaurants most of the time. This was marginally more money—I spent an average of around $6 per day on breakfast, lunch and dinner, while I probably could have averaged less than $5 eating at the cafeteria, but I found the food to be better eating out and I enjoyed visiting different restaurants in the area.

* Social & Cultural Integration:

How integrated did you feel with the local culture?

For the most part, I did not feel like I was closely integrated with the local culture. The semester was more like catching glimpses of culture through a day-to-day which was largely spent by myself or with other students in the program. This was mostly my fault—I could have more proactively sought out opportunities to connect with locals and find a community within the greater university and city, and I know more gregarious and outgoing students on the program who did make more of an effort to engage with people outside of the program. I do think the program could have done more to encourage students to make these efforts—I heard other students complain about how our workload limited our time to make excursions to meet locals and see the city, and I felt the same to a degree. However, but I think one's integration with the local social and cultural scene foremost depends on one's willingness and ability to engage, something that the program in itself can only tangentially influence. In retrospect, I think my personal habits, comfort level with meeting new people, and confidence with the language were the biggest factors in how integrated I felt with the local culture in Yunnan University and Kunming.

* Health Care:

How well were health issues addressed during the program?

I had no health issues while studying with the program.

* Safety:

I did not have any instances when I felt unsafe in Kunming. Traffic is much more hectic than in the US, but that comes with the territory of living in China.

If you could do it all over again would you choose the same program? Yes

I don't think there is a better program out there for what I was aiming to accomplish through studying abroad. That's not to say I don't think I could have had a valuable experience elsewhere, but being located amidst the cultural and linguistic diversity of southwest China set the program apart from the others I considered, all of which took place in cities along the eastern seaboard.

Finances

* Money: How easily were you able to live on a student's budget?

(1 = not very easy/$200+ on food & personal expenses/week, 2.5 = $100/week, 5 = very easily/minimal cost)

I can imagine China is probably one of the cheaper places to study abroad. Three square meals could be had in Kunming for well under $5.

Not including program expenses, about how much money did you spend on food and other expenses each week? $50-60
Do you have any general money-saving tips for future study abroad participants? I have sort of a reverse-money saving tip—eating at the cafeteria saves a bit of money (and is convenient), but it's possible to find better food elsewhere for not much more. If it's worth it to you, I greatly enjoyed diving into the local cuisine in a way that isn't really possible eating in the cafeteria all the time.

Language

* Did your program have a foreign language component? Yes
How much did the program encourage you to use the language?

0 = No encouragement, 5 = frequent encouragement to use the language

The language pledge was essential. I followed it very closely, and I think it made all the difference for my improvement.

How would you rate your language skills at the beginning of the program? Intermediate
How would you rate your language skills at the end of the program? Advanced
What was the highest level language course you had completed prior to departure? I had completed the first semester of third year Chinese.
How many hours per day did you use the language? 10+
Do you have any tips/advice on the best ways to practice the language for future study abroad participants? Talk to people, talk to other people, and then find more people and talk to them too. Because Standard Chinese is so many people's second language there's a very wide array of different accents, so being able to comprehend the spoken language in day-to-day life is all about conversing with the widest array of people you can while you're learning it. Tea shops (either selling tea or teapots and such) are great for this—pretty much any proprietor will be happy to sit you down, pour you a cup of tea and talk to you about whatever, no pressure (okay, very little pressure—you should probably buy something at least the second or third time you go in). Semi-free language practice and an intro to tea all at the same time.

Other Program Information

* Where did you live?

Select all that apply

  • Dorm
* Who did you live with?

Select all that apply

  • Local Students
* Who did you take classes with?

Select all that apply

  • Americans
About how many local friends did you make that you will likely keep in touch with?

A Look Back

* What did you like most about the program?
  • Our Chinese roommates
  • Rigor—language pledge especially
  • Location—Yunnan is an incredible part of the world
* What could be improved?
  • More programming to get students out in the wider campus community
  • Teaching style—more emphasis on using language in conversation on given topics, rather than directly following teacher's prompts
* What do you know now that you wish you knew before going on this program? Having the perspective of having been there and back again, I can think of a hundred little things I wish I could have done differently, opportunities I wish I had followed up on. I can say now I would like to have placed less of an emphasis on academics and spent more time talking to tea shop owners, exploring the college, befriending people.

Reasons For Studying Abroad

To help future students find programs attended by like-minded individuals, please choose the profile that most closely represents you.
The Academic or Linguist
You went abroad with specific academic goals in mind; the program credentials and rigor of your coursework abroad were very important to you. You had a great time abroad, but never lost sight of your studies and (if applicable) were diligent with your foreign language study. Good for you!