CAPA Study Abroad Alumna Interview: Jasheah Howard

Apr 20, 2015 9:30:00 AM / by Stephanie Sadler

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Jasheah studied abroad in Beijing with CAPA International Education during Fall semester 2014. Below, she talks about the many ways that China suprised her by being a fantastic study abroad destination, how her experience helped smash a bunch of stereotypes she had about other cultures by bringing her into contact with people from around the world and how her internship with GMGC shaped her goals for a future career. 
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CAPA WORLD: Tell us a bit about yourself.
JASHEAH HOWARD: I studied in one of the best, most exciting places known to man: Beijing! I must say that I am extremely glad I studied in this particular region. I go to the State University of New York at Oswego and I double major in Broadcasting / Mass Communications and Language and International Trade. I love traveling, learning different languages, meeting and interacting with people from different backgrounds and cultures. Basically, I enjoy trying new things, from new foods to new ways of thinking.
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CW: Describe your travel background for us. What was the reaction from your friends and family when you decided to study abroad?
JH: If you were to look up “travel junkie” in the urban dictionary, my name would pop up as one of the definitions. I love traveling and I will do pretty much anything in my power to leave my country and visit someone else’s. I love traveling so much that I have done so many things including begging the lights out of my parents or saving whatever little money I received from my parents or scholarships, just so that I could go somewhere for vacation.

Right after coming back from Panama City, Panama, I was not ready to sit down in America just yet. I knew I loved the Caribbean, so I decided to look for a study abroad opportunity in Trinidad and Tobago. However, I heard about CAPA from my study abroad advisor, Mr. Lemon, and he strongly advocated for both the CAPA program and China itself.

Now I didn’t know much about China and honestly I did not have much interest in this region of the world. However, deciding to go to China, I can honestly say, was probably one of the best decisions that I have made in my life so far.

When I told my friends I was going to China to study abroad, automatically they would question it, in a bit of a pessimistic way because they had no idea what was out there. Usually I heard things like “China? What’s there?” or “China. I know so many people who have said that they knew someone who did not enjoy it.” Well, to answer those questions: One, there is everything in China; and two, well, I don’t know about those people who visited China, but obviously they didn’t explore this place to its full potential. I utilized so many of the opportunities that I was given and my friends and I had the time of our lives.
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CW: Chinese cuisine can be quite different from what we're used to in the US. What were your favorite local dishes? What new foods were you able to try? Did anything surprise you?
JH: Chinese food is very different from American food. At first, my friends and I were very apprehensive when it came to eating the real “Chinese food” we heard of ever so often. We heard that people got sick when they ate the food and you have to be mindful of the hygiene in restaurants because you can find yourself getting sick pretty often.
After being in China for about four months, I can say that I no longer am nervous about trying new foods, including food that is cooked on the streets. I have eaten exotic dishes from goose to what I believe is dog. Just to clarify, dog and cat are not a part of the main course meals in China - well, not in Beijing at least.

I was not surprised by any of the choices of foods that were given to us in Beijing because I already had “high” expectations when it came to the variety of foods offered. However, the perceptions that we have here in the Western world when it comes to the food eaten there are beyond the ordinary. Anyone who decides to go to China should not expect to eat cat and other types of domestic animals each day, because if you do you’ll be disappointed. The Chinese cuisine is composed of beef and chicken, just like our dishes here in the Western World. The only difference, of course, is the way the food is prepared, and boy was real Chinese food delish!
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CW: To what extent did you know the language before you arrived in China? What challenges has it presented? Were you been able to overcome them?
JH: Before going to China, I did not know any of the language. I didn’t know how to speak it, how to read, nor did I know how to write it. I tried taking some tutoring sessions before I left to Beijing. However,for some odd reason, the things I learned in those sessions could not stick with me. Those pre-Chinese language tutoring sessions showed me how different the Chinese language was from the English language.

