Conner Balciunas

Chinese Studies & Anthropology

Conner Balciunas on the Great Wall of China.

What led you to choose Chinese Studies as your major and then to add Anthropology as a junior?

When I was in middle school, my sister and I became friends with Vietnamese and Chinese friends. When we’d go over to their house, they’d have Chinese TV programs playing, as well as Chinese and Vietnamese books, movies, and newspapers lying around the house. Also, every Chinese Lunar New Year we’d go and celebrate with them in Chicago. So I think being in that environment influenced me to be interested in Asia, especially in China.

When I was coming into Purdue, I also was interested in plants and nature.  So during freshman year, I took an intro Chinese class as well as a botany class to see which one I liked better. To me, plants are interesting, but I couldn’t see myself working in a lab. I liked the Chinese class more, so that’s when I decided sophomore year to declare it as my major. I also am majoring in Anthropology. I picked Anthropology because I wanted something to complement Chinese Studies.

What motivated you to take your first trip to China?

I have wanted to go to China for a long time.  Thankfully I got the opportunity to go with my friend who was also in my Chinese classes.  Because she was a year ahead of me, she needed to advance to the 400 Chinese level before she graduated in order to get her Chinese minor.  So she kind of poked around at me and said, ‘Hey, you should come.’ After looking at the program, I decided to apply also. CIEE (Council on International Educational Exchange) is a program that Purdue offers in partnership with the Study Abroad office.  So in the summer of 2018, I was able to go to Peking University and study Chinese for around two months intensively. That helped when I got back to Purdue, both me and my friend were able to receive credit for the 300 Chinese level classes and moved right into the 400 level.  It was a very interesting and amazing experience – truly unforgettable!

What was so unforgettable about the trip?

The experiences, the people, the friends, being in a different place, all added to a great experience. I’ve been abroad to Canada before, but that doesn’t really count as actually being truly abroad, being truly in another place in the world. I feel that usually not a lot of people have the opportunity to go abroad. So I think college is a good time to study abroad in a different country.

What was it like studying in China? How different was it from being in an American university?

The biggest difference was in the education system.  When I was there, the classes were not as interactive as in America. They had electronics, where the slides would be on PowerPoint, but we would just sit in class and raise our hands. In that aspect, it was not as interactive as classes would be at Purdue. There was no group work or small group discussions, but rather rote memorization for the grammar and new vocabulary we would learn each day. It might also have been related to the time constraints, since every day we were in class for just four hours: two hours of spoken Chinese, and two hours of written Chinese.  But overall, I discovered how the Chinese and American education systems differed.

What were your trips to China like since then?

From going in the summer of 2018, I’ve been back to China two other times.  One was last year during spring break 2019 when I went to Nanjing with my friends. That trip was just leisure, no academic components.  And then this past summer in 2019, I went again. This time I went to different cities and saw some friends. I also had the opportunity to teach English a little bit. This trip lasted around a month, with me taking the high-speed trains to different cities such as Chongqing and Changsha.

Is your comfort level much greater in China after all of these trips?

Oh yeah, definitely. I’ve taken planes before, but not a twenty-hour plane ride.  So I’m definitely more comfortable being able to take longer plane rides and be able to navigate my way through customs and immigration. I have more confidence in myself now. Which is something you learn more about when you travel.

Now that you’re nearing graduation, how do you feel about the way things have gone in this major?

I think back about what if I didn’t apply to Purdue, I wouldn’t have taken Chinese, I wouldn’t have gone abroad, I wouldn’t have met people, I wouldn’t have connected with my Chinese professors. So by applying to Purdue and getting accepted into Purdue, I was able to have all these amazing opportunities. I’m very grateful.

What is your plan for after graduation?

Either this summer getting an internship in Chicago – maybe at a translation company.  I am hoping to shadow a company that my friend who accompanied me to Peking is currently working at. I am also interested in teaching English in China, so I’m looking into getting my TEFL certification this summer. And in the future, possibly getting my graduate education degree there as well. So we’ll see what the future holds.

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