Bethany Birch

I graduated from Valparaiso University in 2006 with a double major in Biology and Chinese Studies. A lot of people think these two majors are a strange combination, but I think that if you find something interesting you should learn more about it! As it turns out, Biology actually works very well with Chinese as China has a lot of issues that a person with background biology and Chinese can help address. I think it is great that I can use both Chinese and Biology in a future career because I have liked both of them since I was a little kid!

I chose the Masters of Arts Chinese Studies at Valpo because it is the most affordable one out there. I also had a really good experience at Valpo with my undergraduate studies, so that helped me take a "leap of faith" to try this new program. So far, I am pleased to say I am happy with my decision. My motivation comes from a few different places. I have been intensely interested in China since I was a kid so that is motivation, I also really want to help and serve the Chinese people too. I Three years from now, God willing, I will have my debt paid off and be working in China with a NGO of sorts. We'll see what happens though!

The part about the program I like the most is that I am learning Chinese in a way that works for me! I have studied for about three and a half years now, and I finally feel like the pieces are coming together. What I don't like is the fact that the program is new, so there is no real reputation for the program yet.

I have about a million stories I could tell about China! I remember one time when I was in a Western Chinese city called Chongqing. My friend had invited me to come stay with her in the "suburbs" right outside the city. So I bought a "soft" seat for the 24 hour train ride and headed out. I arrived in Chongqing utterly exhausted, my friend greeted me warmly and took me to the bus to her house -or so I thought- an hour later we were still in the massive city and still on the bus. We took the bust to the end of its line, got off, bought another ticket from another bus station and then went to the grocery store to pick up some necessities and eat dinner. We hopped on the second bus a couple hours later and took another two hour bus ride. When we finally got off the bus we were out of the city, but not quite in the middle of nowhere. I got off and I asked her where her house was, she hopped on the back of a Chinese motorcycle with her uncle and motioned for me to get on. I looked at her, looked back at the bus, shrugged and hopped on. I told myself "It is just down the hill a mile, don't freak." An hour and a half later it was pitch dark (it was a dirt road with no electricity) and my butt was about to fall off! Evidently her uncle didn't realize her friend was a 5'10 foreigner, I was slowing them down! We finally got to her house, quite literally miles from anything. Other than the 300 pear trees, it was in the middle of a tropical forest with only a small dirt roads connecting it to the rest of civilization. I stayed with her for five days, they had no shower fixture so we did 'bucket showers'. They let me help with the pear harvest a little bit, but insisted I rested most of the time. They had no refrigerator and their kitchen didn't even have running water, so I saw some of the most interesting cooking in my life. Basically food was picked from the garden and cooked as needed, if there were leftovers the food was left out with mosquito netting and refried the next morning for breakfast. For recreation we slept, watched TV, or went for walks in the surrounding forest. It was quite the experience!

So far this program has been ok, I would recommend it especially for people that are not yet super amazing in Chinese. The teachers are patient and the classes are small so if you need a lot of extra help then you can totally get it! Valpo also has over 20 Chinese nationals studying for their masters here right now, so there are ample opportunities to use Chinese outside of the classroom.

With the limited free time I have I participate in Campus Crusade for Christ, Inter Varsity Christian Fellowship, paint, draw, read more books on China, and run (or play soccer when I can find a game.).