Student Reflections on China: 2015 Study Abroad with APSA & 100K Strong Foundation

Students changed their view about the world and themselves after they came back from the China trip. They started to question more things that they used to take for granted.

By Daphne Zhang, University of Washington Summer CHID Intern

Students changed their view about the world and themselves after they came back from the China trip. They started to question more things that they used to take for granted.

One student said:

“After I came back from China, I started to question everything that I believed was right in America.”

Having been presented with a new perspective, they became more critical in looking at American societal issues like race and stereotypes. One Muslim student pointed out that American society tends to create stereotypes among people to allocate them in different groups. When she was in China, she attracted a lot of glances because of her darker skin tone and headscarf. However, she realized that all the attention she got was benign. They stem from curiosity instead of hatred, contempt, or fear. Because the Muslim population in China is relatively scarce compared with the 95-percent Han Chinese majority, people looked at her as a novelty. But curiosity does not always entail disrespect. Chinese people approached her without past baggage or pre-formed stereotypes.

High school years can be one of the best times for teenagers to embark on study abroad programs and immerse themselves in a new culture. Since their perception of the world has not been settled as adults, they are more receptive to new things, and they definitely have a wider-ranging and more intense curiosity about life and people in new places.

It is surprising to see how open-minded and mature OneWorld Now! students are. They are significantly more accepting and respectful of cultural differences than other high school students—and even college students—who study abroad. During the discussion, no one complained about the supposedly “inconvenient” or “poor” resources for living in another country. No one complained about what one usually hears from American university study abroad students, e.g. “There is no dishwasher or dryer in the student’s dorms,” “There isn’t an abundance of toilet paper in all restrooms,” “The subway map and bus routes are so confusing.” It seems that the students have a well-developed understanding that different cultures and societies do things in different ways. They were willing to be cut off from using most technologies to log onto social media to reconnect to American family and friends, so that they could more fully immerse themselves in a pure Chinese language and living environment.

It is very interesting that they all come back defending China against people who hold negative views about that country. They become more empowered after their own experiences abroad and come back to resist the generally held stereotypes against certain cultures. When they perceive misunderstandings and banal assumptions held against China, they rise up to defend this foreign country and correct some deep rooted views. Thus OneWorld Now! prepares high school students as cultural ambassadors who come back and bridge differences and misconceptions after their own real lived experiences abroad. They can tell people that some countries are not like what is described in the American media. They have a clearer sense that the reality is not what is in the propaganda—reality comes with experience.

Every student cherished their study abroad experience in China immensely. They all want to go back for longer periods without a second thought. Everyone agreed that this experience altered their future life trajectories and set the foundation for their academic and career goals. They expressed strong wish in committing to lifelong learning of new cultures and languages.

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