Isshin Teshima ‘11 was one of 298 W&M students studying in other parts of the world this summer. While on the six-week W&M Summer Program in Beijing, in between mastering Chinese and his travels around the country, Isshin shared his experience not only with family and friends, but with the entire campus, through his student blog. Read on for a taste of his experience abroad.
Like many study abroad students on the day of their departure, Isshin's day started, "early....really early." He braved the ‘grueling' fourteen hour flight from Washington Dulles to Tokyo and even had compliments for the airline's food. Upon arrival in Tokyo, Isshin, like many students entering a new and foreign environment, was forced to confront his pending arrival in China and the many opportunities and challenges that his study abroad experience would present. Sitting in the Tokyo airport he wondered, "Well, it's four hours more ‘til Beijing, who knows what kind of surprises await me there?" Upon arrival in Beijing, Isshin was soon confronted with sights and sounds that challenged his previous understanding of Chinese society. He writes:
"What caught me by the most surprise was not the many sights and sounds of the night market or the rush of cars on the adjacent Wangfujin street, but the fact that the market itself was the perfect metaphor for life in China today. The market itself is literally no more than 20 feet wide, yet, within those 20 feet contained people of all incomes levels. Everything from the wealthy nearest to the markets to the poor digging food and empty plastic bottles out of the trash cans, the sight truly was enlightening, to say the least."
The Chinese market challenged Isshin's sensibilities. Like many students who have spent the majority of their career in the classroom, the difference between what he had read and what he experienced was striking. Isshin wrote in his blog "I had read it before in textbooks numerous times, but I had never before seen with my own eyes... this humongous gap between the haves and the have-nots in this country. And when you're a have-not, in Beijing, you just have to do anything to survive I guess." Needless to say, Isshin learned a great deal about China only hours after arriving in the country.
Isshin, like most people in new situations, learned many survival tips of his own and soon began to thrive in the new culture and language that once intimidated him. He credits a lot of his newfound comfort to the intensive language program that William & Mary requires for its study abroad students: "It's been over a week now immersed in this intensive language-learning environment, and I've got to admit, after a couple of weeks, what was at first mindless droning when people were talking Chinese, at least to me, is slowly becoming bits and pieces of words here and there." Perhaps Isshin and his fellow students became immersed in the Chinese language and culture so quickly because they were all dedicated to the mission of their trip: seeking knowledge about China's language and culture. Isshin writes about the people he met during his study abroad trip and how he could see in them the same type of intellectual curiosity that defined his studies in China: "What you also don't notice, is how many new people you meet on trips like these and how, even though people may come from different backgrounds, they all share the same common goal: to see the world and experience new things from different perspectives." During the six week summer program, Isshin traveled throughout China's interior which gave him countless opportunities to ‘experience new things' and to understand them from a ‘different perspective'.
Towards the end of the program, Isshin began to contemplate his study abroad experience offering the following words about his trip, "I feel like the William and Mary program was more than just a language program, it was a full on immersion in the culture and environment of China. The teachers may have just taught words, vocabulary and phrases, but the program urged you, no forced you to live in their life, speak their language, and finally, and perhaps the most difficult, become part of their world." Unlike sitting in an American classroom, international study does give students the opportunity to become a part of exciting new worlds that seemed lifeless on the pages of textbooks before study abroad. These cultural and lingual experiences are invaluable as Isshin concludes: "To say that this program did not teach me anything, would not only be an understatement, it would be completely and utterly false. Perhaps the greatest lesson I learned on this trip was quite simply, to go to new places, learn new things, and always seek out new experiences. For only then can you call yourself a true ‘world traveler.' You really don't notice just how different the United States is from the rest of the world until you actually go to visit the rest of the world, until you live their life, until you attempt to step into their shoes and walk in their footsteps."
Isshin Teshima is a student blogger for W&M. Read about his time on the W&M Summer Program in Beijing, as well as other on-campus musings, on Isshin's Blog.