Episode Description: Summer’s over and we are officially back! Sophia, David and Hannah (along with special guests Carl Morison and Jakob Lazzaro) talk about studying abroad in Asia in the latest episode of Second GenerAsian!
Sophia Lo: Hi and welcome back to...
All: Second GenerAsian.
Sophia: I'm Sophia.
David Deloso: I'm David.
Hannah Julie Yoon: And I'm Hannah.
David: And for those of you who are new, this is our podcast where we talk about our Asian American identity...
Hannah: And also generally what it's like to be an Asian-American Northwestern student.
Sophia: So today, since this is our first episode back from the summer, we're going to talk about what we did over the summer, more specifically study abroad programs.
David: So for this summer, I studied abroad in Beijing, China through a Northwestern program. I was studying poli-sci and Chinese language. And it was one of the best two months of my life. So many awesome memories, I met so many cool people and it really made me interested about what other people's experiences have been like studying abroad, specifically in Asian countries.
Hannah: So we thought we'd gather some of our friends who have also studied abroad in Asian countries and have them talk to us about what it was like.
Sophia: So, David first question: Why China?
David: So I've been taking Chinese since my freshman year of high school and I've always just been really interested in the culture. And yeah, I just wanted to practice my Chinese, which I had mixed results with, but that's why I picked China.
Sophia: And what's your favorite memory from studying abroad?
David: The one-week break when we all went to Shanghai, or at least my friend group did, and it was great because we didn't have classes that week and we just kind of got to explore one of the coolest cities any of us had ever been in, and just really bond. We all stayed in an Airbnb and we had some amazing food. Shanghai has xiao long bao which are soup dumplings. They're very hard to find in the Midwest. I finally got to have some good ones, and it was honestly a life-changing experience because now all I can think about is when I'm going to have xiao long bao again, and it's probably going to be a while, but that was just a great time.
I think my biggest takeaway was just the fact that being in a country that you're not really familiar with, with other people who are also not that familiar with it is just a very amazing bonding experience. You really gotta stick together. And I mean, I was seeing the same eight or nine people every single day for two months, and by the end we were all so close and I still keep up with them now that we're back on campus. And I don't think that really matters what country you go to. Just being in another country with people is just a really great time. So yeah, I would definitely recommend this program or any study abroad program to Northwestern students or any students who are interested in doing something that's very different from being on campus and like doing the same like, you know, kind of daily grind stuff that you really get used to in college.
It was very, very different from my college experience, even though we were taking classes still. And yeah, it was just a great way to spend the summer especially since it was the summer after my freshman year, and I didn't have to worry about getting an internship or anything. Yeah. I really loved it.
Hannah: If you had to summarize your study abroad experience in one sentence in Chinese, what would it be?
David: 我的中文不太好 所以别的人都不会听懂我说的话. So basically that sentence was like, "Chinese people really didn't understand me". You know, no one really did. Luckily, there were a couple fluent Chinese speakers in my friend group who got me through the experience. Shoutout Allison, shoutout Ginny. I realized my Chinese that I learned in school was really not where I wanted to be. But yeah still great experience. I mean, a lot of my friends had never taken Chinese in their life and they survived, so you'd probably survive.
Sophia: Keyword "probably."
David: Right. Our first guest is Carl Morison, a friend of mine who I met in China. You might hear some of the same stories that I told, but we really appreciate him coming in and giving his perspective on the program, I think he has some really great thoughts and insights to share. Here's Carl.
Carl Morison: I'm Carl Morison. I went to China this summer on NU in China program at Peking University, and I have four or five years of Chinese language experience. I knew I wanted to study abroad in college, and I thought China would be a really interesting place to go because of my past experience with the language and just sort of its global rise right now. And not that many American kids have a chance to go to China and this program looked really cool too, looking at China from a political lens as well as learning about language and culture and everything. It was just really, it seemed like a really cool program at the right time for me.
