Name: Morgan Banaszek
Hometown: Armonk, NY
Chinese name: 玫瑰
China experience: 1 year teaching English in Ordos, Inner Mongolia and since August 2013 I’ve been living in Ningbo attending University of Nottingham Ningbo Campus.
Where I’ve traveled in China: Beijing, Shanghai, Suzhou, Hangzhou, Chengdu, Chongqing, desert and grasslands of Inner Mongolia, Guilin, Yangshuo, cruise along the Yangtze River, Huangshan, Huashan, Xi’an, Ningbo, Shaoxing, Nanjing, Harbin, Hong Kong
Fun fact: I still have a baby tooth.
Hello fellow pengyoumen! My name is Morgan Banaszek and this summer I’m an intern at Project Pengyou. I am concurrently studying for my MA in Contemporary Chinese Studies at the University of Nottingham Ningbo Campus (UNNC). I can’t wait to spend time living in Beijing, working on projects to promote U.S.-China relations and using any spare time to explore the city.
Back in 2011 when I finished my undergraduate degree, I was lost and didn’t know what path my future should take. I always had a yearning for travel and language learning so I thought heading in that direction was a good start.
I studied Italian in high school and university but didn’t feel that it was a practical language to know for a career. Instead, I was looking to learn a new language and study a culture that could be beneficial for my future.
Having studied history, China has always captivated my interest: the dynasties, traditions, cuisine, innovation and myths about the Great Wall. China seemed like a good choice, one with great potential as a country with growing importance on the international stage.
Following the advice of a friend who was headed to China to teach English I found an English language school. To fully immerse myself in the culture and language, I requested not to be placed in a major city. So off I went to teach English for a year, all the way in Inner Mongolia.
STRANGER IN A STRANGE LAND
When I first arrived, on my own, I was definitely overwhelmed. Everything was strange to me and only having learned the phrase “ni hao” before arriving did not prepare me for what I was about to encounter.
On one of the first days after my arrival, I was walking through the small park near my apartment and started to notice the slow turning of heads. Next thing I knew I was having my photo taken by at least a dozen people. Not knowing what to say I smiled, complied, and consequently learned the word for foreigner. On other instances just my face provoked babies to tears; apparently I looked like an alien.
All signs were in Mandarin and Mongolian, and maybe a funny English translation like Happy Mother Baby Article Life Club, whatever that place was. Other than the Chinese teachers and foreign bosses at my school, no one I met spoke English. I stumbled through, picking up simple phrases to get by.
My language progress developed significantly through conversations with taxi drivers, learning new words and sentences aided by hand signals. Many taxi drivers had never met a white person before and were eager to converse with me and learn about my life, asking where I was from, how much money I made in a month, and what American people were like. Those taxi rides became my version of Mandarin lessons, where I tried to apply new vocabulary acquired throughout my daily life.
During this experience I became enamored with all things Chinese: the food, people, language and landscape. However, the whole time I felt like an observer with little true knowledge or understanding about the culture, history and life surrounding me. I had made lasting friendships with my colleagues (both foreign and Chinese) and had started informally learning Chinese, but I wanted to advance my studies and learn how to make use of my experience.
My face provoked babies to tears; apparently I looked like an alien.
MASTER’S IN CHINESE STUDIES
So I decided to pursue a Master’s in Chinese Studies. When applying to master’s programs I had two options: attend a reputable university for Chinese studies in an English-speaking country or head to a university in China where I would have the chance to use Mandarin on a daily basis. My decision for immersion and first-hand experience of my studies brought me back to China.
My course structure allowed me to study an extensive range of topics relating to China and finally take actual Mandarin classes. For me, this was a new way of learning Mandarin: having to read and write was daunting at first, but slowly eased. I can say with confidence that my language skills have expanded far past “ni hao.”
This past year I have found myself surrounded by books about Chinese politics, economics, language, and culture. My knowledge expanded significantly, making me willing to discuss or argue any China topic ranging from how the Qing influenced modern China to the one-child policy.
Through my university, I was given the opportunity to participate in an internship for my summer semester. Wanting to stay in China and exercise my knowledge, I started to search for potential internships. Additionally, having an interest to work in the non-profit sector, a professor of mine recommended Project Pengyou. I saw an internship with Project Pengyou as a chance to work on projects that strengthen cultural understanding between my home country and the country which I now call home.
PATH TO PROJECT PENGYOU
Today most of the media on China revolves around its rise as a threat to the US. It is the job of us Americans and pengyoumen who have studied in China to relay the real story of China back to our friends and family, fostering a network of Americans with a new outlook on China. It is a relationship that is vital for the future of both countries.
While I might not know exactly what specific career to pursue, I do know my future path will include China. This summer, as part of my Project Pengyou internship, I look forward to being at the forefront of expanding U.S.- China relations!