John Ames

Major: Business Administration

Hometown: Annapolis, MD

Study Abroad Program: CIEE Shanghai

The time I spent in Shanghai and other cities in China was the experience of a lifetime.  Upon arriving in Shanghai, I was amazed by the familiarity.  Growing up in a suburb of Baltimore, the similarities were striking.  The street vendors, homeless people, skyscrapers, and Porsche dealerships all seemed as if they could have been transposed from America.  It wasn’t until I explored the city deeper and ventured outside the city that I experienced the culture shock I was looking for.

The first real shock I encountered was on a weeklong class trip we took early on in the semester to Inner Mongolia.  While in Inner Mongolia, we ventured into the desert where we truly got a feel for how people lived outside of the cities.  Our class slept in a Yurt (a metal tipi) in freezing weather with a stove nobody could work, ate tofu cooked from horse dung, and rode horses across the desert.  It was interesting to see the way people can live with nearly no resources.

From Inner Mongolia we traveled to Xian where after a few days in the city we visited an elementary school in a small town.  The children there had never seen Americans, and after an intense game of tug of war (we lost), I found myself signing autographs in both English and Chinese for a throng of kids.  It was very weird to me why they would want my autograph but it was also eye opening.  If I had never seen a Chinese person in my life, I may want their autograph as well.  This was a general theme while in China as random people would want a picture with our group, just because we were Americans.  It was a very surreal experience.

Classes at the university where I studied were very rigorous.  We had two hours of Chinese class five days a week, which greatly enhanced my language capability.  However, living and moving around the city was the best opportunity for my language skills to get better.  By the end of my time in Shanghai I had no problem carrying on a conversation with my cab driver, and began to feel much less American and more Chinese.  By the time I returned to America I felt the reverse culture shock was much more than what I felt when entering China.

One of the best experiences I had in China happened out of a situation I was initially displeased with.  For a research course I was taking, my instructor told me that I would be waking up at 6 am to go for a run through the park, where I would have to survey random Chinese people about my research topic.  When I woke up to run, only one other student showed up.  Upon arriving at the park however, I could tell waking up early was truly worth it.  Shanghai in the early morning is much different than Shanghai at day and night.  Hundreds of older Chinese people were in the park.  Many were exercising to music, all in unison.  Others were playing games or walking with friends.  It was an interesting sight and unlike anything I have seen in the U.S., and showed the communal culture the Chinese have.

Studying abroad in China was the most rewarding three and a half months of my life.  I became conversational in a new language, learned firsthand the differences in cultures, and went dragon boat racing, all while traveling to ten different cities in China and meeting different people in each.  I also learned a lot about the ways the Chinese do business and how much it differs from business in U.S.  The Phillips Ambassador scholarship allowed me to truly live a different life and realize the opportunities that China and Asia hold.