Alvin Ong, BA History 2018, just returned from the China: Past and Present program in Kaifeng, China. The program comprised of a mix of domestic and international student participants, many of whom are Chinese nationals.
How did study abroad change your perspective of the world and yourself?
My study abroad reinforced a growing view I had of China's rapid changes in the past few decades. A country that is seemingly advanced and "modern" yet at the same time subtly melded with aspects we may find "traditional". Whether that be in the form of architecture, antiquities, rural farmsteads or even customs. It's common for us to see a dividing line between "modernity" and the "traditional" but from what I've seen in China, that line is blurred and perhaps that's how it should be because these categories will be subject to change heading into the future as countries further develop themselves. And as for changing attitudes toward myself, well it definitely made me feel a lot more confident about being able to live independently without my parents. This was the first time I've been overseas without family to help me.
How did studying abroad positively affect your personal, professional, or academic life?
I feel much more confident about myself as a person now. Going on a study abroad forces you into a situation where you can't depend on family to provide every single thing for you. Your classmates aren't going to do everything for you either. You have to be resourceful in order to get around and talk to the locals. This study abroad has also made me realize what I need to do before heading into grad school after UWT. As a History major I was never sure as to what I could do after UWT for a year before grad. Outside of research under a teacher, I was out of ideas. But thankfully, one of the professors on the study abroad suggested that I could teach English in China for a year as an option. This would allow me to immerse myself in the country of my historical specialization and also serve as practice for my Mandarin since for my last year at UWT I will be taking consecutive Mandarin classes. From where I'm standing after the study abroad, the future seems bright and the path to it is one I can follow.
How did you fund your study abroad experience?
Funding for my study abroad was basically a mix of loans, a scholarship, and money out of my own pocket. Alvin was also awarded the OGA Study Abroad Scholarship and you can read more about him on our Student Spolights page.
Describe the food! What did you survive on?
Thankfully we had some pretty hospitable Chinese students that took us out for many dinners and outings into the city. A consistent theme throughout all the food we ate in restaurants or in the mall was that they had some kind of spice inside them. Even Chinese Pizza Hut had spice in their pizzas! Aside from the spice, the most memorable foods we ate were BBQ. Things like chicken, rabbit, beef, and more specific components such as heart, liver, and kidney. Sometimes we also ate street food which ranged from scorpions and beetles to stinky tofu and fried yogurt. After a week of at least eating at least one cup of instant noodles a day, I forced myself to stop, but funnily enough, the instant noodles weren't the worst thing I ate during my study abroad. The worst foods we ate were usually at these "tourist stop restaurants", restaurants whose sole means of income came from tour groups. During our excursions outside of Kaifeng, we went with a tour guide who picked these locations to eat. They kept serving up the same foods over and over again and we just got sick of it. At the institute we dormed at, I mainly went for the soy drinks and flatbread they had.
What do you miss most about your study abroad program or location?
It's hard to say since there are so many things I miss about China, especially the historical sites. However I'd say I especially miss the Chinese international students because of how crucial they were to our study abroad experience. They helped the group out a lot, serving as translators and part-time tour guides. Their hospitality and the fun they brought to the class was much needed.