One of the special parts of studying abroad is interacting and speaking with locals. Sometimes locals will come up to you because they wanted to practice English for a little while; it has happened to us in a mosque in Xi’an, an art museum in Beijing, a park in Shaoxing and both a cafeteria and the subway in Shanghai. Other times they just want to take a picture together or quickly say hello. More times than not, they’ll ask to exchange WeChat (a popular instant messaging app similar to LINE or Facebook Messenger) to continue chatting later on. Whatever the situation, I’ve always enjoyed interacting with locals and embarassing myself while I practice speaking Mandarin with them. It is easy to surround yourself with only fellow study-abroad students and neglect making any local friends, especially when you get caught up in schoolwork. But I’ve discovered a way to possibly do both: study in public places! My roommate says Chinese people are really curious about how and what foreigners study Chinese; I would be curious about how they study English! The first time I noticebly studied outside of my classroom/dorm area was on the plane coming back from Xi’an. While my friend and I were finishing up our weekly essays, the local people around us were trying to see what we were studying and read what we were writing. Even the flight attendants were curious and offered to help clarify anything! I was embarrassed for them to read my simple sentences, but it was fun talking to them. Another time I was at a small coffee shop, reading through a lesson when a Chinese local sat down across from me and eventually said hello; we ended up talking for about 25 minutes in Chinese. Today I went to a popular cafeteria for lunch and brought some pen and paper to practice characters with since there’s a midterm in a few days. When I was almost done eating, a man from the table across the way got up and greeted me. He had been eating with his two female friends, who immediately came over and introduced themselves after the man did so. They had to leave fairly quickly, but we exchanged WeChat information and chatted for a little bit later that afternoon.

My advice is to explore ways to simultaneously study and experience your host country. Everyone studies a little differently and studies better in different environments, so I understand if someone would rather sit at a quiet desk. But I’d encourage them to try doing simple homework that doesn’t take as much concentration in a public place and see what it brings. You should make sure to study thoroughly and completely, but I don’t think someone should let studying be a reason you never leave your desk. It took me a while to learn that, and I still have to remind myself. I’ve certainly enjoyed what’s come of it!

Mandarin phrases:

我很高兴认识你!  wo3 hen3 gāoxìng rènshi ni3!                                                                                        It’s very nice to meet you!

哪里哪里!  na3li3na3li3!   You’re too kind/You flatter me!

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