Timothy DeMarais '20
Program: China Fall Semester
Major: Biology (Pre-physical therapy)
Why did you choose to study abroad and how did you decide on this program?
I wanted to take full advantage of the very unique study abroad opportunities that CSB/SJU provides. I wanted to experience culture and ways of living that were completely different compared to my own experiences so far in life. I originally was looking at programs like Roman-Greco, Austria, and Ireland, but these all felt too "safe" to me. These programs all seemed great, but I also felt like they wouldn't challenge me enough. That's when the China program caught my eye. I had never even considered China because it was so different and it was scary to think about actually going there and living in China for three months! I knew the main language wouldn't be English and that the culture would be about as different as it could get. That's when I decided that China was the program for me. I knew the China program would challenge my worldview and force me to grow in new ways while I wasn't sure the other programs would.
Briefly describe a specific cultural experience you had on your trip that made a lasting impression.
Eating Peking duck head at a restaurant. I remember asking my Chinese friend sitting next to me what the dish was the waiter had just brought out. He said "duck head." I hadn't seen it at first but now it was obvious that there were duck head halves on the plate. He then told me to try it because it was the most delicious. I wasn't too sure about it but eventually decided to go for it. When in China.... It was weird at first but then I realized it was actually really tasty and good. This experience was a lot like most other experiences I had in China. They each started with hesitation, finally going for it, and then realizing that it's not bad. The ways they live and the things they do in China from eating to speaking to exercising are all different from our own but not better or worse. Eating that duck head was just one experience that really hammered home the idea that just because some custom seems weird to me, that doesn't mean it's worse or incorrect. In fact often times it's better, you just have to be willing to try it.
Describe your overall study abroad experience.
I lived in a massive international dorm that housed roughly 2000 international students from all over the world. Every single day in China provided new experiences that often made me uncomfortable, but in a good way. They challenged me to grow into a more culturally aware and confident person. The food was incredible and spicy which at first was too much for me but eventually I adjusted and grew to love it. I miss it everyday. Meeting and making new Chinese friends was definitely the best part of the experience. My language partner, Wang Shuai, became my best Chinese friend and we hung out all the time going to the internet bars, playing badminton, running, eating, and just hanging out. I made many other Chinese friends as well and it really hammered home the idea that people are people no matter where you are in the world. Here were Chinese students who had lived their entire lives speaking a different language, eating different food, and just living completely different lives compared to my own, and yet we were able to connect and become great friends. Overall, the experience made me more confident as a person and helped me grow in new ways I never knew were possible.
Based on your experiences abroad, what are some of the benefits of spending a semester abroad? How has studying abroad contributed to your personal, academic, and professional development?
Study abroad makes you a much more confident and independent person. You learn to just figure it out as you go along, kind of like college in general. Study abroad will just open you up to so many new opportunities and experiences for growth that really can't be matched in any other way except by going abroad, surrendering your hesitations, and just being a part of it. Personally, my study abroad experience opened my mind to the importance of language and the importance of intercultural understanding. The experience also definitely made me a much more confident person. Today I am more willing to take good risks that feel uncomfortable in the moment, but overall will be good for me and make me better in the long run. Finally in terms of personal development, I made friends with many other students that didn't speak a word of English, and if you can make friends with people who don't speak a word of English than you can make friends with anyone, which will make you more confident in yourself as a person and benefit you throughout life.
What advice can you offer for CSB/SJU students who are considering or planning to study abroad?
Take advantage of the incredible opportunity that you have. Don't go somewhere that will be comfortable and not challenge you. Go somewhere that is completely different. Go somewhere where no one speaks English, where they eat completely different food, and where they just live their lives differently. You will learn and grow way more if you do a program that kind of scares you instead of just playing it safe. Don't play it safe, take advantage of the opportunity. You won't ever get it back so make it count now.