|Global Citizens Spotlight: Savannah Campbell|
Editor's note: Serving as the leader in globalizing the campus, the International Office advances the critical priorities of the University by creating access to international and cultural exchange. The International Office sends over 2,300 students to more than 70 countries each year, and is host to 7,000 international students and scholars from more than 120 countries around the globe. Each month, The World & UT will spotlight one of those special students, highlighting the reality that what starts here changes the world.
29 May 2012
SAVANNAH CAMPBELL, 22, an East Asian Cultures and Languages major, studied in mainland China during the 2010-2011 school year. Additionally, she recently learned that she is the recipient of a U.S. State Department Critical Language Scholarship, which will help her return to China for an eight-week immersion program in Xi’An China at Shaanxi Normal University this summer.
Here, Savannah highlights the rewards and challenges of her first trip to China and all the ways the experience changed her life.
Why did you want to study abroad?
For me studying abroad wasn’t really a question of “if” but rather of “when.” I grew up in a military family, I so was accustomed to moving around often and being exposed to people from different cultures and walks of life. After changing my major to East Asian Cultures and Languages with a concentration is in Mandarin Chinese, I wanted to attain as near native fluency as possible and to also immerse myself in Chinese culture. I realized that studying in mainland China was the only way I would be able to realize both of these goals.
What study abroad program did you participate in and why did you want to study there?
I chose the CET Intensive Language program in Beijing. This particular program features a 24/7 language pledge for the duration of study, which means that all classes are taught in Chinese regardless of one’s fluency level and that students are housed with local Chinese University students. Students are also expected to speak nothing but Chinese the entire time they are there, both on campus and off. Since my main goals were total language and cultural immersion, I felt this program was definitely the best fit for me.
What did you do on a daily basis?
Morning classes consist of two discussion-based courses and a drill class, in which grammar patterns and vocabulary from the reading are reviewed quickly - at high speeds - to test how well we reviewed the material on our own. During these sessions, we learn new material at a fast pace pace, and the teacher encourages us to incorporate this new material in spontaneous conversation, paying close attention to correct usage, tones, and pronunciation.
After morning classes, I would get lunch from the dumpling stand around the corner. Afternoon classes differed depending on which fluency level you were placed in. For example, my first semester I only had Business Chinese in the afternoon, however during my second semester I had both Classical Chinese and Chinese Literature every afternoon. Students also have a one-on-one session twice a week with a teacher to address specific language issues. These are guided by the student, and I usually focused mine around conversation regarding life in China, different cultural norms, and current issues discussed in class.
After class, I usually left campus. For me language was something I learned best outside of the classroom rather than inside it. I would get off the subway at a random stop and walk around for a couple of hours, then eat at a hole in the wall restaurant while talking with other patrons and the wait staff. Almost every night dinner was a group affair. You don’t eat dinner by yourself in China. I would also go out with my Chinese roommate and her friends to the places they liked or, alternatively, to the places they had always wanted to go but needed a special excuse, such as a foreigner friend needing a dinner date.
Though it may sound like life was grueling, and in a way it was much more fast-paced than anything I had experienced at UT, it was also incredibly rewarding. Each day brought something new to experience and to learn.
How did studying abroad change the way you see the world and your place in it?
I have always been a fairly open-minded and compassionate person and my experience in China has only amplified these traits. People are just people no matter where you go. We all share the same goals in life − to provide for our families, to see our children get an education better than our own, to love and be loved, and to be understood by others.
Before traveling to China, I really had not clarified my career goals. I now feel like my purpose in life is working toward greater cross-cultural understanding between nations, starting with Chinese-American relations. I also want to continue my studies of the Chinese culture to serve as a role model for others. Many people feel that Chinese language and culture are completely inaccessible, that the language especially is a mystery wrapped in a riddle inside an enigma. While it can be challenging, the time spent learning Chinese is worth it. The more we can encourage our citizens to gain even a basic understanding of Chinese language and culture, the easier cross-cultural dialogue will become.
