Critical Language Scholarship Program | Amber Barrow
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Amber Barrow

Amber Bar­row is an alum­na of the 2015 CLS Chi­nese pro­gram in Dalian, Chi­na. She is orig­i­nal­ly from Opelousas, Louisiana, but spent her child­hood in Hous­ton, Texas; she is cur­rent­ly a junior at Syra­cuse Uni­ver­si­ty, where she stud­ies neu­ro­science and biol­o­gy. When she’s not doing research and prepar­ing for med­ical school, she does bal­let and binge-watch­es Kore­an dramas.

Why Chi­nese?

I chose Chi­nese because, as a future physi­cian, I want­ed to increase my cul­tur­al com­pe­tence and improve my under­stand­ing of a cul­ture dif­fer­ent from my own. After I grad­u­ate from Syra­cuse, I plan to do research in Chi­na for two years under var­i­ous fel­low­ships; my long-term pro­fes­sion­al goals are to go to med­ical school, become a neu­ro­sur­geon, and vol­un­teer med­ical­ly in China.

The CLS effect

I learned so much about Chi­na on CLS. For exam­ple, I learned that Chi­na is not one big homoge­nous place; each part of Chi­na has a cul­ture, his­to­ry, and set of val­ues that are its own, and because of this, China’s actu­al­ly one of the most diverse coun­tries. CLS also gave me the con­fi­dence to study and retain anoth­er lan­guage! Though study­ing Chi­nese for two years sounds cool when you tell oth­ers about it, it wasn’t enough to actu­al­ly have a con­ver­sa­tion or sur­vive in a place where only Chi­nese was spo­ken. But after three months in Chi­na, my lan­guage skills grew tremen­dous­ly – as well as my faith in actu­al­ly one day becom­ing fluent.

The mys­tery of the miss­ing host brother

One way I marked my progress with Chi­nese was with my under­stand­ing of where my host broth­er was. When I first moved in with my host fam­i­ly, my lan­guage skills were poor. I asked my uncle if he had a son or daugh­ter, and was hap­py when he told me he had a son — I want­ed some­one young to talk to. I asked the stan­dard ques­tions – Where does he go to school? How old is he?” and Uncle said, he goes to col­lege in Japan.” A few days lat­er, I was sleep­ing in my room and my aun­ty called me – Amber, come here, your brother’s here!” She then intro­duced me to a man who said some­thing about bring­ing cher­ries. I was sleepy, so I gave him a quick hi” and bye” and went back to sleep. The next day I was con­fused and asked Aun­ty who the cher­ry man was, and she told me, That was your old­er broth­er.” I gave her a blank look and told her, but Uncle told me he’s in Japan – why is he here?” She just looked at me fun­ny and told me to eat my breakfast.

Two weeks lat­er, I tried ask­ing again. My Chi­nese was a lot bet­ter by then, so I could get more details. I said, Aun­ty, Uncle told me that my broth­er is a col­lege stu­dent in Japan, so why did he come here that time?” Aun­ty said, Amber, your broth­er went to col­lege in Chi­na, and works in Xing­hai Square.” To this day, I do not know if Uncle was mess­ing with me, but it took me four weeks to fig­ure out where my host broth­er was!

If you had one day in China…

My favorite thing in Chi­na was the food! Chi­nese food is extreme­ly dif­fer­ent from back home. For exam­ple, I am not a veg­etable per­son in Amer­i­ca, but with the way veg­gies are cooked in Chi­na, I ate more veg­gies than meat. If you’re in Dalian, try the cher­ries! Dalian is famous for its cher­ries and they are in full sea­son dur­ing the sum­mer. There are dif­fer­ent types for everyone’s tastes – super sour, super sweet, in between, etc.

In a word…

My favorite Chi­nese phrase was 热死了” (re si le) – it’s so hot I could die.” Since Dalian is in North­ern Chi­na, the sum­mers are as hot as the win­ters are cold. Since the school build­ing rarely had AC inside, I walked around con­stant­ly say­ing it was hot!

Words of wisdom

If you are a par­tic­i­pant of col­or, your expe­ri­ence will be dif­fer­ent from those who are not, and that is per­fect­ly alright! Learn to prac­tice patience, to take things in stride, and to tell the dif­fer­ence between naïve igno­rance and ill will; when you do come across the lat­ter, han­dle it with patience and grace and just move on with your time. You have more amaz­ing things to dis­cov­er dur­ing your short stay so try not to waste it on peo­ple who do not add to your great expe­ri­ences. Humor is impor­tant! If you can laugh at cer­tain sit­u­a­tions, your life will be that much easier.

Alumni Profiles

Amber Barrow
Amber Barrow
Chinese 2015
Dalian, China

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Posted Date

May 03, 2016