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Notes from Abroad: Emily Hartley ’12


Chinese Major
Studying abroad in China, mostly Tianjin and Shanghai

Living situation: In the foreign student dormitories.

Favorite food: Tomato and egg noodle soup or baozi (a meat- or veggie-filled, steamed bun).

Favorite class: Traditional Chinese painting, but we’re starting Chinese cooking next week, so that might change.

Advice: If you’re going for the language experience, a host family or local friends are invaluable for conversational skills and random vocab, plus learning little cultural differences.

Have you had any moments in which you felt especially “American?”

A better question in China might be, “Have you ever felt like you weren’t American?” And being tall and blonde, the answer to that would be “no.”

But a few moments stand out more than others, one of which involved foreigner-crazy photographers and 10 Carls dressed in traditional Scottish attire at a tourism parade in Tianjin. Being a sure source of white males, our program was asked by the Tianjin tourism organization to provide students to sport kilts and musical instruments for their tourism festival parade. When we got there, the “Scotsmen” were obviously a spectacle, but so were the rest of us. Waiting for the parade to start, there was always a camera somewhere focused on us waiguoren, something that’s been common throughout our experience.

The funnier part came later, though, after the boys (introduced as real Scotsmen) had marched their fake instruments through the parade.  Instead of the tourism representative leading the rest of us to our bus to return to our university, she took us to an open vehicle, which then also took us through the parade.  The red carpet emcees introduced us to the crowd and the Tianjin city officials as waiguo pengyou (foreign friends), apparently a big enough attraction to ride through with no costumes or candy in tow.

That whole day passed with smiles on all of our faces and the words, “Did that just happen?” coming from a lot of our mouths, but getting attention hasn’t always been that much fun.

During our week of travel, five of us went to Jianxi province in southern China, where one man told us he’d never seen a white person before.  At the train station, we were constantly the main attraction for crowds of staring eyes. It can be fun when locals comment on the waiguoren and are excited to hear us jokingly respond in Chinese, but by the time we arrived in Shanghai earlier this week, we were ready for a more international city. Being an obvious “foreigner” is like nothing most of us have ever experienced, and I think it’s changed a lot about the way I view myself and life in the U.S.

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