It was the first week of October, Golden Week in China. Every student was out of school, and most families were on vacation. With five days to travel anywhere I wanted in a country with 1.3 billion people, I chose to get far away from the tourists and flew to Inner Mongolia, a northern province in China. From camping alone in the Great Blue Mountains, hitchhiking my way back to my hostel, sharing a hotel room with a group of Spaniards, and then traveling with them to the Gobi Desert, I had the greatest adventure of my life.
Hi, or should I say, 你好(nĭhǎo). My name is Nate Essin, and I studied abroad in China for Fall Term 2016. As a 27-year-old native to Sherman, Texas, I had never been outside the U.S. (I worked a few jobs before beginning community college at age 24 and transferring to Austin College for Fall Term 2015.) With scholarships from Austin College, my study abroad program, and the Gilman Scholarship from the U.S. Department of State, I was able to fund my trip. Studying abroad paired well with my majors in international economics and finance and in global management, and my
minor in East Asian studies: Chinese.
Studying abroad wouldn’t have been nearly as fun without friends from Austin College. Two weeks before my program started, I flew to Beijing and met my friend Jiayue Liu ’16. Although I was staying in a hostel, her parents invited me for dinner every evening. Her father had been a chef for the Communist Party leaders. Needless to say, the dishes he prepared were an excellent introduction to authentic Chinese cooking.
Experiencing Chinese culture became a priority. I ate street food from questionable vendors and took the train from Beijing to the historic capitol of China, Xi’an. Upon arriving, I stayed in the home of my friend, Conling “Brittany” Zhang ’19, who took me around the city in her family’s car. While there, I saw the 6,000 Terra Cotta Warriors. From Xi’an, I took a 30-hour train ride (standing room only) and speaking broken Chinese, got to know my fellow passengers a little better. Most of them were farmers. They explained to me that I was the first white person they had ever seen. They were so fascinated by me, especially my large feet. They were generous and shared their lunch and cigarettes with me.
In Shanghai, I roomed with fellow Austin College student Kelvin Lane ’17. Together, we did the intensive Chinese language program at Shanghai University of Finance and Economics. Chinese is not an easy language to speak or write, but we made fast progress. Soon, we found ourselves having conversations with locals and feeling confident.
Personally, I feel that my experience has better prepared me to live and work abroad. I’d like to continue learning the Chinese language and work in China. This experience exposed me to amazing people accomplishing incredible things, people I never thought I would meet. It gave me the confidence to pursue my dreams abroad.
Making videos has always been a passion of mine. At Austin College I work as a student intern doing videos for the Public Affairs Office, and plan to work in video advertising when I graduate next spring. See videos of my experience in China (click Videos).
Next: Au Revoir to A President