From Idaho to the Land of the Giant Panda

Studying abroad allows you to experience the richness of a culture, its gastronomy, and its language.

From the first moment I arrived at the University of Idaho, I knew that I wanted to pursue a career that involved studying languages, other cultures and the relationship between states at the international level and between national and local governments.

I enrolled as an international studies major and begun taking Chinese courses through the Confucius Institute. I have always wanted to travel to China, and challenge myself by learning the Chinese language. The opportunity to study abroad in China was something I had never imagined would be available to me.

In my quest to make my dream a reality, I researched which programs worked best with my budget, then reached out to the Distinguished Scholarships Coordinator, Holly LaHann and the International Programs Office (IPO).

They showed me all the scholarships available, and among these scholarships, one stood out: the Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship. The Gilman Scholarship allows students of limited financial means who are receiving a Pell Grant to intern and study abroad.

In addition, students studying critical need languages are eligible for up to $3,000 in additional funding. These languages include Chinese, Japanese, and Arabic among others.

I applied to study abroad in Chengdu, China through the University Studies Abroad Consortium (USAC). I chose this city because I wanted to immerse myself in the culture, and experience first-hand the Sichuan dialect of the region.

Because the Mandarin language is tonal, a word can have various meanings. I learned the language through trial and error. In one occasion as a teacher, I told my students to form a sentence and when I faced my students, I noticed they were pretending to peel an orange. I searched in my dictionary and the difference between the words for “sentence” and “tangerine” was in the tone. 橘子(júzi) for Tangerine vs 句子 (jùzi) for Sentence.

While studying abroad in Chengdu, I had the opportunity to visit the Panda Breeding and Research Center. Witnessed first-hand the efforts to conserve the Giant Panda and the Red Panda, an endangered species also known as Fire Fox. Played Mahjong a tile-based strategy game in People’s Park while drinking black tea. Had the opportunity to have my ears cleaned by an ear-cleaning master, an activity common in Chengdu. Ate Sichuan Hot Pot 火锅 (Huǒguō), a spicy broth in which one places various types of meat and vegetables that once cooked are taken out with chopsticks and dipped into a sauce. Visited the Leshan Giant Buddha and completed an internship as an English teaching assistant.

From my personal experience, I grasped on to every opportunity to practice the language, learned from my mistakes and had the support of amazing friends that I met in Chengdu in order to be one step closer to my goal of becoming fluent in Chinese. Thanks to the help of the Gilman.

Through scholarship, I was able to study abroad and make my dream of interacting with another culture, the language, and food a reality.

Alonso Arteaga is a University of Idaho student. This article originally appeared in The University of Idaho Argonaut.

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