While many Pirate students spent their summer at home, Sarah Schoeffel traveled afar to Beijing, China, to experience their language and culture firsthand.
Schoeffel first heard about the opportunity of going to China in Ms. Yi's Chinese I class. "She really encouraged us to sign up," Schoeffel said. Those interested had to submit applications and if they were chosen, they went through an interview process which decided who would go to China. Schoeffel started her journey with a two-day orientation in Washington, D.C, where she and the other students learned about what to expect before she boarded her flight.
When she landed, she was introduced to her host family which consisted of a mother, father, and sister. "My host sister could speak English, but my host parents could not," she said. One night her host parents wanted her to make dinner. "I am a horrible cook," Schoeffel joked "but I was going to cook them Italian food." When she asked for tomato sauce, they handed her two bottles of ketchup instead. "The food ended up tasting great, we used tomatoes and sautéed those."
The language seemed to be a barrier at first, but by the end of her seven-week stay she was able to understand and write it better than before. "Going to China helped (with) learning the language a lot," she said. She lived at a school that housed both Americans, who were learning Chinese, and Chinese students, learning English. She met her best friend, Xiao Yu, in China who was studying English in the school. They painted pictures together and even snuck into a talent show.
There were some aspects of China that took some getting used to like using community showers and squat toilets. When asked about the feeling of the country, Schoeffel said, "They did not have central air conditioning and the weather was like Florida and smoggy."
Another big difference was pollution.
"In China they limit who can drive on what days. My host parents had specific times they had to be off the road so there was not as much pollution. You couldn't see the sky (and) it looked cloudy all the time." Schoeffel said.
China's public transportation is very advanced and has made it easier and cheaper for people to travel to and from work while also cutting back on pollution.
As far as social differences, "Chinese people love karaoke," she recalls with a laugh "but I hate it."
Some aspects of China that stood out to her most were the kindness of the people and the seriousness of school. "They were so friendly in China (and) they really discourage dating in public schools because they want to focus on studying," she said with enthusiasm.
When asked about how China has impacted her and her plans for the future, she said, "I think this experience has changed me, it has allowed me to be more independent. We went to the American embassy one day. I think it would be cool to work for the U.S. government in China."
She has made it her mission to learn Chinese fluently as well as other languages.
"Even though English is the most popular language in the world," she said, "I think it is important for Americans to learn other languages because it shows our respect for other cultures and Chinese is becoming more popular," she said.
"The reason I want to learn Chinese fluently is to be able to communicate with my host family and sister and my friends. It shows I am not an ignorant American and I respect them. It will allow me to thank them properly for all they have done for me." she said.
Even with all the fun and excitement of her trip, Schoeffel was happy to come back to the United States. She missed her family, the food, and the clear blue skies, but she still keeps in touch with her Chinese friends and host family through a social network used in China called QQ.
She has decided that this isn't the end of traveling for her though.
"I want to study abroad in college, maybe in a different country," she said. "I would definitely go back to China if I had the chance." She recommends that everyone take the time to visit China, if they are able to, and she is very grateful for the opportunity she had. "It was an overall great experience; it further opened my eyes to the world around me."