I think going to Shanghai was probably the coolest thing we did in China, riding the bullet train. It's one of the fastest trains in the world. Really everything about that city is amazing. Everything there is so modern. We went to a rooftop bar on the 60th floor of the Ritz Carlton Hotel there, and seeing Western elements, but also mixed in with Chinese elements and like the confluence that they're all a high-tech city and everything. It was super cool. I think Shanghai was probably my favorite experience in China.
One thing I was amazed about in China was how incredibly cheap food was, you know things that would run for a couple dollars in the U.S., you could buy for the equivalent of about 30 cents in the U.S. Honestly, the little popsicles and things you get there, amazing. I've never tasted anything like that, but also the dining hall food was incredibly good compared to American dining halls. The whole spectrum, everything from fancy Peking Duck to zha jiang mian, famous Beijing food and everything, a few significant restaurants in Shanghai, and everything all the way down to cheap dining hall food and street snacks. All of it was really cool and a lot cheaper than I ever expected.
A few notes about China: from the start, one of the things I noticed right when I got off the plane is the concept of personal space is so much different than in the U.S. I got off the plane, people started, people just bump into you, they don't say sorry. There's not like a concept of like, "Oh, you can't cut me off as I'm walking, you can't…" you know, and that's just their culture. It's interesting. Public space truly is public space. You can brush into people, or whatever. There's you don't get your little personal bubble there. I thought that was very surprising. Another thing I was surprised at was the general lack of privacy in China. You know, in the Chinese language, until very recently there wasn't a word for privacy. It's not a concept that's very common there, and like I think as an American and someone who didn't really have that much experience with real Chinese culture before, those were incredibly surprising.
Another thing I'll mention about the trip too was that I was amazed at how frank our professors were with us. You know, you expect, you go to China, even one of our professors was a party member. And teaching us about the politics and economy of China, he's a member of the Chinese Communist party, but he's still going up there in front of us and saying "If it's a People's Republic, that means they don't care about the people," you know, that was that was very surprising to me and I felt like I was surprised at how balanced the program was in terms of saying, "Here are some of the ways that China has grown, here are some of the negative aspects and people who get left behind in their system and everything." It was a really powerful comparison in those classes. I had an incredible time there.
You know, kids who go there through Northwestern, really cool. Everyone is super personable, made some very close friends obviously. I never would have thought when I went to China that I have friends close enough to go and take a bullet train and live an Airbnb with them for six days and love every moment, never get tired of them. It may have been, honestly probably was my favorite quarter I've had at Northwestern, over the summer in Beijing so, nothing but good things to say about it. 去中国旅游很有意思.
David: And for the non Chinese speakers here that would mean “traveling in China was very interesting.” Thanks to Carl for his stories. Our next guest is a friend of this podcast who’s been helping us since day one: Jakob Lazzaro.
Jakob Lazzaro: I'm Jakob Lazzaro. I'm a senior here at Northwestern University and Medill studying journalism, obviously. And I'm also the executive editor of North by Northwestern. So I studied at the University of Hong Kong, which is, as the name would imply, in Hong Kong, and I honestly had a super lit time. The whole reason I ended up there was kind of a bit of a weird game of process of elimination, but in the end it worked out quite well for me.
See the back story is, you know, growing up, for several years I lived in Sydney Australia with my family because my dad was doing some research there, and so that really played into my study abroad choices because I said, okay, I don't want to go back to Australia because you know, that would not be a new experience or whatever. I don't really want to go to Europe because, you know, it's different but it's relatively similar to you know, like the U.S. or Australia in terms of just how everything is, so I said, "I've never really been to Asia. I would love to go to Asia, live in Asia for a bit. That'd be really cool."
The problem, me being a fool, was that I only speak English and some Spanish, and as you can probably guess those university educations in Asia that are in English and/or Spanish are basically very limited. So through the Northwestern program, my options were the University of Hong Kong and a few others in Hong Kong, but I wanted to go to HKU because I'm a history double major, or National University of Singapore, which is in Singapore. And you know, I have heard online from people that Singapore is kind of boring. It's basically if a mall was a city. And I was like, well that doesn't sound very fun. Hong Kong sounded a lot more interesting as a place to live.
