Cultural Experience | China

Study Abroad Interview: One Man in China, The Ryan Suen Story

We all learn the same things from traveling as well as having to deal with figuring out who you are as a person in an entirely new place.

Ryan Suen is a fellow student of mine at UC Irvine who spent his fall quarter studying abroad at the Fudan University in Shanghai, China. Suen went to China right when I got back to UC Irvine from spending a year abroad in Lyon, France, so I reached out to him at the beginning of his journey to wish him well on his travels because I knew that the next few months would change his life. We talked every so often while he was abroad, and he told me about all of the awesome places he was going and all of the new experiences he was having.

It was interesting to hear about his experiences abroad since he studied abroad in China, while all I knew was Europe. Hearing his perspective about what it is like to be a foreigner in China was enlightening, but it was interesting to figure out that we still learned the same things from traveling as well as having to deal with figuring out who you are as a person in an entirely new place. This realization made me wonder what else he learned and did while he was abroad, so I sat down with Ryan to really hear about his study abroad experience.

Besides Shanghai, where else did you go while abroad?

Hanzhou, Suzhou, Tai Shan, Dali, Lijiang, Shangrila, Jiuzhaigou, Xia He, Langmusi, Beijing, and Yiwu.

What was your favorite and least favorite thing about studying abroad?

Meeting people and understanding their cultures. To travel is to realize everyone is wrong about everyone else’s nations, and I love those moments when I realize just how wrong I am.

As for my least favorite moment, I do not really have one. Anything negative that occurred, I simply labeled as a “cultural experience,” as part of being in China. I studied abroad to experience what I cannot experience back at home, and that’s what happened.

What is one thing you regret not doing while studying abroad?

I regret not making more of an effort to meet locals, so I would make sure to try and speak to the local people wherever I am during my next traveling experience.

Tell me a funny / memorable story about studying abroad.

During the National Holiday in China, I spent the week in Langmusi, in Gansu province, participating in a three day horse trek. The entire horse trek itself, riding a horse across this mountainous, wild plateau and living with Tibetan nomads was one of the most amazing things I’ve ever done in my life. But, the trek included an ascent of Mount Huai Gai, a mountain famous to the locals. At the top, it is one of the most remote locations in China, and that’s saying quite a bit for a nation with more than 1.4 billion inhabitants. It was one of the few locations in China where it is, for once, absolutely quiet and impossible to see civilization.

Chinese camels
What is the most important thing you learned through travel?

People have different ways of living. This involves their social, economic, and political structures, among other things. Take, for instance, the definition of freedom. For Americans, it’s the government doing as little as possible and allowing us to do pretty much anything we want. My Finnish friend told me that the general definition of freedom in Europe is that the government does everything it can in its power to increase the general welfare of the people. One word, two different meanings, and thus two massively different lifestyles. How do you measure which is successful? Depends what you use as your yardstick. GDP: America. What many polls consider as “happiness”: Norway, Denmark, Switzerland and many other European nations win this one.

People, from both similar and different backgrounds, have varying priorities which define the cultures from which the originate from. And, as human beings, it isn’t in our power to judge and discriminate another culture. We may not agree with others, and we may not like their cultural tendencies. But, to truly consider yourself international, you must respect them.

What was the most challenging thing about studying abroad for you personally?

The concept of Solitude. It is both the most brilliant and most difficult aspect of being abroad. You are both liberated and abandoned.

Where do you want to travel next?

I’m looking to study abroad again in one of the most culturally uncomfortable locations I can imagine. I’m thinking Israel, Jordan, Tanzania, or Botswana. Excluding that, I’m looking to complete Mount Whitney, Mount Shasta, and Half Dome this coming summer.

If you could do your study abroad experience over again – what are the top three things you would do differently?

First, I would have to say that it is necessary to stay for a year, without a doubt.

Second, learn more about Buddhism, Taoism, and Confucianism before coming to China. I think I would have received so much more from the experience if I had done so, especially when visiting temples and significant religious sites.

Third, live in the dorms with the local students. I lived in an off-campus apartment, made it rather difficult to form solid friendships with the people I met. If I had lived in the dorms with the rest of the students, meeting people and making friends with the other international students, as well as the local students, would have been much easier.

All photos were taken by Ryan Suen.

Molly Greathouse

University of California, Irvine | 12 stories

Molly Greathouse is a 4th year at UC Irvine who spent her 3rd year in school in Lyon, France. This summer she will be off to Australia for one last taste of the collegiate life before entering the Real World.

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