"Thank You China!" A Bahamas Girl’s Experience in ChinaIssue date：2021-07-14
This is the story of Alicia, a girl from Bahamas who came to China to study at UWC Changshu China during 2017-2019. She posted the following on her moment just before she left China on 30th May 2019.
As I sit in my dorm in freezing Minnesota racking my brain about how to start writing this short piece, I remain dumbfounded by the fact that I even got the opportunity to spend the best two years of my life at UWC in China. I will never forget the day I arrived in front of the “infamous” Starbucks in PVG Terminal 2 and met some of my peers for the first time. Those bright and energetic students I was too nervous to talk to would change my life for the better with each day we spent in Changshu.
I wouldn’t say that my two years at UWC shaped me into an entirely new person, however, I’d definitely say that I left UWC Changshu China as an Alicia 2.0. I’ve become more honest, more curious, more trusting of people and new friendship, more disciplined, amongst other things. All of these factors have combined to make Alicia 2.0 an upgraded version of myself, who has benefited tremendously from the rigorous environment which is an inevitable result of living with students from over 100 different countries, combined with the intense IB program and the excitement of just existing within the walls of a UWC, let alone in China.
Lion dance team group photo (Alicia, first on the right, back row)
Memorable Moments on Campus
As I reflect on my time at UWC I realise that many of the small things that I took for granted mean the most to me now. The activities in my ESS class that allowed me and my peers to debate our different environmental values and thoughts on the climate crisis, the laughter-filled discussions in Chinese class about beauty standards, and the discussions in my Geography class which shed light on the realities in countries which I never would have thought much about otherwise, are just a small sample of the daily life I enjoyed at UWC Changshu China.
With my two closest friends on UWC Day
The rigorous IB program prepared me for the liberal arts education I am currently undertaking far more than I could have expected. Although writing my EE was probably the most stressful part of my two years, it prepared me to write lengthy college papers and set my writing standard much higher than my peers here who did not do the IB. Being exposed to higher level academic writing by doing research for Internal Assessments also prepared me to be able to read 30+ page articles the night before class here at Carleton. Most importantly, even though the IB’s demanding workload seems like a nightmare while drowning in it, being able to manage that prepared me extremely well for the numerous assignments, readings, and tests here at an academically demanding college. In short, I’ve come to appreciate the IB a great deal.
My Zhi Xing activities at UWC also helped shape me into a more well-rounded person. My favourite activity was the lion dance team. I went into this activity very scared and intimidated by the fact that I was one of two non-Chinese students in the Zhi Xing. I left, however, more knowledgeable of this aspect of Chinese culture, with more friends, and with a great new skill that I could share with others. Being able to perform with my teammates and take on this challenge of dancing around in a heavy lion suit a few times a week was one of the highlights of my second year.
Performing lion dance at Chinese Cultural Evening（Alicia，2nd form right，back row）
I also played on the football and volleyball teams, which helped me form bonds with my peers and also strengthened my school pride. Especially with volleyball when we won the championship! I’ll never forget some of the memories at volleyball games when we were too excited to play with focus but somehow also too nervous to joke around too much. Oh, so many emotions.
My amazing Chinese Class (Feng Laoshi, 2nd row, right)
Learning Chinese at UWC was the best decision I could have made for myself. I was lucky to be taught by Feng Laoshi, who holds a very special place in my heart. We always did so many different activities in class, which allowed us to engage in the language in different ways. We learned how to master casual conversations, so that we could communicate well with locals. But we also learned how to master the art of writing IB Mandarin AB Initio essays, and how to secure a 7 on the written assignment. The environment in the class was also very supportive and comfortable. I’m still shocked as to how much content we managed to cover in our class. Perhaps it is simply from living in China, but I owe so much of it to Feng Laoshi and her determination to help us succeed in becoming proficient in Chinese.
I especially enjoyed walking into the Canteen every day and smiling and chatting with the Āyís (custodial staff in the canteen and around school). They were, without a doubt, some of the people that made my UWC experience unique. I’ll take this time to shout out the ladies that not only made sure to give me extra French fries, but also helped me to understand a bit more about Chinese culture, always indulged in my random conversation, and helped me to take my brand new Chinese skills to a useful level. The memories that I made on our little island will always be in my heart. Notable mentions include impromptu midnight birthday parties on the playground, dinners beside the lake with my best friends, and naps in the grass circle.
