That time I spoke useful Chinese for two continuous hours to an audience of 30 … no, wait, I mean 5,000.
Four weeks into my summer classes in Beijing, my teacher came to me with an intriguing opportunity: a Beijing-based study abroad company wanted to host an information session for Chinese students intending on applying to American universities, and they hoped the participation of several current American college students would make this session particularly special.
Three weeks later I found myself using Chinese to discuss the SAT, ACT, Common App, my high school and college experiences, and even American dating culture with two other American students in front of a crowd of roughly thirty Chinese students and parents—or so I thought. In fact, the entire discussion had been live streamed to an audience of over 5,000 people!
In my opinion, this experience was the perfect culmination of a summer abroad in Beijing: It forced me to use my new Chinese skills to talk about practical matters with local people; it helped me understand the Chinese attitude towards education, and particularly the pressures placed on high school students; lastly, it gave me new insight into the difficulties many foreigners face when applying to American universities, which I hope will let me better connect with international students upon returning to Duke.
More than learning a new language, observing a different culture, meeting new friends, or traveling to famous sites, completely unexpected experiences like the one I had are arguably the best aspect of studying abroad. I won’t recall every lesson I learned or every place I visited; however, I will certainly cherish the sense of accomplishment after speaking useful Chinese for two continuous hours, remember the shock at discovering that thousands had watched me, and ultimately continue to be excited by the prospect of returning to China to study, work, and find new ways to live life to its greatest potential.
Samuel Slack '19