Gretchen Trupp - 2015 Program Participant

Pond at the Old Summer Palace in Beijing, China

The old summer palace

Why did you decide to apply for an international program?

I decided to apply for an international program because I wanted to experience learning and growing in a totally unfamiliar, immersive environment that would challenge me to use my language skills in everyday life, but to also adapt to new situations and navigate new ideas.

Why did you choose IES Abroad?

I chose IES Abroad because of their language pledge and rigorous coursework that still allowed for individual exploration.

What was your favorite part about Beijing?

There was easy access to the subway, but also to local stores, activities, and restaurants all within walking distance.

What characteristics of your program made it unique?

My program was unique in that in addition to normal coursework, I could explore freely and also did a language research project, in which I independently interviewed local Beijingers on a topic of my choosing and then wrote and presented my findings.

Do you have any packing tips for individuals headed to Beijing?

For individuals headed to Beijing, I would say pack comfortable walking shoes and mostly light clothes, with some semi-formal outfits thrown in for the occasions when you go out. Also, an umbrella and a light rain jacket! Take clothes that can hang dry, as most people have a washer but no dryer.

View of The Great Wall of China

The Great Wall of China

How did local staff support you throughout your program? 

The local staff provided us with resources to navigate the city as well as our workload.

How difficult was it to communicate with locals?

It wasn't really too difficult to communicate with people because I had a pretty solid language foundation going into the program, but some of the accent differences sometimes made it more challenging to understand what was being said.

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

I wish I would have made more use of the programs DIY-Travel weekend and done some independent travel to a different part of China.

Describe a day in the life of your program.

I'd wake up around 6:45 a.m., get dressed and shower, study a bit, and then go out to 后街 (the back street) to get some breakfast. I'd review my vocab words until it was time for class at 9:00 a.m. We took a quiz at the beginning of every class and then reviewed grammar structures and discussed various topics. From 11:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. we had elective courses, and then all went out to lunch together. At that point we would all have tutors at various parts of the day, as well as homework and preparing for the next lesson. We would go out to dinner in groups for about an hour or an hour and a half, and then come back and hang out for awhile before resuming studying and sleeping.

What was your favorite activity outside the normal day-to-day schedule of your program?

My favorite activity would have to be our Great Wall trip! We went to a space that wasn't touristy, and had a much more authentic feel. We stayed at a family's house and then woke up at 3:30 a.m. to hike to the highest point on the Great Wall to watch the sun rise. It was such a hard hike, but so worth it to see the mountains in all their glory and the wall stretched out for miles.

At the Great Mosque of Xian, China

Mosque in Xi'an

What type of accommodation did you have?

We lived in the international dorms on the Beijing Foreign Studies University campus, which was nice because it was so close to our classes and to places to eat.

What was the hardest part about studying abroad?

The hardest part about studying abroad was being cognizant of and adjusting to the cultural nuances that were different from my own. It's important to be respectful of the environment you are in, particularly while studying abroad, and little differences can be hard to miss, but are still extremely important.

What surprised you most about Beijing?

What surprised me most about Beijing was the air quality. I've heard many people (even those who have never been) say that the pollution is terrible, but in the summer that I was there it wasn't actually that bad.

What do you feel the biggest benefit of studying abroad is?

I feel like the biggest benefit of studying abroad is you think about the world and about social and economic issues in a much more global context. A lot of our discussions end up having a very USA-centric or Eurocentric lens, and studying abroad calls that into question.

What is one thing you wish you would have known before studying abroad in China?

Before studying in China, I wish I could have known that it isn't as expensive as the study abroad websites say it is. The cost of living is generally lower than in America, and even though I was on a pretty tight budget (following the IES Abroad guidelines), I still had money left over.

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

My program has made me think a lot about who I am as a person and how I see the world, and reminds me to take a more intersectional and inclusive look at the issues around me.

The Forbidden City in Beijing, China

The Forbidden City in Beijing, China

Would you recommend IES Abroad to other students?

I would definitely recommend IES Abroad to other students. I think the program is challenging in a language sense but really encourages you to go out on your own and discover the world and yourself.

If you could study abroad again, where would you go?

If I could study abroad again, I would go to Japan, because I grew up learning Japanese and now I'm finally returning to the language after so many years of not touching it. It would be wonderful to have an immersive experience in that language as well.