When we first profiled Carlos Suero last fall, the biology major was busy studying at Zhejiang University of Media and Communications, located in Hangzhou. Suero was taking advantage of the opportunity to study abroad in order to become a “more well-rounded” person.
Through the course of the semester, from September 2 to December 21, Suero believes that he gained a better understanding of the Chinese language, society and people. He was initially unable to communicate in Chinese much past the words he had learned in his classes. By the end of his stay, however, he was able to hold conversations and was able to get around the city on his own. To view a gallery of Suero's photos taken during his travels, click here.
Now that he is back on the Union campus, Kean XChange checks in with Suero once again, as he shares his experiences – and lifelong memories – of his semester abroad.
On the first night, I was sitting in my hotel room and got thirsty, so I headed downstairs to get a bottle of water. I first approached the receptionist at the front desk, but she didn’t know any English and I knew very little Chinese. We realized what was going on and laughed a lot about it. They had to get three different people to speak to me and, finally, about an hour later, I got some water. Even then, it was lemon water, and not exactly what I had wanted. I knew that I was going to have to learn Chinese in order to get around.
The program provided a foundation for learning how to pronounce the Chinese alphabet, grammar and pronunciation of tones, which allowed me to pick up new words and grammar at an accelerated rate. Without the teachings of Dr. Xurong Kong, studying over in China would have been a burden that would have taken away from many of the experiences that I had while I was there. Even though it was still challenging, the fact that I had a foundation of the Chinese language allowed me more time to myself to enjoy the people, the sights and the culture that is China.
I was really surprised the first day when I went to the cafeteria and tried to order food. Instead of a single-file line, so many people were trying to get food at once. When it came time for me to order, I would just point at different dishes. I felt like I was taking too long to order, so after that first day, I would wait for the masses to clear out before going to the cafeteria. I was eventually able to say, ‘the first one on the right, or the second one on the left…’
How did you learn to engage people more in conversation?
I walked around to different stores in the area, but the people weren’t always receptive. But I used to visit a bakery for breakfast every morning, where the baker understood that I spoke little Chinese and would strike up conversations with me. The conversations were always simple – talking about the weather and how our days were going. It gave me the chance to improve what I already knew. That’s also where I became good at counting money and making change.
During the evenings, I started hanging out at a coffee house called the Easy Love Lounge. I tried just about every kind of milk tea there. I became friends with several of the workers, and it gave me a chance to practice my Chinese and learn more of the colloquial terms. I would then hang out with them during the day and they would show me around the city. I also enjoyed taking the one-hour bus trip downtown by myself.
Was it hard making friends?
I didn’t think anything of it; I’ve kind of been doing it my whole life. As a child, I spoke Spanish first and had to learn English. I was born in Carolina, Puerto Rico, and my parents brought me and my sisters to Miami in 1994, when I was three years old. Two years later, we moved to Elizabeth, where I first had to learn English. I remember my mother teaching me the alphabet just before I started kindergarten.
Were your Chinese language and instruction classes challenging?
The classes were challenging, but I always had time to myself to explore the city and learn the language and culture. I learned how to play ping pong. I also discovered how popular basketball is there.
I would love to return to China one day to live and work. If I ever get the chance, I would definitely go. While I was there, I was offered a job teaching English in the schools. I decided that it was more important for me to earn my degree first, but I would consider looking into it again in the future.