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A New Way of Seeing

Santa Monica College (SMC) alum Courtney Kelley was awarded a U.S. Department of State Critical Language (CLS) Scholarship to study abroad this past summer in Suzhou, China. She was one of only 550 students selected from 200 colleges and universities across the nation for the CLS program – a U.S. government effort to expand the number of Americans mastering critical foreign languages.

This fall, Kelley writes about her summer from Paris, France. She transferred from SMC to the American University of Paris in France to major in international comparative politics.

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Henry Miller once said, “One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.” After spending the whole summer in Suzhou, China, I realize Miller could not have been more accurate. The goal of the Critical Language Scholars Program is to send American college students to a foreign country with the intent of improving their foreign language skills.

I had the opportunity to go to China for eight weeks to improve my Chinese language abilities. After spending more than 690 hours of learning Chinese, the answer is ‘yes’. My language capabilities went from nervously speaking Chinese for four minutes to speaking for 45 minutes with confidence. However, that is not what I am most proud of, nor what I most remember.

Over the course of the summer, I had the privilege to live with a Chinese host family and be part of their lives. I learned how to make dumplings and wontons, what it means to be a child of a ‘tiger mom’, and why society is deemed more important than the individual.

The quiet moments of walking with my host mom through Old Mudu town, talking about American culture and what is important in life — those are my most treasured experiences. With my Chinese counter-part, we hiked up mountains in Hangzhou, visited the Nanjing Museum, and toured gardens that are over 300 years old.

Read about Courtney's award announcement.