Is It Not a Pleasure to Meet With Friends From Afar?
By: Ryan Hale
Last year, on a chilly February morning, I sat at a desk in my university’s library, working on writing some Chinese characters. Though I tried my best to stay focused on the strokes of each character, my mind continually wandered, and I couldn’t exactly figure out why. Perhaps the cold, snowy, bitter climate of Upstate New York had imbued me with feelings of wanderlust. Up until then, my grandest adventure was a three-hour trip north to Canada for a few days.
I desired to experience more of what this world had to offer. I desired to travel to places far away and learn new things, all while experiencing a new way of life.
Suddenly, I heard a faint buzzing noise from the pocket of my bookbag. Thrust out of my dream world and back into reality, I lazily grabbed for my phone, expecting to see an email regarding homework or some other enthralling topic. To my surprise, I had received a very different email. The email discussed an opportunity through The Confucius Institute at the University at Albany (my home university) and Southwest University of Finance and Economics in Chengdu, China. Upon reading through the email, I learned that these two universities were offering an opportunity for students to travel to SWUFE in Chengdu in summer 2019 for a short study abroad experience. Without a second thought, I immediately began the registration process for the program.
Fast forward to a month or so later, after receiving my acceptance email for the program, I went and shared the news with the friends I had met at the Confucius Institute. I was so incredibly excited to experience what the nation of China had to offer. I received mixed reactions from my friends and family. Many were supportive of my decision while others reacted with looks of bewilderment and confusion. Despite the mixed reactions, I was not the slightest bit dissuaded. I had heard a one-sided story of China while living in the US, but I knew deep down there was much more to China, and it’s incredibly long and complex history and culture.
For the month of March following my acceptance, I worked diligently to make sure everything on my travel itinerary was perfect – acquiring my visa, passport, plane ticket, and such. In the meantime, I also admittedly watched an unhealthy amount of YouTube videos about the best destinations and food in Chengdu. I prepared gifts for my friend from the University at Albany Confucius Institute, who graciously offered a place to stay my first night in Chengdu, the day before the program started, and as the days passed, the magic date of July 11th moved closer and closer. I envisioned myself boarding the plane that would make the long journey to Chengdu (my first ever plane ride!) and about a week before my departure, I could barely contain my enthusiasm. After many nights of questionable sleep, the day had arrived to board the plane and begin my grand journey. The ride with my parents to Newark International Airport was one I will never forget, though the three–hour drive felt like minutes. My airport experience was relatively stress-free, and I tried quite hard to make it seem like I wasn’t a total newbie navigating the hundreds of airport gates. Upon reaching the security checkpoint, I gave my mom and dad hugs for what felt like an eternity, said my goodbyes, and left my teary-eyed mom with my dad. My adventure had finally begun. Not so long after passing through security, I boarded the Air China flight and began my long trek.
After a 24-hour voyage with a connecting flight in Beijing, I had finally arrived in Shuangliu Airport. I spotted my friend shortly after grabbing my bags, and in my excitement, I ran to embrace my friend and her boyfriend. We exchanged greetings and gifts, and then promptly left. I fell asleep almost immediately upon reaching my friend’s house. After a long slumber, it was already time to head to my next destination – the hotel all the international students would be staying at near SWUFE. I mustered up the courage to ask a boy who appeared to be my age on the subway if I was going to the correct location. Without a second thought, he told me to follow him in Chinese. I was blown away at the courtesy of this young man! After going out of his way to make sure I arrived at my proper stop, I did what any thankful person would do, I tried to give him money for helping me. He politely declined and disappeared into the subway crowd. What a kind soul! Once I arrived at the hotel and settled into my hotel room, I went to the lobby and met many new international friends. Due to my Chinese studies, I had also been asked to help host the commencement ceremony, which I gladly accepted. I had a blast working with the Chinese volunteer students of SWUFE, who worked tirelessly with the coordinator throughout the entire trip to make sure our experience was the best possible. Of course, we went on many adventures together, such as visiting the Panda Base and going to Du Fu Thatched Cottage. It is incredibly meaningful to me that I got to go on these adventures in Chengdu with my friends from afar.
On my adventures, I found that my decision to study Chinese as a minor was one of the best decisions I could have made, due to how much it improved my experience on this trip. I think one of my biggest takeaways from my trip can be summed up by a quote from Nelson Mandela, which is “If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.”
I often wondered why I chose to study Chinese, or a language in general. Through this trip, I had finally realized my reason for doing so.
Upon surprising people in Chengdu with my Chinese, their faces instantly lit up with great, dazzling smiles. This was a reaction worth more than gold in my eyes. I also learned much of how a language can help you better understand the culture of a country. For example, one of my experiences wandering through a night market in the Wenjiang District of Chengdu. Upon ordering some tasty snack from a vendor in Chinese, my eyes locked with a family who stared at me in wonder. I greeted them in Chinese, and we promptly began chatting. After chatting for about two or three minutes, the man told the vendor he would cover the cost of my snack. Shocked, I stood there silently, utterly dumbfounded by the kindness and generosity of this man I had just met. After many a “thank you” in Chinese. We parted ways. No sooner than thirty minutes later, I came along a small shop on a side street of the district. Sure enough, there was the family, relaxing and eating, enjoying their time together. They invited me inside and we shared a multitude of homemade Chinese dishes, which were delicious. After many, many hours of chatting in Chinese, we came to realize our lives were quite similar, despite our upbringings on opposite sides of the globe. My view of our world, in that moment, shifted completely.
I consider the memories I made in Chengdu to be some of the most influential and important moments in my life. Through these moments, I realized how similar we all are as humans, despite geographical boundaries, language, or culture. Though my story tells just a small part of my travels in China, my trip to Chengdu and my study of Chinese language quite literally changed my viewpoint of the world for the better. And for that, I am incredibly thankful to have had the opportunity to embark on this journey. I am also thankful for The Confucius Institute at the University at Albany and to Southwest University of Finance and Economics for covering much of the cost of this trip. I will carry the experiences I had in Chengdu with me for the rest of my life.
Confucius Institute at the University of Albany
Ryan Hale is a rising Senior at the University at Albany, where he studies Finance and Business Analytics. On the University at Albany campus, Ryan is heavily involved in assisting with events held by the UAlbany Confucius Institute. In addition to this, Ryan enjoys attending various Business and Finance seminars hosted by the School of Business at the University at Albany.
Ryan has a few hobbies he is very passionate about, one of which is language learning. In addition to Chinese, Ryan also speaks French, as well as basic Korean and Hindi. A few other hobbies include playing the piano, investing in the stock market, and building computers.
Ryan greatly enjoys exploring the world and meeting new people. In the past two years alone, Ryan has traveled to both Chengdu and Shanghai in China, as well as Seoul in South Korea. Ryan has been studying Chinese for two years and hopes to utilize his Chinese in conjunction with Finance for work in the future.