Study abroad in China has broadened my view, appreciation of the world

Mihretabe Gizaw, For the Review

China, China, China. It seems like that’s all I’ve heard for the better portion of the last two years. Now that I’m here, I’m starting to understand what all the hype is about.

I have to admit, I had my biases about this place. Some preconceived notions that were either spot on or the farthest thing from the truth. The following will not even come close to debunking the myths about China. Nor will it reveal all the important truths that one needs to know to understand the magnitude of China’s growing influence over the world. I’ve only been here for a month, and have about three more to go. Maybe then I’ll have all the answers, but probably not.

For starters, I thought living in China was going to be miserable. The air is so polluted! Google (and also Gmail), Facebook, along with almost every other way of communicating with the “outside” world is censored and highly regulated! Everyone speaks Chinese and Chinese only! These are just a few of the phrases I would hear from friends, family, and the media which made my already scheduled study abroad less appealing and at times intimidating.

When I got here, it seemed like all of that was true, but it’s not near as awful as everyone makes it sound.

Yes, the air in Beijing along with many cities and provinces in China is very polluted. But the government is taking many strong measures (be it because of pressure from the international society or its constituents well-being), to reduce the pollution and prevent it from getting worse.

Yes, the internet is highly censored. But there are these magical inventions known as VPN’s that people can use to access anything they want. I don’t mean that to sound derogatory, but I honestly don’t know what I was so worried about.

I watch YouTube every day, and actually use more Facebook than I did in the U.S. because I have some more free time. Yes, everyone does speak Chinese only, which is kind of intimidating but I took some classes in the U.S. and my Mandarin is actually getting better from my classes here.

Day to day survival is an amazing teacher and it’s not so bad because at some point I realized that even though I’m not fluent, it’s not going to stop me from communicating with this or that person.

You do it, and you walk away proud of yourself. If you have the courage to travel all the way to China, you have it in you to learn some words and phrases. It’s hard at first, but gets easier and easier each day that passes.

The Professor of my China in the Global Economy class posed the question, “Is the world ready for Chinese leadership?”

This question rested on the notion that U.S. captaincy over the international stage continues to be undermined and the obvious replacement is China.

A hot topic of discussion for quite a long time, especially over the last two years, and continues to be extremely relevant today. You do not need a briefing of what scholars in the U.S. are saying, but unsurprisingly the discourse has the same two sides on this side of the world as well.

Those who believe that China is the next global leader and there is nothing than can be done to prevent that, and those who are convinced that this is a temporary fear and China is bound to end up being the Japan of the 1980s.

I sometimes agree with those that argue the former because learning about Chinese economic, political, as well as societal history amazes me.

This is a country that has had some horrible leaders and a tragic past, yet today maintains the second largest economy in the world. A country so deeply rooted in culture, however adapts to new technology faster than any Western country.

At the same time, those that argue the latter also have history on their side. China is currently showing the signs of a country that is about to fall into something economists like to call the “middle-income trap.” I am not an economist so I will avoid an attempt to explain what that means.

I am not convinced, however, that this phenomenon, whether it happens or not, will affect the growing influence China has all over the world. As with all things, time will tell.

Here are what I know to be facts. Chinese is the most spoken language in the world today and is exponentially difficult to teach compared to English.

But, this does not make it impossible to learn, drawing from my personal experience. It is easier to travel to China for whatever reason than it is to the United States.

I have seen an overwhelming number of fellow Ethiopian students, who are proficient in English, travel to China and learn a new language before continuing their higher education because they were not granted visas to come to the United States.

Even if they were, to live, learn, and work in China is much cheaper and easier than doing the same in the United States.

It remains, however, that the rest of the world, including the Chinese, revere the United States. The word for “America” in Chinese is “Měiguó” and directly translates into “beautiful country.” That sentiment of admiration still exists today.