About a year ago, I was studying Chinese in Kunming, China. To be honest, I went there kicking and screaming. I wasn’t too excited about spending 2 months in a single location (first world problem- I know), I didn’t really want to be learning Chinese, and I had no idea I’d end up absolutely LOVING it.
Now, I’m a firm believer that language exchange is the way to go! There are so many reasons that it’s an incredible opportunity; here are just a few.
Learning a Language
Let’s get the obvious out of the way. If you want to learn a language, immersion is the best way to pick it up. You’ll constantly hear the accent, the pronunciation of words, and the fluidity of the language. And let’s not forget that you’ll be forced to use what you know! It can be a little daunting speaking a language you’re learning to locals, but every time I even attempted to say something, I was met with kindness. People appreciate you trying to learn their language, even if you butcher it. I learned loads from just attempting to live my daily life there. My interactions with the fruit stall lady taught me a lot! I accidentally bought 1.5 kilos of lychee instead of 0.5, and well, I haven’t made the same mistake twice!
While I knew I’d come out of China with a better grasp of Chinese, I didn’t think I’d be motivated to learn it! When you’re immersed, you want to learn the language so you can get around and honestly, just know what’s going on. I studied my new words every day so that I could somehow put them to the test outside of the classroom, and every time I was able to, I was really proud of myself. You can feel yourself getting better, and that feeling is sooooo motivating.
It’s not just the language you learn when you study abroad; you also learn about the culture. This translates to a much more fluent and natural way of speaking. You know what to say and when to say it, as well as when to hold your tongue. You learn when things are appropriate and when things are not by just living and learning. Also, you learn what apps are essential in different countries. China? You must have WeChat.
If there’s one thing I took away from China, it was the friendships. When you’re studying abroad together, your friends kinda become your lifeline. You get close incredibly quickly, a result of trying to get by in a city where no one else understands you. Just ordering food is a process, and figuring out the menu is a bonding activity like no other. Plus, you get to play tourist in your new city together. I loved going on weekend trips, to Sunday brunch, and to touristy landmarks in our city together. Some of my best friends (and my boyfriend!) are from studying abroad in China- we only spent about two months together, but you seriously get so close to others studying with you.
Looking back, I wish I had MORE time in China. I absolutely loved my life there, and my Chinese language skills were the best they’ve ever been! Language immersion definitely has its ups and downs (here’s looking at the day we spent 5 hours trying to buy a bus ticket), but it’s an opportunity that has the potential to be incredibly impactful on your life.
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