Thrill rides on a tower, sailing on the Pearl River, and staying in a five-star hotel: These adventures were but a few of the things Alex Schroeck, a Nebraska undergraduate math major, experienced in his studies in China so far this year.
Schroeck is the recipient of the Boren Scholarship, an award focused on providing American students with resources and encouragement to acquire language skills and experience in countries critical to the future security and stability of the United States. He arrived in China in May 2017 and will return to Nebraska in July 2018.
The Boren Award is sponsored by the National Security Education Program, which is a major federal initiative to build a broader and more qualified pool of U.S. citizens with foreign language and international skills. Schroeck’s interactions with the Chinese exchange students at Nebraska complemented his classroom lessons, and provided him with an insight into cultural norms, the language, and the fostering of intercultural relationships.
Schroeck’s interests in math, foreign language, and national security have led him to study in China more than once. He previously attained his Teaching English as a Foreign Language certificate in Beijing, where he lived with Russian roommates and worked with people from England, Cyprus, Angola, and Costa Rica. Schroeck was eager to return to China.
“I revisited the Forbidden City, Tiananmen, the Great Wall, ancient temples, and even an abandoned theme park that was meant to copy Disney in the 1980s,” Schroeck said.
He also spent some time in Hong Kong, where he experienced first-hand the hostility between Hong Kong residents and the “mainlanders,” who made sure to distinguish themselves from each other by language. Schroeck realized that these experiences were tastes of the real culture, which tourists don’t usually get to see.
Schroeck seized opportunities to get out of the hostels and explore as often as he could, and he was rewarded with some incredible experiences. Schroeck treated himself to a few nights in a five-star hotel, since they are much cheaper in China than in the U.S. He also rode the Canton Sky Drop on Canton Tower in Guangzhou, climbed the White Cloud Mountain, and sailed across the city on the Pearl River. He even traveled to the small city of Yulin, which is famous for its dog-meat festival. Schroeck never tried the meat, but he was treated to other meals by citizens who had never seen a foreigner before.
Schroeck was one of three English-speaking students in his classes in Nanjing, but found that the students’ knowledge of and ability to speak Mandarin was their unifying factor.
“The only common language I have with my classmates is Mandarin,” said Schroeck, who knows that the mastery of Mandarin, along with his international exposure, will be a selling point when he looks for a job. “This has worked wonders for my language skills because both in and out of class, Mandarin is the only useful language in daily life.”
Schroeck took his learning into his own hands when he reached out to a graduate student to learn how to discuss higher math in Chinese, giving the student English lessons in return.
“By the end of the year I expect I’ll be able to sit in on an undergraduate math lecture in Chinese and be able to follow along,” Schroeck said.
Schroeck knows that his selection for the Boren Award was only made possible with the help of his friend and mentor, Jia Lu, and his mathematics professor, Yvonne Lai, who provided helpful advice while Schroeck was in her Modern Algebra course.
While in Nanjing, Schroeck said he was “having the time of his life” and added, “I am thrilled to have received the Boren [Award] to make it all possible.”
– Alli Davis