A transformation begins with language, geography ... and humidity?

Zoe Gillbard '14 contemplates distance and immersion as she adjusts to life at EFZ in Shanghai where she is taking part in the Chinese Summer Language Institute (CSLI@EFZ). Follow Zoe and her fellow students' progress by bookmarking http://peddievoices.peddie.org/search/label/EFZ.

Yesterday, as I rode the elevator down from the 10th floor of the international dorm at EFZ, I contemplated the concept of distance. Normally, the largest distance I am forced to conceptualize in everyday life is the distance from school to my house, or the distance to the doctor’s office, or the library. Sometimes I even think about the distance between New Jersey and another state. In that elevator however, I was contemplating an absolutely incredible distance; the distance from where I was standing in Shanghai, to my home, halfway around the world. In my mind, I crossed various deserts, plains, forests, bodies of water, and I would be home. But how long would it actually take to walk there? According to Google Maps, it would take 3500 hours, but who would attempt it? By the time we had reached the first floor, I had stopped trying to fathom the distance. It was too difficult a task for me, especially considering I was trying my best to think in Chinese.

To walk to Shanghai, according to Google Maps, takes 3,500 hours and
the instructions have over 1,800 individual steps, including steps 763 and 788
which require you to "kayak across the Pacific Ocean."

Immersion is another concept I have been trying to wrap my mind around. To be perfectly honest, it’s quite awkward at first. It’s hard to jump right into speaking a foreign language when it’s been months since you’ve last spoken it. My first few conversations consisted of me saying, “Shen me? Shen me?” (Chinese for ‘what’) over and over, asking people to repeat themselves multiple times. Today being our second full day, I felt slightly more comfortable speaking Chinese to my friends and teachers. I’ve already gotten to the point where it takes slightly more effort to type in English than it normally would. This is progress!

Shanghai in the summer is comparable to a sauna on full blast. The dorm room, which I share with Julia Cunningham’13, is constantly over air-conditioned to compensate for the overwhelming heat and humidity. Anytime we walk outside, it is in order to get from one air-conditioned building to another; no one lingers outside for fear of fainting, or even worse, melting.

Fortunately for the four Peddie students, our classroom is also kept cool.  Our teacher, Ms. Wang, has already furthered our knowledge of the Chinese language through the use of our new textbook and other supplementary materials. Today, we looked at a map of the Shanghai subway and discussed the number and variety of lines and stops. Our textbook, which is used by the AP Chinese class at Peddie, taught us important phrases concerning food and fashion. We learned a few nuanced expressions which have numerous applications. For example, we learned a sentence structure which allows us to pose rhetorical questions. Although all four of us found it quite difficult, we persisted in our quest for understanding.

My roommate Julia and I completed our homework together this evening, using the prompts from our textbooks to have conversations about a variety of topics!At the end of our two hour study-hall, Julia and I decided we were hungry. We asked Ms. Jiang if she would accompany us to go eat down the street in a dumpling shop. All three of us wandered out into the dark, sticky night, immediately finding multiple bug bites on our exposed skin. We rushed to the restaurant so as to be in an air-conditioned room once again! The food was incredible, and we were quite satisfied with our nighttime adventure, even if we returned to our dormitory drenched in humidity and sweat.

My mind is currently being stretched. It is being molded and transformed by the language, the culture, the food… even the humidity! What an awesome experience. I am so grateful that I was given the opportunity to come to Shanghai.