F&M Stories

Off-Campus Study: Teresa Chappell '18

I had just arrived at the Seoul airport — one half of the way to my final destination. It was 5am and the usually bustling airport was a field of empty space, every now and then you would hear the creaking of suitcase wheels echoing around the wide corridors. I had eight more hours until my flight and five more until the airport began opening up. So I did what anyone would, I found an outlet to charge my phone so that I could freely peruse the internet one last time before entering China's firewall.

As the hours began dwindling down from 8, to 5, to 3 until takeoff, I became more and more nervous. I was about to go to a country alone, where I didn't really know the language nor could I rely on my English to help me. Don't get me wrong, I am very used to traveling and flying alone, but this was somehow different. This wasn't a Western country. I was venturing into a domain where I had never been — at least not alone. Suddenly, all of my anxieties came tumbling over my head, like when you get caught in the undertow of a wave and dragged across the sand.

I was about to participate in the CET Middlebury Hangzhou program, a program that required students to adhere to a language pledge — that meant no English for the next four months. I began doubting myself, wondering if I really had the mental and emotional capability to do this, to really learn Chinese. But wasn't that the very reason I chose this program? Didn't I want to advance my Chinese? I knew to achieve the proficiency I wanted a language pledge was my best bet, but the reality of it was making my head spin. However, I was already in Korea, there was no turning back now.

As I boarded the plane, I quickly recognized that I was the only person that was not of full Asian descent and I went into full-blown panic mode as I realized this would be the norm when I arrived. So I put on my headphones to calm myself down and clicked the recently added playlist on my phone, which just happened to be Chance the Rapper — someone I had heard about for the first time (late to the game, I know) in an article I was reading in the Seoul airport. As we prepared for takeoff, I let the melodic words sink into my brain: Are you ready for your blessings? Are you ready for your miracles? And that's when it hit me, I was being ridiculous. I had this amazing opportunity to be going to China to pursue something that I was really passionate about. Not everyone is so lucky, and here I was freaking myself out to a point I had never been. Yes, I was ready for my blessings.

And a blessing it was. In China, I lived with 12 American students and 12 local Chinese students who became my best friends. We played Chinese games that in all honesty is where I learned most of my Chinese language skills. After a few weeks I forgot that I was even on a language pledge, Chinese came out my mouth as naturally as English did and at the end of the semester I was named the student with the most improved language skills. Reflecting back on my time, I realized that I really had nothing to worry about. I learned that everywhere people want to make connections, no matter if it is a Western or Eastern country — the core of humanity is the same and laughter truly is a universal language.

OCS Profile

Teresa Chappel '18

Middlebury School in China: Hangzhou

Hangzhou, China

Term Abroad: Fall 2016

Brooks College House

Major: Double in Creative Writing and French

Minor: International Area Studies - Chinese

Campus Affiliations: Off-Campus Study Ambassador, Women's Rowing, Alpha Delta Pi, Spring Admit Mentor


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