Special Edition: Get to Know the SDR Team

By Cassie Dobos

While studying finance at the University of Denver (DU), I decided to challenge myself by taking Chinese language courses. Then I got the crazy idea that I wanted to study abroad in China. On day one of my freshman year, I knew basically nothing about China, but at the start of my junior year I was living with over 20 million people in China’s capital city – Beijing. It was challenging, eye-opening, smoggy (and at times smelly), but extremely amazing! Living in Beijing taught me so many invaluable lessons. I hope to be able to share some of the fun and exciting moments from my study abroad experience in Beijing, and give a few insider tips for anyone else lucky enough to explore China one day.

Attending Peking University (commonly known as Beida) was incredibly different than my experience at DU.  My Chinese class, which was admittedly WAY above my skill level, was an intensive experience I shared with four other American classmates. We became close friends with each other and with our teacher.  I also took Asian Economics and Chinese Architecture courses, which gave me insight into both past and present-day China. Outside of classes, Beida’s campus itself was full of history (and people).

Beida campus and library

Top row: Beida campus (left); Beida library (right). Bottom row: All of the bikes (left); typical class and studying (right).

Tip #1: If you buy a bike, remember what it looks like!

In order to make the most of my time in Beijing, my friends and I independently explored the city and nearby historic attractions. Trying to see at least one photo-worthy spot per week was an exciting task that got us out whenever we had a free afternoon or day of the week. I thought it was important to learn about Beijing and I quickly discovered that you don’t have to go far to see amazing things.

Tip #2: Sight-seeing can really work up an appetite for a plate of Mexican food. Find the nearest Mexican restaurant to where you live and frequent it often to make China feel a little bit more like home. It will be expensive (and not authentic), but it’s worth it!

CCTV Building, Great Wall, Old Summer Palace and Forbidden City

Top row: CCTV Building (left); Mutianyu Section of the Great Wall (right). Bottom row: Old Summer Palace (left); Forbidden City (right).

Like many students, one of the things I was hoping to do while abroad was to travel outside of the city that I was temporarily calling home. During weekends and holiday breaks, I was able to visit the province of Inner Mongolia and the city of Shanghai. Some students travelled internationally as well, visiting Hong Kong, Taiwan and South Korea.

Tip #3: If you go to Inner Mongolia in the fall, bring LOTS of warm layers. Also, bring your passport on domestic trips as you will need it to stay in hostels and hotels.

Bund Tower, Inner Mongolia, YuYuan Garden

Top row: Bund Tower in Shanghai (left); Riding Camels in Inner Mongolia (right). Bottom row: YuYuan Garden in Shanghai (left); Yurts in Inner Mongolia (right).

My trip ended with a bang via a two-week trip around Southern China. We took countless trains, planes and buses to visit cities and towns such as Xi’an, Lijiang, Guilin, Yangshou, Kunming and Dali. A serious outbreak of the stomach flu almost stopped our group in its path, but we persisted through it! Without the stress of planning how to get from one place to the next, I was able to fully relax and experience so much of China that I would have otherwise never visited.

China Map
China Key

Hiking in Southern China, Jade Dragon Snow Mountain in Lijiang, Posing in Dali, Terra Cotta Warriors

Top row: Hiking in Southern China (left); Jade Dragon Snow Mountain in Lijiang (right). Bottom row: Posing in Dali (left); Terra Cotta Warriors in Xi’an! (right).

Tip #4: Take pictures of yourself and your friends at landmarks. Did it really happen if there is no proof? 

When I returned to Colorado, I was definitely “traveled-out” for a bit, but I left China with a new sense of self and a new sense of the world.

Tip #5: Say Yes! (Unless you are at a market… then definitely haggle)

Free Tea Ceremony, Fish Feet Massage. Jade Buddha Temple in Shanghai, Tiananmen Square

Free Tea Ceremony (left); Fish Feet Massage (right). Bottom row: Jade Buddha Temple in Shanghai (left); Fending off pollution at Tiananmen Square (right).

Despite my best effort, my communication skills were not great, so I spent a lot of time ordering food blindly and hoping buses or taxis were taking me in the right direction. But, I survived! If you can travel to somewhere out of your comfort zone, the experience will be well worth the challenges and mistakes that you will certainly make along the way.