With my favourite Āyí (Alicia, right)
Wonderful Moments off Campus
Another notable experience I had in China was that of living with a host family for two weeks in Suzhou during the summer holiday. After one year of IB Mandarin AB Initio, I knew that my Chinese skills were good enough for me to converse but came to realise quickly that I had a long way to go. Being with a host family however, taught me useful skills in casual Chinese conversations, how to express myself better, how to share about my culture with people who didn’t speak English but so desperately wanted to know, and how to tell jokes and understand Chinese humour better. Living with Chinese people not only helped me understand complex Chinese culture a bit more, but also helped me navigate life in China outside of the UWC bubble, and I am so grateful to my host family for this experience but also to Feng Laoshi for helping me find the best host family I could have asked for.
Both of my Project Week experiences were some of the best memories of my life. In my first year, we went to Hainan to teach in a Siyuan school. This was a tremendously eye-opening experience. It was very strange to be treated like a celebrity by those students. It was also very strange to plan physical education lessons for young girls who had no desire to move their bodies under the scorching Hainan sun. Going to the Siyuan school exposed me to the very different culture in the Chinese education system which I had absolutely no knowledge about before. My most notable memories are without a doubt waking up early to run around the basketball court with all of the students, followed by watching the students line up in rows to do mandatory exercise during their lunch break. Hainan was also one of the most beautiful places in China I went to, and I am so grateful for the opportunity to visit the island.
For my second year Project Week, a very small group of us went to a tiny village near Hefei, Anhui to help out on a small organic farm. This was perhaps the most eye-opening experience of my two years. One notable experience was a conversation I had with one of the farmers, who took us on a little walk away from the farm to pick some cabbage, but later came to tell me that she took us away from the farm so that she could get a break that her boss would not normally allow. She was almost 70 years old, and worked almost every day of the year in order to support her grandson to go to primary school. This opened my eyes to the reality of life in rural villages in China, and really made me appreciate the privileged life I had at UWC, with my three meals a day in the canteen and watching so much of it go to waste.
My move to China exposed me to the most different environment I could have possibly been thrown into at the age of seventeen. My hometown of Nassau, The Bahamas lacks a properly functioning public transport system, and I could never imagine ordering food on my phone and having it delivered to my doorstop in under twenty minutes. Meanwhile, in China, the bus actually follows a proper route and eating fried chicken and French fries at midnight is not beyond the scope of reality - a miracle indeed!
The daily transformation of “the village” after 5:30 p.m. to cater to the locals as well as us hungry students still amazes me. Not to mention the dedication of those who cooked our noodles and fried rice every day, without fail, and always did so with a smile.
On the train to Guilin
One of my favourite things about living in China was the friendliness of the people. I recall strangers on the street shocked at the site of 外国人 (foreigners) stopping my friends and I in the city to engage in conversation, usually starting with “你是美国人吗?” (“Are you American?”) I also love to tell the story of my Golden Week adventure in rural Guilin.
To sum it up, after our rental scooter ran out of battery, a lovely local lady (who spoke no English, which forced me to speak Chinese) who I somehow convinced of my unfortunate situation, helped my friend and I by lending us her scooter charger, wifi, water, and a place to sit down and relax until our hostel came to the rescue. The kindness and openness of Chinese people that I met all around the country taught me that differences in national identity should not be viewed as a barrier to new relationships and compassion. Experiences such as these have helped me to shape my own values and to see the world through truly open eyes.
Golden week in Guilin
UWC is always on my mind
I’ve continued studying Chinese here at Carleton College, and ever since I started learning the language at CSC I’ve been increasingly aware of the opportunities being able to communicate with 1/5th of the world affords me. I will always be proud to represent UWC and to share all of the knowledge I’ve gained through my experiences in China here in College over the next four years. All in all, I owe a lot of my growth over the past two years to being a student in China and being a member of the dynamic, intelligent, and incredibly creative UWC Changshu China community. Every day I long to return, and I await the day I can line up to eat 臭豆腐 (Stinky Tofu) again.