When I decided to study abroad in Shanghai, I knew I wasn’t going to be getting the traditional study abroad experience. I wouldn’t be able to jet set on weekends and explore surrounding countries. But I chose Shanghai for a reason. I wanted to make serious language gains in a short amount of time and experience a completely different culture. After being in Shanghai for almost two weeks, even with the intensive language program that I’m in, I definitely find it hard to stick to my goals and constantly speak Chinese. It’s so easy to revert back to English when my program is only composed of American students. However, I’ve figured out some ways anyone can take their language skills to the next level and have an enriching study abroad experience:
1. Stick to the Language Commitment
If you’re studying abroad in a program that has a language requirement, you may have to make a pledge to only speak the language you’re studying, even if you think it’s embarrassing. Whenever the RAs in my dorm hear any English, they always says “shuo zhong wen, shuo zhong wen,” which means “speak Chinese,” to reinforce the pledge. Even if no one is watching, you should wholly commit to the pledge. That’s how you’ll make the most progress.
2. Live in a Homestay
Though you may be slightly isolated from people who are living in the dorms, you’ll get an inside look into the language and culture of the country you’re studying abroad in. And nothing beats home-cooked meals. One of my friends lives in a homestay and really appreciates the time spent talking to her homestay parents, who are retired and spend most days playing mahjong. However, also make sure to get out every once in a while and get to know students who are living in the dorms.
3. Make Local Friends
I’m not sure about other study abroad programs, but the program I’m in at East China Normal University is completely isolated from the university. I only take classes with students in my program, and the dorm we live in is composed of the same students as well as a handful of international students. Making local friends has been especially difficult since I never have the opportunity to interact with them in class. Luckily, though, each of us is paired with a language tutor who can help us meet other students and become more integrated into the university. Having local friends allows you to not only practice your language skills, but also gives you insight into the culture.
4. Challenge Yourself
Take the harder language class. You’ll be pushed to your limits but by challenging yourself, you’ll make your experience worthwhile and make huge steps in a short amount of time. Based on my placement test, I was actually put in the heritage Chinese class, which I thought didn’t suit me at all since I’m not a heritage Chinese speaker. Instead of moving down, I decided to take on the challenge and go up a level. The class I’m currently in is definitely forcing me to work harder than I ever have before for a language class, but I’m excited to see how much I improve by the end of the semester.
5. Write Down Your Language Goals for the Semester
By having a hard copy of your goals, you’ll be able to hold yourself accountable and will be more likely to actually achieve them. I promised myself that I would commit to speaking Chinese even in situations where English could very well be used, and I plan on achieving this goal by talking to everyone in Chinese, even my American roommate.