Grace Barksdale - 2016 Program Participant

What inspired you to go abroad?

As one of the many adopted girls from China, I always had a fascination with Chinese culture. I am blessed that my parents instilled in me a pride in my Chinese heritage. Thus, I knew that Chinese would be the language I'd choose to learn for my international business major. I had already been back to China once in high school and once in college with my Chinese teachers. However, these trips were only for two weeks and only gave me a taste of what China was like. Those previous international trips definitely made me want to travel back to China someday in my future. Alliance's international business program was the perfect way for me to complete my college requirements, as well as fulfill my desire to return to the country of my birth!

Girl sitting on a bridge in Hongcun Village in Anhui Province, China
Weekend trip to Huangshan Mt. and ancient Hongcun Village!

Why did you choose Alliance for Global Education’s program over other opportunities?

I chose Alliance's international business program because it perfectly fit my double majors. I was able to take Chinese classes, as well as an international finance and economics class.

However, Alliance also offered an international Internship experience! I chose to enroll in a for-credit Internship with a local company and complete a final research project.

What was your favorite part about Shanghai?

My favorite part about Shanghai was their great subway system and how easily I could travel around the entire city for as little as a few dollars. Shanghai is a modern city with a plethora of stores, malls, museums, and sights for you to see. I was there four months and there are plenty of places I wish I had time to explore still! The subway and taxi system there made local travel cheap and relatively easy to navigate.

What made your experience abroad unique?

My experience abroad was unique because of the range of group activities the Alliance for Global Education supports. On weekends, there were optional "Alliance Activities" which took us to local museums, famous corporations, or volunteering opportunities. Transportation was always included and trips were led by Alliance staff.

Our few weeks in Shanghai were also spent with Alliance students for group dinners or other activities. This really made this program stand out from other exchange/study abroad programs by creating a more close-knit group. Classes were also relatively smaller than typical lecture classes that have 30+ students. More one-on-one attention was good for language learning!

Girls dressed in traditional clothing at the Longji Rice Terraces of Guilin, China
Among the clouds at the Longji Rice Terraces of Guilin, China!

How did local staff support you throughout your program?

Alliance's local staff supported us by always having the door open for any of us, whenever we needed help! They helped us organize personal trips, answered direction questions, and were available even for a chat. Yingyi, a favorite staff member among the students, helped us call taxis, buy tickets, order Chinese products online, and set up our room wifi! Staff were very present in the first few weeks of the program as we got situated and signed up for visas/work permits.

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

I wish I would have traveled more over the weekends and during our personal travel time! There are plenty of places within China, and countries nearby, that I wish I had gotten the chance to visit. Better planning in advance would have helped me manage my time better and get better deals on flights.

Describe a typical day in the life of your program.

My typical day would start with morning Chinese class. A short walk from my apartment, I would head over and begin the day with our "dictation" quiz. These quizzes consisted of handwriting Chinese characters from memory. We would then have around an hour of class, followed by a 15 minute break.

During the break we would take a trip next door to Family Mart, the Chinese equivalent of 7/11, for a breakfast snack. After Chinese class we would go down the street and pick a local food stand or restaurant for lunch. Typically, I got carry-out and would take it back to my room to eat.

Later in the afternoon my friends and I would walk about 10 minutes to get from our apartment to our classroom building on the SUFE campus. On campus we would have our economics class, which would last for around three hours. Afterward, we would usually hang out with friends. Options would include: going to the movies, trying out a new restaurant, going shopping, a bar or club, or heading out to explore the city.

Girl sitting near West Lake in Hangzhou, China
Day trip to see West Lake in Hangzhou, China!

What did you enjoy doing in your free time?

I enjoyed exploring the local city of Shanghai in my free time. We would often gather groups of friends to go try new restaurants or go to new shopping malls or see famous sights. Shanghai is not lacking in places to explore! Some top sights I recommend are: Yuyuan Garden, Qi Pu Lu market, Da Xue Lu for food, Wu Jiao Chang for karaoke, and the Shanghai Science and Technology Museum market.

What was your accommodation like? What did you like best about it?

We were blessed with spacious apartments that we shared with one Alliance student and one Chinese (English-speaking) student. We all got our own rooms and some even had their own personal bathrooms! This was by far my favorite part, as the rooms were large and came with a closet and personal desk. The apartment also had a living room complete with a couch and T.V., a dinner table and chairs, and a kitchen. This made group dinners and potlucks a lot of fun! Although you did have to go purchase your own utensils and kitchen tools, having the kitchen was a plus.

The apartment also had a separate little room with a washing machine and a big window space for hang drying clothing. FYI: Chinese people do not use dryers, so be prepared to air dry your clothing!

What is one thing every participant should know before participating in your program?

The Alliance for Global Education is a great program that understands that students may want to explore their host country and/or neighboring countries! Besides the integrated field study trip, there is also a five day week for "personal travel" that coincides with China's national holiday week.

If participating in this program you should plan ahead and save up extra money for these trips! You will regret it if you don't take the valuable time and explore China further. You can plan ahead and buy tickets in advance, or wait until you arrive and make friends with your classmates. I was never in need of a travel partner as I always found friends that were interested in traveling like I was.

Alliance for Global Education study abroad students in Shanghai, China
The Alliance for Global Education Class of Fall 2016, Shanghai University of Finance & Economics

Now that you're home, how has your time abroad impacted your life?

My time abroad has created a lifelong love for world travel! I believe I am a much more curious and adventurous person now. I feel more confident in my Chinese speaking abilities, as well as the "life-skills" I learned while in China. Booking a hotel or plane ticket? Have to navigate the subway system? No problem for me now!

Would you recommend Alliance for Global Education to others? Why?

I would definitely recommend the Alliance for Global Education to anyone interested in studying abroad in China. Their Chinese language classes and group activities really help you learn to speak Chinese and improve your skills! From speaking contests to class performances, Alliance really motivates their students and gets them excited about learning Chinese.

Alliance's integrated field study trip is also a big plus; their international business program this year took me to Macau, Hong Kong, Shenzhen, and Zhuhai!