Grace Bassett '19 and Susan, her Chinese student guest for the week. Photo by Lindsey Mancini '19.


Hosting Chinese exchange students supercharged my study of the language

Grace Bassett is a senior at the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics. She hosted a Chinese exchange student when students from NCSSM’s Global Understanding program partner school, Hangzhou Foreign Languages School, and Hangzhou Entel Foreign Language School visited NCSSM for a week. Grace will visit the same school when she travels to China during NCSSM’s Mini-Term.

Part of the challenge of being a Chinese language learner in North Carolina is that I never get to hear or speak Chinese except when I’m in the classroom. So when I was suddenly on a bus full of Chinese exchange students chatting excitedly about finally arriving in America after roughly 24 hours of travel, I was super excited.

Although I could not understand exactly what they were saying (I have only been learning Chinese about 18 months now), I was thrilled when I was able to pick up a few words here and there and string them together very slowly while the conversation went on without me.

My study of Chinese had been leading me to this moment for more than a year. Last year, as a junior, I signed up to go to China for my Mini-Term. I was of course eager to travel, but I thought the most special part would be to host a Chinese exchange student at NCSSM and show them around Durham, then go to China to see their school, city, and to stay in their home.

So when my Chinese teacher asked our group for one or two people to go to the airport that evening to welcome them, I was the first to volunteer.

When our bus arrived at NCSSM, we went into the Bryan Lobby, to be greeted with big smiles and open arms by the other NCSSM students involved in the exchange program. Everyone was excited about the week ahead full of learning and celebration.

These past six months in Chinese class, we’ve had the chance to video chat each week with a language partner. I have become good friends with my partner, who practices English using the name William, during this time, discussing the differences and similarities between our cultures. Now, here he was, not on a screen but right in front of me. Before I could properly welcome him to NCSSM, he pulled a small box out of his bag.

“He’s been so excited to give that to you,” one of his classmates said.

Inside the box was a beautiful Chinese silk scarf with an elaborate, colorful pattern. I could not believe the kindness of the gift as I hugged my partner, practically bouncing up and down with jubilance.

Next I met my Chinese guest for the week, Susan, who would spend the week in my dorm and shadow me in all of my classes and other school activities. I barely knew her at the time, but a few days after being introduced, I knew that she and I are going to be friends for a long time.

We’ve had so much fun hanging out together and doing fun things in the spare time between attending class and doing homework. Last night, for example, we went out to dinner at my favorite restaurant in Durham and talked about different foods and beverages to try in America and in China. After dinner, we decided to exchange social media profiles so we could keep in touch long after the program expires.

Although she leaves for China in a few days and I will miss hanging out with her, I look forward to the unforgettable experience of traveling to China myself in a few weeks. I’ll get to see Susan again and go to all her classes and live her life with her for a week. I’ll also get to go home with Susan on the weekend to meet her family and explore the city of Hangzhou, eat at her favorite restaurants, and further advance my understanding of Chinese.

Susan, William, and this program as a whole have done wonders for my progress learning to speak Chinese. Because of this program, I now know how to properly order my Starbucks drink (something that will definitely come in handy on my trip), how to haggle with a salesperson, and even how to call someone a loser in Chinese. I now have Chinese friends to answer my questions about Chinese culture and language. I am newly motivated to continue learning Chinese and maybe even chase the goal of one day becoming fluent in the language.