Back to SummaryCaroline Schwanzer - Student Profile
MAJOR: International Relations
MINORS: Chinese, Modern Languages
Having lived in Beijing as a foreign exchange student during my junior year of high school, I came to Stanford knowing that I wanted to study abroad for at least one quarter. At sixteen I somehow managed to convince my parents to let me board a plane to China, leaving them only with a contract that stated that I wasn’t allowed to return until the year was over. Much to my parents’ dismay I announced last year that I would be departing for China once more. As a result, my quarter in Beijing became my second extended stay in China, as well as a second chance to immerse myself further in the Chinese way of life.
Having already spent three months with BOSP in Paris – a city much closer to home and a culture more familiar to me – I expected my quarter in Beijing to begin with a culture shock. I was pleasantly surprised when my former host mom yanked open the rickety window five stories above me, blurted a heartfelt “Niu niuuuuu, ni lai le!” into the courtyard and showered me with hugs and kisses when I walked through the door. When arriving at the Stanford Center at Beida (Beijing University) I was greeted by the program staff, who immediately – and to my distress – asked me to prepare a speech for the opening banquet the next day.
If you choose to go abroad to China, Stanford’s BOSP Program in Beijing is the safest, most uncomplicated way to go about spending time in Beijing. It is the perfect introduction to China, balancing the test of studying abroad with the security of being rooted in a familiar Stanford environment. Even if you have never taken Chinese before, the language professors at Beida can to teach you how to read and write the basics within the first 5-6 weeks of the program. When traveling to Shanghai with friends, taxi-drivers would often comment on my ‘strange Beijing accent’ and make fun of the ‘thousands’ of mangled tones I would produce while speaking the Chinese I had learned for five years; meanwhile a friend who had just started taking Chinese during our quarter abroad proceeded to read restaurant names and street names without any problems at all! Needless to say, it was a humbling experience.
Classes at Beida were as well taught and in-depth as you would find on Stanford’s campus in Palo Alto. Our faculty in residence, Professor Fingar, taught a class for both Stanford and Beida students. After class, students would often get together to discuss not only the assigned readings, but also eastern perspectives on western problems.
While the Beida students were expected to keep up with the readings in Professor Fingar’s class, we were pushed to memorize traditional sayings and poetry. The literature class I was enrolled in was one of the most challenging classes I have ever taken: we had to analyze ancient Chinese poetry and present our findings. In Chinese. Luckily, we had our own rooms to rehearse our ‘impromptu’ presentations in before class. Beida’s language professors were extremely helpful in clarifying anything we didn’t understand in the literature class, but still demanded that we learn the economic terms needed to present on China’s monetary policy for our final presentation. While the intensive language tutorial pushed me to the limits of my Chinese, our economics class forced me to wrap my head around an eastern perspective on East Asian financials and business practices. This experience has been invaluable and will hopefully help me to forge a career in international business in the future.
At Beida, every day was an adventure – even getting haircuts was a challenge (someone may have ended up with a Nike swoosh shaved into the back of his head...). I learned to take comfort in familiar things (mainly Starbucks), but, more importantly, learned to find excitement in those that I did not. So, as a unified front, Stanford braved Beida’s dining halls, and although I would suggest that you say ‘yes’ to any experience during your time abroad, I would also (strongly!) advise you to look up the dishes you are about to order.
We always looked forward to the meals our program director would order, as she is best known for making cooks whip up ‘special creations’ and for ordering the best things on the menu (glazed fried bananas with ice cream). There will also always be at least two extra dishes per person, so keep that in mind when you consider a gym membership at the beginning of the quarter.
Near the end of the program, Beida invited us to travel to Confucius’ hometown Qufu with the Beijing University faculty and staff. Little did we know that we would climb the 6,000 steps to the top of Mount Tai – and be passed by elderly Chinese men carrying small children up the mountain – on our way. It took us the entire morning, lots of breaks and much complaining to climb to the top, but we were awe-struck by the view from the temple overlooking the entire mountain range. We concluded that, although we could barely breathe, the three-hour climb had been well worth it.
My quarter in Beijing helped me make 27 amazing new friends that I will never forget. Although I had been there previously, this second exposure to China was one of the best experiences during my four years at Stanford. If you’re still not convinced, I have an extensive repertoire of wonderful (and funny) stories about Beijing that I’d love to share with you!