It is rare for you to find a Chinese person who speaks strong English, or English at all. So, going to China, I really did have to learn the language (and fast) in order to live more comfortably. I found myself getting fatigued each day when I could not get my point across to the Chinese natives, so this forced me to study more and try to really learn Mandarin. My mandarin is not the best, however, there have been multiple occasions when the Chinese natives and even other foreigners thought that I was lying when I told them that I have only been studying mandarin for four months.

Thanks to my amazing Chinese professors, I was able to impress people and I was able to better express my ideas with others in Mandarin. I studied a lot every day and I was able to learn a very decent amount in the time that I was given. I consider learning Mandarin enough to live pretty comfortably in a matter of three or four months as one of my biggest accomplishments yet.
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CW: Tell us a bit about the intense Chinese classes you were taking in Beijing. 
JH: In total, I took three different types of Chinese language classes that focused on reading/writing, speaking or listening skills. Everyday, we took two of these three Chinese courses. Each class would be about two hours, so in total I had four hours of Chinese language classes every morning from Monday to Friday.

The classes were very small, so it was very easy for each student to get one-on-one attention from the teachers. Initially, the students would have to take a placement test to determine which Mandarin class they would take depending on how strong their Chinese language skills were.

The classes were intense and the material was applicable to everyday life. We used what we learned in class everyday when we interacted with the native Chinese people. The classes were very beneficial and were definitely the reason that I was able to enjoy China on a much greater level than I would have if I did not have these classes.
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CW: While you were abroad, you met other foreigners like yourself who were there to study or work. How did your own experience of your host country differ from theirs? What did you learn from each other?
JH: Many students from all parts of Europe, Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, and the Americas study in China, including students from Russia, Italy, Germany, Turkey, Nigeria, South Africa, Liberia, South Korea, Japan, Grenada, Antigua, Mexico, and the list goes on. I met many students from countries that I did not know existed, like Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan.

Many of the political and religious views of my foreign friends and of their countries were very different to mine. However, we all learned to adapt and respect each others’ ways of life. Some came from more modern countries. Some had more money. We were in all very different. However, we all were very open-minded and attempted to utilize China the best way we could. 

One set of my closest friends were from Russia, and I would always hear about the sanctions and other events that were happening in Russia while we were in China. Russia's current conditions are not as great as they were before. Coming from America and always having that nationalistic, closed-off view of the world, I learned a lot about different countries around the world, about their economies, the people, and the culture. If I did not go to China and meet all of these people, I would not know half of the things I know, nor would I be interested in what was happening all over the world. I really enjoyed learning all of this while in China from the people who could actually give me firsthand views on their thoughts and experiences of what was happening in these countries that I did not even know much about.
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CW: Has living abroad changed any stereotypes that existed in your own mind about your host culture? If so, how so and what were they?
JH: Living abroad has changed so many stereotypes and views that I have had about the Chinese culture and other foreign cultures as well. While changing stereotypes that I have had about the cultures of other nations, living abroad has caused me to respect these cultures more because of the new found clarity that I have achieved.

Before going and living abroad and living in Beijing, I believed:
  • All Chinese people are quiet.
  • All Chinese people ate very “exotic” food.
  • All Russian people are white.
  • All Africans, including the young, rarely strayed away from their African roots and this was their only culture, the “typical” strong African culture.
  • There were no black people in Italy.
  • Asians, Africans, and Middle Eastern people were the most humble people in terms of way of living, especially because they do not have much money.

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All of these perceptions were cleared up once I went to China. Chinese people can be pretty loud. I have gotten even louder when I went to China because I always found myself trying to talk louder when having a conversation. Why? I just needed to be louder than the person next to me, so that my friend could hear what I was saying.

People who are native to the Southern part of Russia, called Yakutsk, have Asian descent. The people of this part of Russia can be confused as being solely Asian, however most of them only have Russian culture.

Black people do live in Italy and they speak the language too.

