Shaanxi Normal University (陕西师范大学)
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Sarah Bastian

Major: Chinese (BA), Teaching English as a Second Language (MA)
Hometown: State College, PA

How did you learn about this opportunity?

I first independently created my research opportunity in collaboration with a friend who teaches English at a university in Xi'an, then started looking for opportunities to study that would fit together with my research plan. While looking at websites for universities in Xi'an, I discovered that if I was able to pass a Chinese language proficiency test, I could take classes alongside Chinese students at Shaanxi Normal University. Integrating into the Chinese classroom was an incredibly important goal for me, so I moved forward with the application process.

Tell us a little bit about your experience.

I have dreamed about living and working in China for several years now, so when I thought about applying to study abroad, it was incredibly important to me to get as close to daily life as possible. By taking a leave of absence from Penn State and independently finding a program that would place me alongside Chinese students in classes designed for native speakers of Chinese, I knew that I was bypassing many resources that were designed to help make this process go as smoothly as possible. However, I believed that going through the challenges of applying for and experiencing this program on my own would be a valuable opportunity to understand more about Chinese culture and stretch my language proficiency. There were many challenges, including waiting until nighttime to call my university across a thirteen hour time difference and navigating the application and arrival process primarily in Chinese. When I arrived, I discovered that I was the only foreign student in the entire university to apply to take classes alongside Chinese students, so I experienced the feeling of being the only foreigner in all of my classes, and I worked with several faculty who were unfamiliar with teaching foreign students. In the face of these challenges, I had the joy of meeting several wonderful professors who patiently worked with me and the differences that I brought into their classrooms, and I also met several classmates who became dear friends as they not only helped me understand our classwork, but also introduced me to life in their school and city. During the semester, I not only studied at one Chinese university, but also conducted classroom observation and interviews regarding English classes at another university in the same city. This experience was self-directed under the guidance of my thesis supervisors at Penn State, in connection with a friend who teaches English in China, and it allowed me to see firsthand all the challenges that arise while trying to translate a research proposal from paper to real life. At the same time, it gave me unprecedented personal understanding of the place English learning holds in the lives of Chinese university students, which overwhelmingly satisfied my goal for the research portion of my study abroad experience.

By both studying and researching within the Chinese university context at the same time, I got multiple angles on the way my future career can impact students in positive ways.

How did this experience impact you academically?

This experience helped me focus on developing and sticking to my own academic goals because, as the only non-native Chinese speaker in all of my classes, I could not always compete on the same level as my classmates. Still, my Chinese language skills rapidly advanced throughout the course of the semester largely as a result of the immersion experience, and I learned about Chinese university life from the inside out, which were two of my biggest goals for my semester.

What are your career goals and plans?  How did this experience impact them?

For years, my dream has been to teach English at a university in China. I believe that it is essential for teachers to seek to understand the lives of their students, so that is why it was so important for me to study alongside Chinese students, and this experience allowed me to step into their lives in ways that I simply could not understand otherwise. Additionally, my research into the goals and investment of Chinese students in their college English courses through classroom observation and interviews was another way of stepping into the experience of Chinese students particularly in regard to the way learning English impacts their lives. By both studying and researching within the Chinese university context at the same time, I got multiple angles on the way my future career can impact students in positive ways.

Would you recommend this experience to other Liberal Arts students?

Whether or not this experience is right for you totally depends on your goals for studying abroad. If you want to see the famous sights of China through organized tours, build close friendships with the other foreign students who came with you, and have institutional support to help you with the logistics, then this experience is definitely not for you. But, if you already have advanced Chinese proficiency (I needed to pass the HSK 5 to apply for the studying portion of this program), you are able to look at challenges as new adventures, and you want to get as close to everyday life as possible during your stay in China, then I would highly recommend this approach!

How has the Paterno Fellows Program had an impact on this experience?

I am very thankful for the special emphasis that the Paterno Fellows Program places on global awareness; this mindset encouraged me to pursue my goals for studying abroad, even though they fell off the beaten path of organized programs and experiences.

For more information on global opportunities for Liberal Arts students, visit our website.
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