Falling in love with China was a driving force behind Christina Weigel's study abroad experience. As the first Fort Hays State University student to study at Hangzhou Normal University, Weigel, Hays senior, was soft-spoken yet obviously delighted to discuss her educational adventures after her return this fall from almost a year in China.
"The people were just absolutely amazing," she said. "I grew a lot from going over there. Seeing everything I saw was just so eye-opening."
Although she had studied the Mandarin language at FHSU a year before leaving for Hangzhou, Weigel said the language immersion experience in China was highly challenging.
"We started off with easy characters and, all of a sudden, it got difficult," she said.
Arriving in Hangzhou with no luggage gave Weigel a taste of what can go wrong in international travels. She said that experience has helped her empathize with Chinese students studying at FHSU.
Another challenge Weigel worked through was adapting to changes in her diet. Surprising even herself, she found that she now loves the taste of eggplant and tomatoes.
Opening up to the magnificent scenery, historic sites and optimistic spirit of the Chinese people were transformational for Weigel. Even common elements drew her interest, and she pointed out that some landmarks familiar to Americans took on a new twist in China.
"The Walmarts in China are probably the same size (as America), but there's fish and turtles, seafood, big toads and eels," she said. "It was just totally different."
Courses at Hangzhou Normal University were available in Tai Chi, paper-cutting, traditional music and calligraphy. Weigel, a corporate communications major, opted to put her primary focus into language study and passed level two of Chinese. Her instructors informed Weigel that her Chinese speaking skills placed her at the top of her class.
She hopes someday to leverage those language skills and her other educational experiences in China into a career.
"I always thought of having a job dealing with China and America," she said. "I don't know if it will be with the government or a business, but I'll do almost anything I can -- as long as it's with China.”
FHSU administration encouraged and supported Weigel in her efforts to study in China.
"We admire Christina for following her dream and taking on the challenge of living in a foreign country, learning their language and adapting to their culture," said Cindy Elliott, assistant provost and dean of strategic partnerships and distance learning.
"Christina was a wonderful ambassador for FHSU and the state of Kansas," she said. "We're hopeful her experience will encourage other students to study abroad at least one semester -- if not in China, then in another part of the world."
Weigel's advice to other students considering a study abroad experience in China is simply "do it."
"Anyone that can, they should just go," she said.
"I was scared at first, but I realized I shouldn't have been so scared. At first, you don't know what's going to happen, and being the first student to do it, I had no idea what was going on -- I just threw myself out there. I learned so much and grew up so much. It just completely changed my thoughts about the world. It's an amazing experience."