Africans were very modern, sometimes I mistook some for being American.
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In the Asian, African, and Middle Eastern cultures, the people tend to have a lot of money. The people that I have met in China who came from these regions of the world were the opposite of poor, which is a conception that many Americans have of any other nation other than our own and Europe. Not only did a lot of these people have money, but they were not shy when it came to showing off the amount of money they had. This was a huge part of their culture and it clearly showed while I was in China living amongst them all. When it came to partying in the clubs, from their choices of clothing, and even the living arrangements they had, I knew these people came from affluent backgrounds. They were very kind, amazing people, however they were not shy when it came to showing off what they had.

Studying and living abroad not only cleared up incorrect perceptions, but it allowed me to look at other cultures in a different light. I respect the Chinese people and all other people of different nations across the world now more than I did before. I figured if they didn't speak my language, so what's the point of me getting to know them, but boy was I wrong. Going there, I learned so much about the world and what is going on around me.
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CW: Where were the places you carved out as "Your Beijing" - the places you found outside of the tourist sites, the places that were most meaningful for you? What was special about them?
JH: Jintaixizhao, which is an area in Guomao (Guomao is a city and home to many affluent people in Beijing) was very special to me. It was home to many businesses in China, both international and domestic. There were many nice buildings in this area, including clubs, hotels, and malls. Every time I visited this place, it was as though I stepped into my future. I loved the set-up and the atmosphere of Jintaixizhao because it is very aesthetically pleasing and very different from many other parts of Beijing. It is actually a dream of mine to live in this very area, the Business District, when I get situated in my career. I loved this area because it was so modern and wealthy, yet it still had so much culture. I found this amazing because usually with modernization, a lot of the culture of any area or region is lost. This was not the case in Jintaixizhao.
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CW: Did you travel outside of Beijing? 
JH: I went to Shanghai and the Tianjin Province. Beijing was definitely the most cultured out of all three. Shanghai had more foreigners in the foreigner-to-native ratio than Beijing had. Shanghai was also big city, more similar to New York and Boston, and it had a lot of modern buildings. It honestly seemed more futuristic than anything I have ever seen in New York. Tianjin was a mix of both Beijing, when it came to culture, and Shanghai, when it came to modernness. Tianjin was smaller than both Beijing and Shanghai, but it was still beautiful city. Beijing had cheaper prices than Shanghai and Tianjin in terms of food, clothing, transportation, and other goods. I did not face challenges in Shanghai and Tianjin, other than knowing where and how to get to a certain place. We had a lot of practice when it came to map reading and sharing directions in Beijing, so we did not have too much of a big problem when we went to its neighboring provinces.
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CW: Did your experience abroad in any way shape your career goals and aspirations?
JH: Let's just say that I went to Beijing a Broadcasting and Language and International Trade major and I came back wanting to change to a Chemical Engineering and Business Administration double major. The people I met in China helped me come closer to solidifying my plan of who I wanted to become and what kind of life I wanted to live. The people I met there were either studying or working in business, science, or a combination of the two. With careers in these particular areas, they were obligated to constantly travel all around the world and meet a lot of different people. One day, I called a friend I was with the previous night to hang out and she actually was in South Korea. Wouldn’t this be an amazing life to live?

I have always had a keen interest in science and my internship abroad helped me realize that I enjoy business. Working with Global Mobile Gaming Congress (GMGC) challenged me in ways that I did not expect to be challenged and in the end I gained respect and appreciation for the business profession. 

After working at GMGC and just being amongst these young, ambitious people in China, I learned that I must work hard to succeed and never fear doing something because I feel I may not succeed. If I do not work hard in life, someone else will and that will be the person with the respect and success. So at this moment, I may not know specifically what will make me satisfied in terms of my career, but I do know what I want to achieve in life and that is respect, success, and happiness.

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Thanks Jasheah!
Read more study abroad interviews!

Topics: CAPA Alumni, Interviews, Beijing, China