So I said I want to go to HKU exchange, so I did. I took four history classes because I'm a history double major. I wanted to rack up a bunch of credits for my double major, you know. My concentration in that double major is incidentally Asia slash Middle Eastern history. So that was also very helpful to do that in Asia. Taking these four history classes. They're all very great. Man, I wrote like, I don't know, 12 papers. So I wrote like a paper every week basically, but I did that also on purpose because HKU's calendar meant that the classes ended on November 30th, but I wasn't going back to the U.S. until January 2nd. So I had a whole month off basically to just kind of travel a bit. So I did do that. It was awesome, you know, and they're just being there. I was also able to travel outside of Hong Kong, to Japan, Korea, Thailand and Cambodia, so that was great. But in terms of Hong Kong itself, I really enjoyed living there as a student who lived in university housing and did not have to pay Hong Kong rent, or deal with Hong Kong/more broadly Asian work cultures, but living there as a student was honestly really great and I really enjoyed it.
I'd say my overall favorite memory was just kind of existing in Hong Kong. I don't know exactly know how to describe it, but being on exchange, taking classes, you know, four days a week, I wasn't working, right, because you can't do that. So I had a lot more free time than I usually do.
I just basically did a lot of walking, you know. I would put on some music, put on some podcasts, and I would just walk around the city. I would take buses, because you can sit up on the upper level of the bus in the front, you get a great view of where you’re just going along, you know, I would take the MTR to like a random place, just like walk around there.
You know, I just kind of soaked in the atmosphere just wandering around and there's a few albums that I listen to, I'm like, "Wow. This reminds me of when I was living in Hong Kong at the time." So I'd say that was my fault favorite general memory.
Sophia: So I know you said you don't know any Cantonese, but if you have to summarize your study abroad experience in the language, what would you say in one sentence?
Jakob: 請勿靠近車門. Which is very bad. As I already stated, you know, I don't speak Cantonese, which is bad or whatever, but I'd say that sentence encapsulated my study abroad experience the most because I took the MTR quite a lot. That's the announcement, one of the announcements for like, "please stand clear of the doors" or something like that, that they play at every single station, you know, and so that sentence in Cantonese — my horribly mispronounced, somewhat misremembering Cantonese — I'd say encapsulates my study abroad experience.
Hannah: So for this episode instead of a snack of the day, we're going to do a special snack of the study abroad program! We're going to ask all our interviewees what their favorite snack was from their study abroad experience. So starting with David.
David: Yeah, so in the dining Halls at Peking University, they have these things which, I still have no idea if they actually have a Chinese name, but they're basically like, they're fried dumplings but they're encased in an omelette.
Carl: They had little that little omelettes with dumplings in the middle.
David: And it was so good because it was really cheap. It was like less than a dollar for a plate of them. And literally we would have those every single day.
Carl: And like, I don't think that's real Chinese food.
David: We just called them egg dumplings, which is, I don't think an accurate name, but we don't know what they were called.
Carl: But like it was incredibly good this little omelette with like the eggs and like dumplings in the middle and stuff. So good. Loved it.
David: Fried dumplings fried eggs. It's good stuff.
Jakob: There's just one place in Wan Chai. It's called Joy Hing Roast Meat and they do a lot of roasted meats, but I would go there and just get the char siu. That meal was amazing. It was like 30 Hong Kong dollars. It's about like four or five U.S. dollars, which is pretty cheap, and they gave you this like godly char siu just like, you know was pork with just this like beautiful skin and rice and they had this great like in-house sauce. I don't even know what was in it. And that was probably my favorite meal because it was just so perfect, especially because I found that place through like people saying it was good online, and you know in person or whatever about two months after I'd already been living in Hong Kong and I'd had char siu at like three other places, and each time I thought, "What am I missing here?" And then I went to that place and I was like, "Oh this is what it's supposed to taste like."
Sophia: Thank you so much for listening, and thank you to everyone who shared their study abroad experiences! Again, I'm Sophia.
David: I'm David.
Hannah: And I'm Hannah.
David: Our theme music was composed by Tenny Tsang. This is NBN Audio.
Hannah: Signing out!
Sophia: Please keep that in there.