Study Abroad In Suzhou, China

Name: Matthew McKelvey

Type of Project: Education Abroad

For my STEP Signature Project, I studied abroad in Suzhou, China for 7 weeks. While studying the Chinese language at Suzhou University, I was able to complete 6 credits (2 semesters worth of classes) at Ohio State needed to complete the Chinese major.

Going into China, I thought I knew what to expect. I thought I would be able to immerse without obstacles. I had never been more wrong. The first two weeks of classes for this intensive language program combined with the culture shock weighed heavy on me. 4 hours of classes a day, all 4 hours spoken in Mandarin Chinese, followed by 3-5 hours of homework plus various research projects was not my original perception of an ideal study abroad program. However, through the adversity faced early on, I learned a lot about myself that is only beneficial for my development moving forward. I learned that I can be tested, in different respects, to a far greater extent than I had previously imagined. For instance, my arrival flight was supposed to land in Shanghai, just in time to catch the charter bus for the 2 hour trip to Suzhou. However, due to inclement weather, the plane had to be rerouted to Beijing and I was already faced with my first obstacle. Within the 24 hours to follow, I had to use my limited, at the time, Chinese speaking capabilities, communicating with the hotel concierge desk, taxi drivers, and railway station employees, to get myself to Suzhou. However, after a couple of weeks, I started to adapt, adjusting to the Chinese culture.

Looking back on my time in China, compared to America, it was as different of a culture as I could have imagined. It is hard to pinpoint a specific, overarching difference within daily life between the two cultures; however, there are many aspects within the culture that caught my attention. The mail delivery system was suspect looking, the produce sellers on the streets were very abundant, the myriad of family owned restaurant/apartment complexes were always amazing, yet different experiences, the traffic/road system was incredibly hectic, etc. etc. All these aspects very different from that of America.  On top of all of those cultural aspects, a lot of Chinese people would take pictures of my classmates and me, and ask to be in pictures with us. It was a very eye-opening experience being treated as a local celebrity.

Through the people I met, my view of the world and its differing cultures and people changed. I originally imagined China to be a lot more similar to America in terms of every-day life. For instance, not many people drive cars, as obtaining a license plate, something Americans often take for granted, is very difficult in China.  However, through this program, my view on diversity and way of life has changed. While studying, we, Ohio State students, were paired with students from a university in Northern China to guide us during our studies. Through my conversations with my two language partners, Liu Xin and Li Siyou,  and the experiences we had exploring a city, Suzhou, both foreign to us, I was able to gain insight into how different yet, at the same time, similar our lives are. It is not that I have become more knowledgeable about the diversity of people around the world; rather, I have become more open-minded about the varying societal structures. Although many day to day aspects of Chinese society, transportation, etiquette, etc, are very different to that of which I am accustomed to, the particular society fits the culture of the people.

Through my first-hand experience of living within a different culture and furthering my understanding of diversity and the many facets it plays a role in within a particular society, especially one foreign to me, is very important to my career moving forward. Due to the fact that I am a double major in finance and Chinese, my goal is to one day be able to represent a company on the international scale. In order to successfully and smoothly work abroad, I have to be knowledgeable about many various cultural aspects, regarding both everyday life (i.e. transportation) and professional life (i.e. proper business etiquette). Through this program, I was not only able to complete my tangible goal of obtaining the credits for the courses, and improving my Chinese abilities, but I was also able to open my eyes and learn to accept and adjust to the cultural differences. This experience has truly been life changing, it was more than just an experience, and it is in part thanks to STEP.