Weather Forecast


To China and back: Local student returns from three-month trip overseas

John Urban, a 2007 Hudson High School graduate, already had four years of Spanish under his belt and decided it was time to try another language.

During freshman orientation at UW-Madison last year, he said Chinese just caught his eye. Later on in the semester, one of his teaching assistants really "hyped up" the summer China study abroad program. That's where he's spent the last three months -- in China's third largest city, Tianjin.

"If [you] have any reservations about going to China, they should be shoved aside," said Urban, 20.

Urban traveled there with a friend, but the group had a total of 64 students. They lived in a hotel on campus where they had an entire floor to themselves.

While there, he took a Chinese class equivalent to two more semesters worth of credits at Madison. He said while he's not yet fluent, he's definitely better. He also said his difficulty in understanding the language really depended on the people he was talking to and their specific dialect.

Every morning he attended a class discussion and later on had a separate lecture. Urban said a lot of his teachers were really enthusiastic, which made learning the language less difficult.

But even outside of class he was continually learning since he had to speak the language everywhere.

"You were getting practice whether you liked it or not," said Urban.

Besides going to class, Urban was able to travel to many historical sites around the country, and even witnessed an Olympic event. Tianjin was one of the Olympic cities so he was able to attend a preliminary soccer match for the U.S. vs. Japan. He also saw the Great Wall and spent a weekend in Shanghai.

He traveled west to the Tibetan Plateau on a weeklong trip with three other students and stayed in the cities Datong, Xining and Tong Ren.

"I think one of my favorite [trips] was when we were in Xi'an and saw the Terracotta warriors," said Urban. The Terracotta Army is a form of funerary art buried with the Emperor of Qin and was discovered in 1974.

Urban wasn't able to spend any time out of the country, however, since he would have needed a re-entry visa.

He said the Chinese were extremely nice and he didn't experience too much culture shock. He did, however, miss breakfast cereal -- something China doesn't have. He also missed fast Internet, a small "luxury" Americans can often take for granted.

It wasn't uncommon to be stared at, he said, but he didn't stick out in crowds as much as some of his blonde and 6-foot-tall friends.

Urban said one of his funniest stories was when he was in the hotel with a friend and a young Chinese girl assumed he didn't speak the language, yelling "Look, foreigners!" to her parents. Urban responded to her (in Chinese) "Foreigners? Where?" and began to look around, to which she became very embarrassed and quickly ran away.

"Hey, she shouldn't have assumed I didn't speak Chinese," said Urban, laughing.

Urban said he plans to return in the future and eventually work in the Chinese field, possibly for a consulate or teaching.

Madison offers yearlong study abroad programs and he said he'd consider spending his junior year in Beijing; otherwise he'll wait to go back until after graduation. He'll be entering his sophomore year at Madison this fall and is majoring in Chinese.

He advises China travelers to be prepared for everything and said it's possible to get by without knowing the language. Overall he said it was a great experience.

"You see so much on TV and you read so much about it," said Urban. "But you get a different perspective on what's going on in China with what you personally see."