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An American Girl’s Chinese Dream Comes True


“Studying in China has been my dream since I was 16 years old, and after three years of hard work, I finally made it in 2023 in Tianjin,” said Raina Chareese Luke, who hails from Georgia, USA, and is currently enrolled in the Chinese Language Program at Tianjin University.

Raina knew little about China or Chinese until her second year of middle school, when all students had to choose a second language to learn. "To be honest, I initially opted for Spanish lessons. Then, my teacher informed me that the class was fully booked, and the only option left for me to choose was Chinese.”

Raina’s frustration and dismay were imaginable. “You can’t expect too much from a 15-year-old girl who knew nothing about the country or the language she was about to learn, right?” But her perspective completely changed after the first class.

“It was so much fun. The teacher didn’t rush us to learn words or sentences. Instead, she played a Chinese song for us. ” The name of the song is Tian Mimi, sung by Teresa Teng, one of the most successful and influential Asian pop singers of all time. It instantly caught Raina’s attention and sparked her interest in the Chinese language. “I was eager to learn about the lyrics and gradually developed a keen interest in China’s culture and its people, too.”

Raina with her mom at Savannah, Georgia, USA

Raina at the Chinese classroom back at her high school

Raina is very thankful for her Chinese teacher and still keeps in touch with her to this day. “She opened up a new world for me.”

Interest is the best teacher. In addition to in-class study, Raina found many ways to enhance her Chinese language skills. She watched Chinese movies and soap operas in her free time to have a general idea of the culture. She once took a part time job in a Chinese restaurant where most of the workers and customers spoke Chinese, allowing her to practice her spoken language.

"The more I learn about China, the more fascinated I become with Chinese culture. The way people behave and their mindsets are very different from our own, but that's what the world should be like—colorful and inclusive."

Raina takes photos with her Chinese friends in Qipao.

Raina’s learning of Chinese broke off for a while in high school when it was closed due to the pandemic. “In 2021, soon after school resumed, I picked up Chinese learning again and realized how happy I was to do it.” It was at that time that Raina made up her mind to study in China.

She sought advice from her Chinese teacher on which Chinese university to apply for. “My hometown of Georgia has a southern climate. She suggested that since I was going to experience a new country and culture, why not make the experience even more different by selecting a region with a contrasting climate? I followed her advice and decided to come to Tianjin.”

Eventually, Raina applied to Tianjin University and was accepted. "For me, Tianjin University has two very appealing aspects. One is its old-fashioned campus, which fulfills my expectations of the first modern university in China, and the other is the professionalism shown by TJU admission counselors during my application process. They responded my queries very quickly."

A new world that she has long dreamed about unfolded before Raina’s eyes the moment she set foot on China in September, 2023. “It’s an adventure, exciting, yet challenging.”

She had a hard time adjusting to an international student’s life on campus in the early days after she arrived at TJU. “Before I came to China, I was well aware that China is so much different from my country. I anticipated some hardship here and tried my best to overcome them.” She recalled feeling puzzled by the laundry facilities in her dorm and having to hand wash her clothes for two weeks. However, she gradually became accustomed to China's well-established electronic payment system and began to appreciate the convenience it provided. "See my boots? I bought them on Taobao for only 70 Yuan. They are warm and stylish. What a deal!" Raina exclaimed joyfully.

She’s having quite a busy and fulfilling life at Tianjin University. "Studying is my first priority. The Chinese language program I'm taking lasts for only one semester, so every day counts." She also feels inspired by her Chinese friends, from whom she gained a firsthand appreciation for the diligence of Chinese people. "I learned a word in Chinese, 'juan' (which means hardworking and strong competitiveness). Everybody I know is dedicated, always busy with academic study."

Raina with her friend from the university animation club

In addition to her studies, Raina actively seeks opportunities for immersive cultural experiences in China. She is particularly fond of traditional Chinese clothing, especially the Qipao, also known as a cheongsam, and Han-style clothing. "They are so uniquely beautiful. I even had a series of artistic photos taken in a Qipao shortly after arriving in Tianjin, and I've bought several Han-style garments for daily wear."

Raina also has a keen interest in Chinese history. "When you think about the 5,000 years of history and all those dynasties, each distinct from the other, it's very fascinating." She has watched videos and documentaries about Chinese history and has discovered that her favorite Chinese dynasties are the Zhou dynasty and the Song Dynasty. "It seems to me that many Chinese traditions originated from these two dynasties."

Raina performs at the International students' New Year Gala.

The diverse range of university events adds another layer of color to Raina's life. "Our university provides us with plenty of opportunities to establish connections with people through various student communities and activities. Connections matter." She's a member of the university animation club, she has joined the international students' choir and rehearses every now and then, she's the class monitor, and she has participated in numerous university events, such as the sports meeting and the New Year Gala.

As the semester draws to a close, Raina's language study program is also wrapping up. She plans to return to her hometown in February 2024. "But I will come back to China for my undergraduate studies," said Raina. "And I hope to somehow work in China someday after graduation." Her faith in her future in China was greatly boosted after she learned about the Chinese government’s plan to invite 50,000 American teenagers to come to China for exchange and study in the next five years. "Now the opportunity to build relationships with China is growing for American students. I am so glad to witness this. Education is a very important value that can deepen the relationship between the US and China. I believe that ordinary people on both sides want to see an improved relationship between the two countries."

Upon leaving China, Raina cherishes her remaining days at Tianjin University even more. She is eager to share her experience as an international student studying in China. "We will encounter many difficulties, but we will gain more," she notes. Raina is determined to educate and share what she has learned about China with her friends and community back at home. "My goal is to promote a better understanding of Chinese education and its unique features," said Raina Luke.

By Eva Yin