CIS&T Major Tackles Year Abroad in China

Nnedimma Ugochukwu’s best talent may be making friends.

Ugochukwu, a computer information systems and technology major, is testing that and many other skills by studying in China for an entire year at Fudan University in Shanghai.

Now a junior, this year is something that she has been more or less preparing for since she was a freshman. Even as a high school student from Washington, D.C., she knew she wanted to study abroad.

As a freshman at Pitt-Bradford, she met international students from China who piqued her interest in the country. They encouraged her to study in China. She took a class at Pitt-Bradford in Chinese language and culture to introduce herself to some basics. The class is taught each semester by visiting scholars from China’s Confucius Institute.

But the language barrier in China, she knew, would be significant. She’d have to plan ahead, taking primarily classes for her major in her freshman and sophomore years, and leaving general education requirements to be completed in the large international school that is part of Fudan.

She settled on Fudan because of the large number of classes that are offered in English and its program for teaching Chinese. She felt lucky when she received a scholarship from the Chinese government that covers not only her tuition and room and board, but also supplies a stipend.

Before heading to China in September, she was looking forward not only to using what she had learned at Pitt-Bradford and meeting Chinese, but also to meeting students from around the world in the international school.

Although the only American in her class, she is studying the Mandarin language among South Koreans, Japanese, Russians, English and students from other Asian countries, including North Korea.

The language classes are intense. She takes a variety of reading and speaking, listening and writing classes each day, learning more than 60 words and phrases per week. She has signed up for a language partner to practice her Chinese speaking with.

“I try to practice my skills when I am out, but many times I don’t understand what others say back to me,” she said.

Free time is spent traveling around Shanghai, the largest city in China where Fudan is located, and an occasional weekend trip.

In October, she hiked the Yellow Mountains with friends.

“I have met quite a few students from Japan and Korea and also many from France, Hungary, the UK, Germany, Bulgaria, the Philippines and Canada,” she wrote. “It is absolutely a great experience meeting these people.”

She may have met a few more people than the average tourist, since she said there are not too many black people in China. “In the Yellow Mountains, many people were fascinated by my appearance,” she said. Some have asked to take a selfie with her, which she often does, but not always, depending mostly on whether the person treats her as a friend or a curiosity.

One person was even surprised to learn there are black people in the United States. He said he thought all Americans were white, an impression Ugochukwu could only guess came from television.

One thing she definitely has enjoyed is the food, which she said is “absolutely amazing. The main dishes always include either noodles or rice with a ton of vegetables and meat. They love pork and beef. When it comes to vegetables, they love to eat cucumbers, mushrooms, tomatoes and eggplants. I have never had such delicious vegetables in my life.”

Now at the holiday time in the United States, one might think she would miss American food and customs, but she said her parents have always been pretty low key about Thanksgiving and Christmas. “But I do miss hearing the Christmas music,” she said. “Luckily, I have found a café near the school that plays American Christmas music, and it makes me cry every time I hear it.”

But there’s little time for tears. She has eight more months of learning, traveling and meeting new friends before she comes home with a new language and world view to add to her computer skills.