The North Star Project, 2013 Summer Report Number Forty — Tianjin, China, Home Again

The North Star Project, 2013 Summer Report Number Forty — Tianjin, China, Home Again

By Erin Monroe
Update 13: Home Again

I understand myself well enough to know that when it’s time for something to end and something else to begin, I get sentimental and reminiscent. Before you keep reading I should warn you that this is one of those times. My study abroad program in Tianjin has ended and now as I write, I have been home almost a week. I have a little over two weeks at home and then I will return to school to start my fall semester.

It feels the same as it always has to sit here on this futon, hearing my mom, dad, and brother move about the house. It would seem as though nothing has changed until I remember that this house and my family is perhaps the one constant in my life. Now that I’m home again the last three months seemed to have whizzed by. Coming home to the U.S., I feel like China is a world away. Here are a few things that I learned this summer.

Firstly, I learned a ton of Chinese. For ten weeks, five days per week, I was in the classroom every morning for four hours. In addition to lecture and discussion, I also had one hour per day of a one-on-one session with a tutor, and my classmates and I had various activities to attend throughout the program. Many hours of our “free time” were left up to individual study and working on homework. All too often I wasn’t sure if I was actually storing the Chinese I learned every day in my long-term memory or if I was just remembering it for Friday’s test. I’m still not so sure, but with all the Mandarin I have learned, I have also gathered that it will be years and years of study and practice before I can consider myself “fluent”. Still, I hope to one day achieve some higher level of fluency.


Secondly, the people around me have much more of an influence on me than I originally thought. Call it peer pressure, which can be either positive or negative, but I can’t deny that the people I spend time with have an effect on me to some extent. In this study abroad program, me and the forty other students in the program occupied about a floor and a half of an international hotel. I was fortunate to have a wonderful roommate, Emma, and having a good roommate can make all the difference. Especially since we spent so much time in our hotel rooms—it was not only where we slept, but also where we studied (which, if I haven’t gotten across, was a huge chunk of our time). Similar to living in a dormitory hallway, we all got to know each other very well over the course of three months. With our limited Chinese, we could only fluently communicate with each other as there were rarely other native English speakers living in the hotel. Forty students living in such close proximity, occasionally under stress, and only able to communicate fluently with each other caused solid friendships to form, drama and arguments, and a sort of comradery because we were all in the same situation that our family and friends back in the U.S. could not completely relate to. Additionally, when I traveled on my week-long break, I met people from all around the world—Australia, South Korea, Canada, Mexico, Britain, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Germany—all on their own travels. As I learned about these countries, traveling, living, and working in other countries no longer seems like an impossible dream.

Finally, possibly the most important thing I learned is that I have very few ideas about what I want to do with my future. Do I want to live and work in China after graduation? Will I ever become fluent in Chinese? What do I want to do? I don’t know how to answer these questions. Before coming to China, I was fairly sure about fields I wanted to work in after graduation. Now, after a whirlwind summer in China, I feel like I’m starting back at the beginning. Upon realizing this, I went on a frantic internship and career hunt on the computer, trying to ask myself what I liked and what I didn’t like. After coming home, I’ve calmed down, taken a breath, and I’m trying to look at my experience in China objectively. As I am now halfway through my college career, this is not the time to make set-in-stone decisions about my future. There’s no way I can figure it all out by Google-searching and taking career-personality tests. This is the time to explore, try things out, work hard and yet make time to enjoy it all. Anyway, it’s not really the beginning. I’m not starting from zero—with all the classes I’ve taken, jobs I’m had, the work I’ve done and the people I’ve met, I learn more about myself every day. All of this chisels the broad spectrum of possibilities down as I discover what I like to do, and equally as important, what I don’t like to do. Every experience I have molds me a little more each time into the person I am meant to be.

The North Star Project: Collaboration between The Middle Ground Journal Student Interns, The College of St. Scholastica, and North Star Academy 8th Grade Global Studies Classes, 2013-2014 School Year Summer Reports.

Under the leadership of our North Star host teachers and student interns, The North Star Project has flourished for two years. For a brief summary, please see a recent article in the American Historical Association’s Perspectives on History, at:

This summer we will re-tool and re-design the collaborative program, drawing on the experience of our veteran student interns, ideas from our host teachers, and new projects provided by our incoming student interns. This summer The Middle Ground Journal will share brief dispatches from our North Star Project student interns, particularly from those who are currently stationed, or will soon be stationed abroad. As of the time of this report we have confirmed student interns who will be reporting from Mongolia, Southern China, Shanghai, northeastern China, The Netherlands, Tanzania, Ireland, England, Finland, Russia, and Haiti. We also have students developing presentations on theatrical representations of historical trauma, historical memory, the price individuals pay during tragic global conflicts, and different perceptions of current events from around the world. We will post their brief dispatches here throughout the summer, and report on their interactions with the North Star students and teachers throughout the school year.

