Phillips Ambassador McKay Roozen sends a "letter from Beijing"

Phillips Ambassador McKay Roozen, an international and area studies and political science double major from Lexington, KY, and former editor of Carolina Passport magazine, writes about her time in China during the summer of 2010 in an essay on the UNC Global Web site.

McKay, pictured left at the Great Wall in China, with fellow Phillips Ambassador Chase Jenkins of Highlands, NC, is studying with the CET in Beijing summer program.

After serving as an editor of Carolina Passport magazine for almost two years, I can securely say that I know the true value of travel.

Every semester, the magazine publishes short travel narratives written by UNC students who have studied abroad or traveled independently during their time at the university. While I have learned a lot about the importance of travel from my own personal experiences, being exposed to three semesters of Carolina Passport submissions has taught me just how important travel is for the college-student’s mind: it will indubitably impact your life, shift your mindset and possibly change your future.

Thus, after studying Mandarin Chinese for two years at UNC, I felt the need to write my own story with China as my paper and Chinese as my ink. After receiving the support of the Phillips Ambassador Scholarship, I prepared myself mentally for the cultural challenges and academic intensity that awaited me at the CET Beijing Chinese Language summer program. I chose to attend CET not only because of its reputation for being one of the more intensive language programs, but also for its unique language pledge which requires students to speak only Chinese during the two month duration of the program.

With much anticipation and excitement, I landed in China and quickly realized how limited my Chinese was, even after two years of study. And while my listening skills sharpened after just a few days, my charade-ing ability also greatly improved. After a while, I realized that it was the simplest things with which I struggled the most. For example, I still had trouble ordering food and giving directions; however, I had mastered the conversation on China’s “One Child Policy” thanks to the first day’s lesson. Even with the gaps in my language skills, I still managed to communicate, as did everyone else. I remember during the weekend before the language pledge began, the students all joked about how quiet it would surely be on Monday morning when no one would be allowed to speak English. However, this has never been the case. No matter the situation, language proficiency or class level, we can always find ways to communicate. In my opinion, it is our universal need to speak and communicate that makes the language pledge so useful: no matter what language you have to use, you’ll find a way to say what you’re thinking.

Now that I’m halfway through the program, I already can tell that my Chinese proficiency has improved. Not only is it easier to hold a conversation with cab drivers and store clerks, but it’s also becoming more of a learning experience. I’ve taken note of the importance of the ever impromptu conversation; they can be the experiences that expose you to new slang, teach you useful grammar points and, most importantly, allow you to learn about the people and the culture behind the language. With this new discovery, my understanding of Chinese culture and the language will surely progress and I can’t wait to return to UNC with these new experiences so that I can share, discuss and better understand them.