Intensive Chinese Language Study in Suzhou, China

STEP Reflection Prompts

As you may recall from your STEP signature project proposal, your STEP signature project was designed to foster transformational learning—that is, learning that challenged you personally and helped you gain broader and deeper understandings of yourself, others, and the world around you. Please address the following prompts to help you reflect on your experiences completing your STEP signature project; please give careful and critical thought to your responses.

Name: Jason Conley

Type of Project: Education Abroad

  1. Please provide a brief description of your STEP Signature Project. Write two or three sentences describing the main activities your STEP Signature Project entailed.

This summer I had the privilege to study Chinese language and culture through DEALL’s Intensive Chinese Language Program in Suzhou. Through the course of these two months, I had class everyday in the morning from 8-12 AM and then had the rest of the day to study and practice communication with my designated language partner from Tangshan University. In the evenings after class, we were also expected to work on our survey projects, which gave us the opportunity to interview local people and research regional cultural attitudes and topics. On the weekends, I personally wasted no time trying to travel and see as much of China as I could; these destinations included Hangzhou, Suzhou, Shanghai, and Beijing.

  1. What about your understanding of yourself, your assumptions, or your view of the world changed/transformed while completing your STEP Signature Project? Write one or two paragraphs to describe the change or transformation that took place.

While in China, I actually learned many things about America, but also learned many thing about Chinese culture. There’s too many to chose from, but one for example was Chinese art. My survey project topic was what genre of art best represented Suzhou: it was such a pleasure to learn about a whole different culture’s art history and how the two are intertwined with Chinese culture.  Additionally, having an experience as a foreigner was quite humbling. To meet other foreigners was very interesting and also weird because we were all on the same social level in China, yet we were all from different countries. The combradiery I often fostered with these people was interesting to me because we were so different yet in those moments in which I met fellow foreigners in China we must have felt we were very similar socially. Also, I will never think harshly about anyone from another country so long as I live. Moving abroad/ emigrating is one of the hardest, most exhausting things someone can ever do. I’ve never had to think before about how tiring it is to have to think/ perform in another language, but it is quite the eye-opening challenge.

  1. What events, interactions, relationships, or activities during your STEP Signature Project led to the change/transformation that you discussed in #2, and how did those affect you? Write three or four paragraphs describing the key aspects of your experiences completing your STEP Signature Project that led to this change/transformation.

While I learned many things about Chinese culture, one of the things I was surprised to learn about so much was American culture. By comparison, I noticed a lack of certain institutions I had always assumed to be universal and objective. For example, I personally regard feminism and strong focus on women’s liberation to be a universal good. However, after asking one day some of our female counterparts on their thoughts of feminism in China, we learned that feminism in China, as a movement, is actually a little more complicated. Not all women receive the benefits and equality that a “Western” concept of women’s equality promises. Some women argue that in China, since there is still the presence of such a traditional culture, women now have to work even harder than before, because in the public and professional sphere they are expected to perform at the same level as men, but then, must return home and are expected to then perform the traditional idea of maidenhood.

It was surprising to see ideals I hold as general universal truths questioned, as I am a person of strong conviction. As a whole, I would say I learned that certain institutions of oppression are actually specific to America. For example, the aforementioned lack of synonymous sexism in the People’s Republic, and also a very different view of race and racism. There are certainly aspects of the Chinese people’s view of other races and people different from them that would make the average Westerner cringe, (simply because East Asia is such a racially homogenous region and race is not such a commonly understood thing there) but when discussing police brutality in America with my Chinese language partners, they were shocked to learn such violent, racist, and dystopian structures could exist. Their disdain was refreshing to me: it reminded me the these current institutions of oppression are only possible because of their repetitive violent history in American discourse, therefore, absent in Chinese culture. So it was very interesting to check my Western privilege and knowledge in a way that encouraged me to realize what I had previously assumed was objective, is actually a little more subjective.

  1. Why is this change/transformation significant or valuable for your life? Write one or two paragraphs discussing why this change or development matters and/or relates to your academic, personal, and/or professional goals and future plans.

After a few weeks of getting to know each other, several of my classmates and I soon learned a majority of us identify in the LGBT+ spectrum. We were so enthralled by our newfound friendship and sense of community, we even planned a trip to Shanghai LGBT Pride 2018. During our time in Shanghai, we discussed how strange it was that around 80-85% of our group of students identified as queer and we couldn’t help but ask each other “why?” It was strange that only (an estimated) 4-8% of the American population identifies as LGBT+, yet 10x that number comprised our group of students. I never really answered the question, because at the time I didn’t think there was a good answer, but now that I’ve had an opportunity to reflect, I think I might have a guess. I still can’t speak on behalf of my counterparts, but I think personally I’m drawn to China’s lack of such violent institutions such as sexism, racism, and homophobia. Don’t get me wrong, China still has problems with all of these issues, but I think perhaps all people who have to look over their shoulder when walking down the street just for being themselves have a natural sense of these things. And now that I’ve had this truly radicalizing experience, I must say I think America’s handling of these oppressive institutions is repugnant. Now that I have lived in China for a period of time, I can say that I feel much more comfortable living there, and can much more clearly now see myself becoming a Chinese citizen and working in the People’s Republic.