What was your favorite fun thing you did during your study abroad experience?
This is nearly an impossible question to answer because so many things come to mind, and many of them are not necessarily what people would immediately categorize as “fun.” For example, sitting on my bunk during a 13-hour train ride from Beijing to Xi’An, sewing up my favorite pair of pants and trying hopelessly to explain to my Chinese roommates, with the help of the other US students, several distinctly Southern US concepts, such as our food and our accents.
While the conversation reminded us of how homesick we were, and how hard it is to use a foreign language to explain uniquely American concepts, discussions were fun and strengthened the bond between all of us. We reminisced about our homes half a globe away while snacking on treats both familiar and unfamiliar and being warmed by the golden light of the setting sun pouring into our apartment, and taking in the beautiful scenery rushing by outside the window. It is the moments like these on the train that stick out the most as “fun” to me because they capture my everyday life in China – building lifelong friendships and memories which I’ll always hold close to my heart.
What is one thing you learned about yourself and the world based on your study abroad experience?
The entire year abroad was really just one extended growing experience for me. I learned that I am stronger than I think I am and that the world is out there, waiting to be discovered. I transformed from a painfully introverted person to an outgoing person with actual people skills. I’m no longer hesitant to set lofty goals for myself because I know I will follow through and accomplish them.
What advice/encouragement would you give someone who was considering study abroad but was uncertain about it or thinking it was out of reach for them?
First of all, don’t let money be the deciding factor. Many times the “sticker shock” stops students dead in their tracks. As a first-generation- in-college student financing college with private loans, studying abroad “should have been” completely out of reach for me. After doing the math, I realized my year abroad was essentially the same amount I was paying for a year at UT. Since my financial aid was applicable, I did not have to increase the amount of private loans I was borrowing.
One thing I did not do as much as I should have – was to apply for every scholarship for which you I was eligible. This brings the cost of studying abroad down drastically, and can make all the difference. Secondly, know your own academic and personal goals. Be familiar what you can and cannot fit into your “plan” while you are abroad.
Essentially, know what risks you can and cannot take. For some students it’s easier to spend longer amounts of time abroad or to take elective credits which don’t necessarily fit into his or her degree plan. Other students have to be much more regimented about the whole process. Know which student you are and plan for your semester abroad as far ahead as possible. This mitigates a lot of the risk involved with course selection and helps to make sure that your semester abroad won’t cause any deviation from your goals.
Why did you choose to become a Peer Advisor in the UT Study Abroad Office? What do you enjoy most about that role?
I became a Peer Advisor to share my experiences abroad with other students and to let them know that it is possible to fit studying abroad into their academic goals. I also want to promote studying abroad in mainland China, as many students tend to think it’s completely inaccessible, especially if they have no exposure to the language. However, the only way we can increase cross-cultural awareness is to study and learn from each other. I encourage more students to take that risk, to travel the road less traveled, and to reap the benefits of doing so.
Is there anything else you'd like to share about your experience?
I only got out of China what I put into it, the same as with anything else in life. I had good days and I had bad days, but in the end I felt much better when I was proactive about things. Culture shock came in the weirdest forms ever, like having a panic attack in a bank because my Western Union money transfer couldn’t go through because the cultural/language misunderstanding of a “middle” name and where it’s proper placement is on the form…an embarrassing moment for me, but also a growing experience.
Those challenging experiences pale in comparison to all the small triumphs, like the times I didn’t have to be corrected by my teacher in class. That time I was asked for directions by a random old couple and was able to give them correctly the first time and was not misunderstood. That time I bargained so hard and so convincingly for a Mahjong set that the salesperson started laughing and gave it to me for what I asked - and not one kuai more. It’s these moments that kept me moving forward every day.
As you can tell, it’s the moments outside of the classroom which make life abroad valuable. Pick a study abroad program that meets and facilitates your academic goals, a program that will force you to grow as a person. Then, when you aren’t in class, get the heck out of the dorms and off campus and experience the country.
Interview by Angie Pastorek