Students marvel at a land of contrasts,
culture in China
By Laurel Willoughby, Editor
The students found most Chinese people -- such as these Tibetan women -- friendly, helpful and very eager to practice their English skills.
Four Lutes spent most of spring semester 1999 studying in Chengdu, China. When NATO accidentally bombed the Chinese embassy in Kosovo two weeks before the PLU group's expected return date, social unrest in China made returning seem like the safest choice for the students (although all agreed they were not in physical danger). Before the group left, however, they had plenty of time to soak up Chinese culture and marvel at some of the stark differences in comparison with American life.
When chicken is on the menu for dinner, most of us first see the main course plucked, cleaned and sectioned, covered in plastic wrap on a Styrofoam tray at Safeway. Not so for Paula Veseth '01, studying in China last spring.
"The vendor just picked up a chicken that was walking around and slit its throat right there," Veseth said. Cultural differences such as this "sometimes came off as coarse or insensitive, but to me it was just real."
On a whole different level, students also saw a contrast in concepts: the way the Chinese thought of time, and their sense of family and values.
"People were calm - they never appeared to be in a hurry even though they had things to do," Katherine Maloney '00 remarked. "I remember looking out on this mass of bicycles, people going everywhere, and it was like a sea of tranquility.
Katherine Maloney '00 and Paula Veseth '01 pause for a photo-op by the stall of one of their favorite vendors -- a woman who sold "jiao-zi" (dumplings).
"They also seemed happy and content with their families, whereas we in the States tend to gravitate to cars and TVs," she continued.
While many aspects of Chinese and American culture were quite dissimilar, students found an enduring, common interest in at least one area: friendly people excited at the opportunity to improve their language skills.
"We did some traveling during the semester, and at one point spent 22 hours on a train. I remember thinking, 'Here's a great chance to practice my Chinese!'" said Becky Farrell '01. "The people were so friendly and very helpful, but they wanted to practice their English -- while we wanted to speak more Chinese."