During summer break I, along with other 14 students, participated in a nine week NYU Shanghai Chinese language immersion program. During the program I always told the teachers that I wanted to travel. As the immersion program was about to end, one of my good friends, Sarah Walker ‘25, asked me if I wanted to join her and Raghav Dembla ‘25 for a four day trip in Sichuan. I immediately accepted the invitation and packed my clothes right away.

Photo credits: Professor Jie Yuan 

Photo caption: This is a picture of me holding the certificate of completion! 

During our time in Sichuan, Raghav was pretty good at booking tickets and hotels. Before he came to Chengdu with us, he was traveling in Yunnan by himself. I was so fascinated with how he had just started to learn Chinese at NYU Shanghai and he was already able to travel by himself.

Our four day trip in Sichuan was tiring but worth it. We visited the Leshan Giant Buddha, which is the largest Buddha statue in the world and we went to the top of Mount Emei. Mount Emei is one of the highest mountains in China. When people go to Mount Emei, they usually spend around two days there as they stay overnight in the hotel located on the top of the mountain in order to see the sunrise from the mountaintop. Due to time constraints, we only spent an hour at the top of the mountain.

Photo credits: poom siripakorn

Photo caption: Raghav and Sarah become superstars! 

As we are about to head back to Shanghai, I made a last minute decision to split up with Raghav and Sarah and go to Shenzhen, Guangdong. My original plan was to see Winny Wang, a former NYU Shanghai IMA fellow, in Chengdu. However, she was in Shenzhen because she needed to fly to the United States from Hong Kong. This is when the journey actually began. From a four day trip in Chengdu, it had been extended to a 16 day trip. I did not plan anything ahead of time and I just wanted to see what opportunities would present itself to me in the future.

Photo credits: poom siripakorn

Photo caption: I met up with Winny Wang and Daisy Bugarin ‘22 in Shenzhen! 

When I was flying from Chengdu to Shenzhen, I talked to a nearby passenger for the whole flight. Long story short: at that moment, I was panicking because my phone was running out of battery but as we got to know each other more, it turned out that we were coincidentally going to the same destination so we decided to stick together until he sent me off to the hotel.

I like to post things on WeChat Moments. I think of it as a way to update the people around me about what I have been up to recently. When Linger Ma ‘25 found out that I was in Shenzhen, she texted me that she was also coming here to see her friends, so she invited me to dinner and introduced me to her local Shenzhen friends. A day later, Linger’s friend invited me to dinner without letting anyone know, and when I arrived at the restaurant, everyone was so confused.

“Wow, you guys just knew each other for a day, and you have already taken Poom away from me.” Linger said.

Photo Credit: Linger Ma

Photo caption: We had Hainanese coconut chicken hotpot!

After I spent a couple of days in Shenzhen with Linger and her friends, it felt like I had known them for years even though we had just met recently. I went to their houses and hung out with them. We went to karaoke, played card games, and solved an escape room.

At that moment, my Chinese class became handy to me. During the Chinese immersion program, my classmates and I also got to do exactly the same thing. We learned about Chinese pop culture and what teenagers do during their free time.

Recently, as the new semester started, I had a chance to catch up with Professors Jiani Lian and Qing Li, my Chinese immersion program teachers, about the language learning curve. Both of them expected us to make the most of the environment, which is the classroom, by allowing ourselves to make mistakes because they are there to help and support you through the learning process. Professor Li even noted that even though you are learning the language without the help of a teacher, you will still be able to improve. But more importantly, the role of the teacher is to provide the learner the language environment and suggestions toward their goals. To me, setting a specific goal becomes significantly important as I am embarking on the journey to become competent in learning Chinese.

Ultimately, I know that traveling around China during the pandemic is not easy, but it did not stop me from going the distance. Even though it is hard to plan ahead of time and you often hope that things will go as smoothly as you expected, by believing in what you are doing and putting yourself out of your comfort zone, things around you will eventually help you to reach your goal. During the summer, I told myself I am willing to dedicate myself to maximize my Chinese language, and I know that Chinese class is not enough.

Photo credit: TA Xian Peiyu 

Photo caption:This is the class picture of the immersion program