By Ann “Sparky” Riddle ’16
Photo by Ann “Sparky” Riddle ’16 and includes art students in China with Hiram students Samantha Fox ’17 (sixth from left) and Delaney Stryczek ’18 (second from left)
The best way to learn is through experience. I subscribe to that teaching method, especially when it comes to exploring other cultures. What better way could there be to learn about another country than to visit the land and witness firsthand the beliefs, customs, and everyday practices? For my last class at Hiram College, I was fortunate to be able to travel to The People’s Republic of China. During my time at Hiram, I participated in three study abroad programs, but the first full day in China resulted in the biggest culture shock I have experienced so far in my life. The class visited Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City, and while we were in the later, I witnessed—to my discomfort—how close the Chinese come to each other. People were bumping into me and pushing past to get a better view of the various displays. As I politely stood still waiting for my turn to get close to take a picture at one building, someone would seem to appear like magic to cut into whatever open spot appeared. Later Professors Gail Ambuske and Xinlu Yu explained that in a country comprised of over a billion people, if everyone waited their turn, they would be waiting forever.
Upon further reflection, I realized that while in America we might not come as close to each other as often, given certain circumstances, we will push each other as well. I was annoyed that people were cutting and not standing in line. But that behavior is the norm for the Chinese, just like how we automatically say, “Bless you” after someone sneezes. Each study abroad trip has helped me come to that realization, but this trip helped me see it even more. People often make assumptions too quickly without further thought, but it is invaluable to keep an open mind—almost a necessity when interacting with others.
What I appreciated most from this trip was learning how kind, gracious, and loving the Chinese people can be. Two situations pointed that out the most to me: our stays with our host families and our time spent with college students from an art school in Hangzhou. The time I spent with both groups is something I will always remember and cherish. My host sister’s name is YueChun, and she took care of me for almost two days straight. Yuechun made sure I was happy and having fun, putting my wants above hers. Sometimes the differences in cultures produced hilarious situations. A few times we would go around in circles trying to figure out what activity to do next. She would ask me what I wanted to do, and as to not be a rude guest, I would ask her what she wanted to do. On and on it would go until one of us gave in, usually me. Even after only two days, we became friends from countries across the world.
Often we see the Chinese as economic competitors. We do not often tend to think about the people themselves. The college students helped solidify in my mind even further how important it is to not make assumptions about others. Even though they knew us for only a few hours, two of my fellow classmates came back to the hotel with no less than six girls a piece all with linked arms, laughing while they walked down the street. Their acceptance and love for us surprised me. When we had to leave Hangzhou for Shanghai, two of the students actually cried. And even though I had known them for only a week, I cried too; I know a few of my classmates did as well. Our fast connections between cultures were amazing, and hopefully lifelong.
Before, if I saw a person from China push through a line in the United States, I would have thought they were being rude. Now I know why they would do so, and I would not become annoyed because I hold a better understanding of their culture. This trip helped change and reinforce my viewpoints, and I know it impacted my fellow classmates as well. One of my friends from the trip is actually trying to find a way to live in China because of this wonderful experience. Study abroad trips educate, but they change lives as well.