SCU Hosts 2018 MSU Chinese Summer Camp

From June 2nd to June 30th, 21 undergraduate students from Michigan State University (MSU) came to SCU for a one-month Chinese study summer camp. SCU’s Overseas Student Office made special arrangements for the group, organizing Chinese lessons, lectures on Tibetan society and culture, and visits to tourist attractions in and around Chengdu.

The 21 students hailed from diverse cultural and national backgrounds: some came from the United States, others from India, Nepal and elsewhere. All were united in their common goal to learn more about Chinese history, ancient Chinese culture, and contemporary Chinese ways of life. They also enjoyed in-depth discussions with volunteering SCU students, studying together, and building new friendships.

The Chinese language classes were everyone’s favorite. Most students were beginners, and the class posed considerable challenges for them. The difficulty of the language, however, was not enough to dampen anyone’s enthusiasm. Initially, the only words students could say were “hello” and “thank you,” but nobody was too shy to ask for help, and, whether at the meal table, en route to the next destination or in the classroom, student volunteers readily offered guidance and helpful advice. Taking the level of their students into account, instructors prepared engaging classroom activities and materials, beginning with basic lessons on pinyin and stroke order; students responded well to the interactive methods and lively atmosphere in the classroom. After one month of language study, they had a grasp on simple conversational phrases and were also able to write a number of basic Chinese characters: they have all decided to continue their Chinese studies upon returning home.

In addition to offering Chinese listening, speaking, reading, and writing classes, teachers also incorporated lessons on Chinese culture, introducing students to the fascinating worlds of ancient and contemporary China. Students were initiated into the art of paper-cutting, calligraphy, and other Chinese art forms. They each cut out the word for “happiness,” xi, giving them a first-hand feel of traditional Chinese art. At the same time, instructors offered insights into contemporary China and taught students Chinese neologisms, including Internet slang, to convey an impression of the broad discrepancies between ancient and modern Chinese.

A special class was also organized on Chinese history and Tibetan society and culture. The teacher introduced the successive dynasties of Chinese history up to China’s peaceful rise in modern times, while students compared the respective histories of China and the US and contemplated the bilateral relationship from historical perspectives. “The roof of the world,” as Tibet is often referred to, is a land of many mysteries, as the Chinese teacher explained, who provided a basic introduction to Tibetan society and culture. The group toured SCU’s Tibetan Research Center and was introduced to the general state and results of its most recent studies on Tibet. Students were also able to borrow books from the center’s library.

Subsequently, students visited Southwest Minzu University, where they learned more about Tibetan culture. The group ended the day with a visit to a first-rate local Tibetan restaurant.

During the weekends, students ventured off campus to learn all about the art of tea ceremonies, explore Chengdu’s famous giant panda research base, visit Le Shan’s Giant Buddha, take in the Sanxingdui archeological site, and admire other cultural and natural treasures of Sichuan Province. The group also visited the famed water irrigation system in Dujiangyan, learning all about its history, and climbed to the top of the Daoist Mount Qingcheng. Every attraction was taken in with curiosity and delight as the tour guides and SCU student volunteers gave detailed explanations on the workings of Dujiangyan’s irrigation system, offered an overview of Daoist history, and introduced the habits of Sichuan’s giant pandas. Students showed great interest in the methods and farming styles of the tea farmers, asking them specific questions on the challenges of growing tea in the region. The pandas were by far the most popular attraction: students took picture after picture of the cuddly, round creatures; for some, it was their first time to see a panda in real life, an occasion that was celebrated with the purchase of various souvenirs. The snacks sold along Chengdu’s Jinli Ancient Street were a special treat to round off a busy day of sightseeing.

When not attending classes, the students from MSU also enjoyed strolling through the streets of Chengdu in groups of 4-5, singing karaoke, or visiting one of the city’s many museums. Wherever the young students went, passers-by would stop them and ask to have their picture taken with them. Of course there was plenty on offer for the taste buds – from hotpot to famous Sichuan barbecue – and students showed fair amounts of culinary adventurousness in trying a range of spicy flavors.

The MSU Chinese summer camp came to an end far too soon. All participating students passed their course exams: their Chinese language levels had improved, and they’d built a good foundation for further studies in Chinese language and culture. While the students have already flown home and left this chapter of college life behind, the enthusiasm, friendliness, and warmth the group brought to this campus will linger.

Chengdu and Sichuan University became more than just another “classroom”; more than that, they served as an ideal environment to jump into and experience a foreign culture, a window into understanding China, and a place where memories and lasting friendships were built.