Hong-Ming Liang, Chief Editor, The Middle Ground Journal, The College of St. Scholastica, Duluth, MN, USA, June, 2013

(c) 2013 The Middle Ground Journal, Number 6, Spring, 2013. See Submission Guidelines page for the journal’s not-for-profit educational open-access policy.


Filed under North Star Student Editors, Professor Hong-Ming Liang

12 responses to “The North Star Project, 2013 Summer Report Number Forty — Tianjin, China, Home Again

  1. Brady Nash

    It is impressive to me that you would be able to go on that long trip to china, give up your summer, study, and work hard everyday. That takes a lot of strength and character. I think it is a good thing that when you came back and felt almost back to the beginning of your career search. That means that when you were in China your eyes really opened and you discovered things that you didn’t know before. One day it will click and will know what you want to do and having those experiences in china will be very beneficial to you.
    Best of luck.

  2. Zach Dahlman

    Your experience with traveling abroad has made me never want to do that. I liked the article but just the time that it would take to learn the language on top of everything else would be to much for me. I currently only know English and American Sign Language. Im glad it was a great experience for you on doing what you did, but it wouldnt be for me. I did like that you had so many questions about you future now, which is very important as well.

  3. Cali Stabe

    I have always thought about studying abroad! This article was really interesting to read and how many people you meet and how the way you think about your own life changes after studying abroad.

  4. Jonia G

    Thank you for sharing your experience; I hope to study abroad next year and this gave a bit of insight as to how it may be. Questions about the future are always frightening and thought-provoking – I hope that whatever happens for you in the future will ultimately make you happy. Transitioning from countries and cultures, I’m not all that shocked that you faced so many questions.

  5. Nick Kaplan

    I like hearing how you made such good bonds with the people that you stayed with while abroad. There isn’t a much better way than being stuffed in a room for a summer with a bunch of people all trying to learn Chinese. I’m sure it was also a great way to practice your Chinese and use it in a more realistic environment.

  6. Catherine Kolar

    It is crazy how an experience like studying abroad can change us. If I had not studied abroad in high school I would be in a lab somewhere working on marine bio or be buried in science books absolutely hating my life! But instead I am here at CSS studying all things international and loving every second. Don’t worry about a lack of ideas about your future. One thing I learned my second time living abroad is that we all live and learn at different paces. Just because our society pushes university and grad school doesn’t mean it is necessarily the right path for all. You are absolutely correct in saying “This is the time to explore, try things out, work hard and yet make time to enjoy it all.” I think that maybe, our entire life is the perfect time to do all those things we should never stop exploring.
    Thank you for sharing your experience!

  7. Annie

    I would try not to worry so much about the questions and doubts brought on by your trip. I’m no expert but I’d imagine it is better to wonder and change your mind about your future now in college, then ten years down the road. Study abroad will look good on any grad school or job application, and from your post it sounds like you got very valuable experiences from your trip!

  8. Austin

    Thank you for sharing your experience! Studying abroad is something I have considered throughout college. I can imagine that being away from home was difficult, but in the end you must feel rewarded. Not only did you learn a new language, but also you made new connections.

  9. Thank you for sharing. I would love to travel abroad and learn about different countries. Learning more and more about yourself is very helpful in figuring out what your passion is in life.

  10. Camila Garcia

    Being an international student here at CSS I can relate to some of your experiences in China. I have met people from different places and with different views from me, which have made me grow as a person. Also, is hard when you go home and see how much you have changed and also how different your life is in a different country. I love leaving in a different country, is always and adventure where I learn everyday.

  11. Becca Smith

    I’m impressed by your experience! I’m not sure if I’d be able to live in a country where I wasn’t fluent in the language. This experience has certainly had a positive impact on you. It’ll be fun to learn what you are interested in in terms of a career. I wouldn’t take those career-personality tests too seriously though – the career that I’m going to be doing was never ever suggested for me with these tests, yet I know that I’ll be successful with what I’m choosing to do.

  12. Thomas Landgren

    What a great article! I can’t imagine how hard it would be to live for a long period of time in a country where you don’t fully know the language. I remember in High School after taking Spanish for around 5 years (Starting in middle school) my teacher always said we were only at a 4th grade level and it would take many years before we are fluent, but I bet Mandarin is why harder than Spanish. I feel that not completely knowing what you want to do in the future is some what healthy because it allows you to explore and test the waters to see what you really enjoy.

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