Joshua Shoemaker, a USAC Chengdu alum, returned to China after graduation to pursue a career in education. Shortly after arrival, the coronavirus began to spread, resulting in a country-wide lockdown, strict health and safety regulations, and a unique experience abroad. Joshua shares how studying abroad in Chengdu – and living in China during the pandemic – has shaped his global perspectives.
Why did you choose Chengdu for your study abroad?
I chose to study abroad for a wider variety of reasons, but experiences with Chinese exchange students on my home campus solidified China as the destination. The program in Chengdu provides an above average immersion experience given its distance from the coast. The most important factor was the affordability compared to other programs. The cost of studying for another year at my home university far surpassed what USAC provided.
What is your major? How did study abroad fit into your academic goals?
I majored in Integrated Studies including Early Child Development and Cross-Cultural Leadership. The program in Chengdu was useful in achieving my academic goals for two primary reasons. Through a paid Internship I was able to gain a year of valuable experience directly related to my profession. That is something not all programs can provide. The program in Chengdu also provided courses related to culture and society in China. These are classes many universities in America struggle to fill and receive a green light to teach.
Why did you decide to study abroad for a full year?
I did not initially intend to study in Chengdu for a year, however, many students extended to the yearlong program, including myself. This should speak to the value of the program. The only thing preventing me from staying even longer was my need to return home and officially graduate.
Do you think studying abroad for a full year was more beneficial than a semester or short-term program?
The right length of your program will be specific to your circumstances. A year was right for me but won’t necessarily be right for your goals. I would recommend sticking your toes in the water for one semester and extending your program if it will help you in your future plans.
You returned to China after study abroad to work. What are you doing? What did that process look like?
Since completing the USAC program I have returned to Chengdu for work. Currently I teach children at a training center and am finishing my M.Ed. in education administration. Receiving a visa to enter China without USAC’s help was admittedly difficult, but it was worth it. The language barrier still exists but I’ve had no issue surviving and thriving.
What does an average day in your life look like living and working in Chengdu?
On my days off I love to do urban exploring and interacting with strangers. People in Chengdu, especially Tibetans, are extremely friendly. Work days consist of what you might expect: interacting with my Chinese coworkers to provide the best education possible for our students, occasionally receiving training, and participating in my M.Ed. courses.
You were living in China when the Coronavirus pandemic first broke. What was that experience like?
As I’m sure you know, the recent pandemic started here in China, in the province neighboring my own. This has been a scary time for many. I have lived here for the last 1.5 years, and I have stayed through the entirety of the pandemic, and I don’t regret that decision. Chinese people have a great respect for law and order, and great respect for their government. This led to the virus being handled well here. The only factor that impacted me was economic challenges. Business shut downs related to stopping the spread resulted in a month of lost salary which was fortunately covered by the 2020 U.S. stimulus bill.
How has it been living in China during the pandemic? How has the city recovered?
Living here during the pandemic has led to a rally for more efforts at work to make up for lost productivity. Everyone, including myself, has had to take up overtime to make up for the losses during the shutdown. It’s tough but very profitable for people who are willing to give their best. China still has occasional outbreaks but the PLA’s thoroughness tends to crush it quickly. Chengdu itself is in a warm part of the country and one of the safer places to be — everyone has a health code that the government uses for contact tracing. Outside of presenting that to enter some locations, everything is the same.
What is daily life like in China now?
Life has returned to normal for the most part. Residents are asked to wear a mask, have their health code ready, and cooperate with the authorities. Following these three easy steps have been enough to satisfy the Public Security Bureau. Occasionally some shops with outbreaks are shut down and never reopen, and some people are forced into quarantine, but I’ve only seen it happen to two of my friends in 2020.
How did study abroad help you get to where you are today?
Studying abroad allowed me the opportunity to get a real world understanding of the culture and people in the place I wanted to work. Through part time work provided by USAC, I was able to acquire business contact in my field, which helped me secure relevant work immediately after graduation.
What advice do you have for students who are considering study abroad?
I would advise anyone considering it to secure as much financial aid as possible. I failed to do so and went into debt because of it. I would also suggest that you plan ahead. Over a month before the start of my first and second program I created Facebook and WeChat groups to get in touch with other students on my program. This is important to ensure everyone stays in contact with each other and stays safe. In a foreign country all you have is each other. Set petty differences aside and realize that while here, you are just a foreigner, regardless of color or ideology.