December 17, 2020
CLI’s most recent contributor to the CLI Perspectives series is Jason Campbell. Jason Campbell, CLI Immersion Program student, came to China in hopes of better understanding China and Chinese culture through learning Chinese. What life-altering experiences did Jason encounter? Read on to find how studying Chinese in China has broadened Jason’s world view, life outlook, and much more.
Learning Chinese as a Local, Not a Tourist
By Jason Campbell, CLI Immersion Program Student
There are few experiences in life that can be truly considered as “life-changing”, but my time in Guilin this summer is certainly one of them. The month I spent in China not only gave me a wonderfully unique access into Chinese language, culture and life, but it also allowed me to gain special and essential skills in areas from international travel to communicating with someone who does not speak my own native language.
Beyond this, however, the most important effect this trip had on my life was the way it made me realize how large this world truly is and how diverse the people who inhabit it are. Most people who have learned about different cultures and lifestyles throughout one’s life understand this fact. The experience of living in a country where you no longer constitute a member of the majority, nor speak the native language of the area, is one that can make anyone feel truly humbled.
Early during my time in Guilin I walked to a Buddhist monastery that is relatively close to the Chinese Language Institute (CLI) building. On the way to the building there are rows of small houses which look more like shacks than a house I would be accustomed to. While walking through this, I was struck by the sheer abjectness of the way people lived here. I realized that though I had seen poverty before in my life, it had never been with such a degree of starkness as I saw it here. After I passed this area, I came to the monastery where I spent nearly an hour talking with a monk. She freely gave her time over to explain the intricacies of Buddhist thought and the symbolism of the different objects and ornamentations in the monastery.
On my way back from this monastery, I again walked past the area of destitute homes. This time I was struck by the remarkable disparity I recognized between the experience I had in the monastery a few minutes prior and the one people had daily living here – the overwhelming sense of love and acceptance the monastery provided on one hand and the sense of being placed on the fringes of society so blatantly on the other. Though this is something that can be seen in any major Western city, it had not become as clear to me as when I saw it in this particular format. This experience has proven to be one of the more important insights into life I have had in Guilin or anywhere else.
Later in my trip, I traveled to the famous rice terraces at Longsheng. This area has a beauty and natural artistry that defies being reduced to mere words. Not only are the terraces and mountains gorgeous to look at, but the way in which the hiking paths are set-up allows visitors to become close to nature. Visitors can walk within the rice fields and among the people who are working the fields. Walking from the town where my hotel was to another village nearly three hours away gave me a greater connection to the natural world than any other experience I can think of recently in my life.
The experience in Guilin that CLI provided did not merely allow me to visit China as a tourist, but to feel as though I had truly embedded myself within the environment. Following the month I spent there I had the feeling that, unlike previous trips in my life, I did not merely visit this area, but I had lived there. By doing all the necessary activities of daily life, experiencing the cultural environment in Guilin, and participating in excursions to surrounding areas, I left Guilin truly changed and feeling as though I am better person for having gone on this trip.