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Lost in Translation: My Trip to China

As I took my first stroll around Shanghai, China, I immediately felt a culture shock. I was excited by the brightly lit signs, the delicious smelling dumplings and the crowded streets lined with skyscrapers, yet I knew my week in China would be nothing like a week in the United States. I had the privilege of traveling to Shanghai for a journalism class I was enrolled in. The main goal of our class was to report on the experiences of international students, and our trip to China was planned to provide us with a feeling of empathy for these students who travel so far from home.

China was more beautiful than I had dreamed it to be. The food was more delicious than I could have hoped for and the people were more hospitable than I had ever expected anyone to be. Yet, a language barrier stood in the way with every interaction I faced. The only words I could say in Mandarin were “thank you” and “I don’t understand” (the two basics that every clueless American tourist should know). When it came time for us to report on the streets of Shanghai, I was absolutely terrified. Not only was I in a city that I was unfamiliar with, but I would be using a translator while reporting.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

I met my translator, Esther, and we headed toward the Metro to go to People’s Park. We were brought together so that I could report for my project, but naturally, we started talking about our lives as we traveled on the Metro. While we came from different countries, I knew that we would eventually find similarities between us. Pretty early into our conversation, we discovered that we both love watching Friends and eating McDonald’s chicken nuggets. It was easy for us to get along and hold long conversations as we rode the Metro to the park. Esther asked me about life in America, my opinions on U.S. politics and where I had traveled to before China. Being an only child, she asked me what it was like to have siblings. She told me about her life in China; how people rarely talked about political news, how she loves taking videos of her pets and how she loved living in Shanghai.

Living in America, people often assume that we are living a better life than the rest of the world. This causes so many tourists to come to non-Western countries with a superiority complex. While I did not see myself as better than anyone in Shanghai, I thought being in Shanghai would be an alien experience. It was certainly different than walking the streets of Chicago, but there were also many similarities to the United States. As I interviewed subjects for my story with Esther, I found everyone to be warm and friendly. The people in the park loved to play games, sit in the sun with friends and dance. I still have so much to learn and so many more people to interact with, but I am thankful for the opportunity to explore another side of the world, a side that is not so different than mine.

Emily Chaiet

Northwestern '20

Emily Chaiet is a senior from Fort Lauderdale, Florida studying journalism at Northwestern University. She is also pursuing a minor in sociology and a certificate in integrated marketing communications. In her free time she likes to rewatch the Office on Netflix and go to CycleBar.