Best Friends in Beijing
Studying Abroad Enhances EducationJul 16, 2015
Best friends Claudia Pando and Courtney Scott met during the second week of their freshman year at the University of Colorado Denver. A friendly conversation, started over pizza, quickly turned to their shared passion for Chinese language and culture, and interest in CU Denver’s Semester in Beijing program. “I’m not sure who brought up the program up first, but afterwards we could not stop talking about it!” said Pando. The two made a decision to participate in the program together, sparking the beginning of a meaningful friendship and a great adventure.
For both Pando and Scott, the Semester in Beijing program was a huge part of the reason that they chose to attend CU Denver, and has been a defining feature of their university experience. The Semester in Beijing program allows students to take classes alongside Chinese students at the International College Beijing (ICB), a longstanding joint program between the University of Colorado Denver and the China Agricultural University. ICB courses are taught in English and offer direct University of Colorado Denver course credit. Courses of many different subjects are offered at ICB, and the main focus of the program is on Communications and Economics. Students can earn credit toward their degree while immersing themselves in the culture of the most populous and fast-growing nations on Earth. Pando and Scott are completing two semesters in the program.
While the content of courses at ICB is the same as CU Denver-campus courses, the classroom experience is completely different.
“The classes are inherently different due to the social and cultural differences: current events, common idioms, and behavioral norms all coalesce into a different learning environment from the typical American one,”
explained Scott, who is earning credit towards a business degree. Pando, an elementary education major, thinks the courses are as rigorous as Denver-based CU courses, and “being with Chinese students give us a new perspective.” Both Pando and Scott noted important differences in Chinese and American learning styles, and took more of a leadership role in classroom participation. “Learning in China has helped me to be more outspoken in class,” said Scott.
Students are also required to take a Chinese language or culture course. Both Pando and Scott have been studying Chinese since high school, and the program has immensely improved their language abilities. Though Scott admits she still occasionally struggles with the language barrier, she said, “The program has vastly improved my language skills through both necessity and opportunity.” Pando agrees. She has been studying Chinese for six years, and has improved far more during her time in Beijing than ever before. This is a testament to the power of language learning by immersion. “Coming to China has been a way for me to apply what I’ve been studying to everyday life—an opportunity that wouldn’t be possible anywhere else,” explained Scott.
Outside of the classroom, students have many opportunities to engage and immerse in Chinese culture. In order to fully experience Chinese university life, students live in dorm-style accommodations on campus. The program offers excursions to exciting locations in and around Beijing. One of Pando’s favorite experiences was on an excursion to Guilin, a city in southeast China known for its dramatic limestone landscape.
Pando and Scott have had many other opportunities to experience the sights around Beijing.
“If we wanted to plan something for our weekend, we could literally pay less than twenty bucks to see famous historical and national wonders,” Pando explained. “Pandas, the Great Wall, the Summer Palace and so much more were just a half hour away.”
The program allows students to experience China’s unique blend of ancient and modern civilization, as well as its scenic beauty and bustling nightlife. “Beijing itself is known for its political and historical significance, so there’s always something to do or see on the weekend,” said Scott.
“Going to China with a friend, particularly one as close as Claudia and I are, has definitely made my experience easier,” said Scott. It has made her more confident and willing to be spontaneous. Pando agrees, saying, “Having a friend has been a lot of fun, because I believe it is human nature to want to share experiences.” But Scott and Pando have also branched out and developed meaningful relationships with Chinese students. “The Chinese students are very nice and are always willing to give a hand,” said Pando. For Scott, participating in the program has made her realize that despite seemingly large differences between the two cultures, Chinese and American people are actually quite similar. “Everyone is just a person with the same intrinsic motivations,” she explained.
Both Pando and Scott would recommend the Semester in Beijing program to any interested CU Denver student. “Learning in Beijing provides both a more intimate learning environment and a broader one. Studying abroad in any country is a gateway to learning about cultures from all over the world,” said Scott. For these two friends, the Semester in Beijing program has been an unforgettable experience which has only strengthened their friendship. “If any students are looking for a change of scenery or routines, how much more of a change is there than moving 6,000 miles away?” said Scott, adding, “The experience has been educational and exciting in ways beyond Denver and Colorado.”
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