Brooke Rose - 2015 Program Participant

A young Chinese girl in a car

My host sister

Why did you decide to apply for an international program?

I had never been outside of the United States prior to my semester in China, and I wanted to challenge myself by going abroad during my junior year. Furthermore, after falling in love with Chinese language during my sophomore year in college, I knew that I wanted to continue learning the language, preferably in China. I knew that going abroad would be a life-changing experience (and it was), and I wanted to get that experience while I was in college. International study is prioritized at my home university and transferring credits was relatively easy. I figured that chances to study abroad dwindle somewhat after college graduation, and I didn't want to look back at college with any regrets.

Why did you choose IES Abroad in China?

As a an environmental science major with a minor in Chinese, I wanted to explore both of these fields in an international context. I needed a program that would allow me to hone my Chinese skills as well as explore environmental issues, specifically in China. I found IES Abroad through my home universities search database and instantly knew it was the program for me. IES Abroad also has a very high reputation as one of the oldest study abroad institutions in the world. My home school's study abroad adviser spoke very highly of IES Abroad, and it felt like the best decision for me.

What was your favorite part about Kunming?

Kunming, China may be the best city in China, or perhaps the world. Surrounded by mountains and blessed with a humidity-free, 75 degree, sunny climate, Kunming weather is internationally known for its level of comfort. However, I would have to say that my favorite part about Kunming is the fact that it is not an international city and maintains a relatively small population of foreigners. Most Kunming natives do not speak English and some had never before seen a foreigner; this allowed my Chinese to improve by leaps and bounds, and I feel that I got a very unique window into Chinese culture that is not Beijing or Shanghai.

What parts of your program made it one-of-a-kind?

The program in which I participated was academically rigorous and challenged me to be a good student even while abroad. We were enrolled in about nine hours of Chinese language instruction per week (a heavy load for a non-intensive language program), plus classes in international relations, environmental issues, and sociology. I was extremely interested in the class I was taking and they were perfectly suited to my interests. IES Abroad Kunming also features a two and a half week excursion to different countries in Southeast Asia (costs covered by your tuition payment). To travel to so many different places as a part of my study abroad program added a great deal of insight regarding China's relationship with these countries.

Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam at night

Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

How supportive were local staff members throughout your program?

My program's staff were the best in the business. I lived with a homestay family while in China, and they always checked in with me when I came to the IES Abroad center for classes. They made it very clear from the beginning that they were there to help if anyone in the program had issues with adjusting, homestay, food, classes, or anything else that might come up. They were extremely approachable and held a mid-semester session in which we discussed more generally how each program participant was doing.

What's one thing you wish you would have done differently?

This is kind of terrible, but I wish I had been a little less stressed about the classes I was taking and enjoyed Kunming a little more. It’s easy to try and behave like an American college student while abroad, studying constantly and always prioritizing classwork; but what is more important is getting to know your city, its people, and especially your homestay family if you have one. I figured this out about halfway through, that getting too worried about classes can really dampen the experience. I can promise it’s the people you meet not the grades you earned while abroad that you will always remember.

Describe a day in the life of your program.

My homestay was a twenty minute bike ride from campus, and so every morning began with a twenty minute commute to Yunnan University. We all had Chinese class at 8 a.m. With an average of three to four people in each Chinese level, class was intense and lasted about an hour and a half. I would then usually go to the IES Abroad library to catch up on coursework reading. Mid-morning, I would have my Chinese one-on-one, a session meant to further practice Chinese. I would then usually get lunch with friends at the Yunnan University cafeteria (less than $1 per meal) or at a local restaurant (usually less than $3 per person).

In the afternoons we would generally have our other classes (depending on the day), ranging from economics to sociology, international relations, and environmental issues. Classes usually ended around 4 p.m, and I would generally head home at this point to complete school work in a small park located at the center of my homestay family's housing community. At 7 p.m., I would eat dinner with my host family and then go for a walk with them. I would usually study Chinese for a bit and then turn in for the night.

This schedule definitely varied during the week, depending on my class times, but this is a very general look at what a weekday in the program looked like! Of course on weekends we had a lot of freedom, and I accompanied my host family on several excursions as well as scheduled travel with friends.

What was your favorite activity organized by IES Abroad outside of your regular coursework?

My favorite activity organized by IES Abroad had to be the two and a half week trip to Vietnam, Cambodia, and Thailand that occurred at the end of the semester. After pushing our way through some horrendous final papers, my fellow program participants and I were ready for something new. The IES Abroad sponsored mobile learning trip to Southeast Asia was perfectly timed and added even more depth to an already incredible experience.

IES Abroad Kunming is also very unique in that the staff and faculty have very good relationships with villages in China, Vietnam, and Cambodia, relationships that allowed us to see a very different side of life than what I have ever experienced in the U.S. I am not sure that you get that village experience with many other study abroad programs, but those nights in Chinese, Vietnamese, and Cambodian villages had a lasting impression on me.

Studying abroad is all about broadening horizons and deepening understanding, and the village experiences made possible by IES Abroad definitely helped me accomplish these goals.

Tiger Leaping Gorge in Yunnan, China

Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

Tell us more about your homestay experience. What did you like best about it?

I lived with a host family consisting of a mother, father, and a four-year-old daughter. I lived in a small bedroom located in the back of their apartment. The bedroom contained a bed and a small wardrobe. I ate dinner with my host family almost every night during my time in Kunming. 

IES Abroad did an incredible job of matching me with just the right homestay family. I would have to say my favorite part of living in Kunming was living with them. My host mother was an unbelievably talented and courageous woman whose story will forever inspire me. She became a mentor to me and we became very close with each other. Because of them, I feel that I have a deeply personal connection with China, and more specifically Kunming. My homestay family was one of my greatest support systems while I was abroad and they challenged me to really integrate into Chinese life while there.

How has studying abroad impacted your life at home?

I became much more independent during my time in China than I had ever been while living in the United States. Since being home, I have been challenging myself to continue that independence and not be afraid of letting my ego go and look like a fool every once in a while. While being abroad, I became pretty accustomed to not really knowing what I was doing and asking for help when necessary. I want to carry that over to who I am in the United States. I believe that I am more confident now than when I boarded my flight for China in January. I am more interested in international relations, particularly regarding Asia and I am definitely working harder to keep myself tuned into the area.