Study Abroad Check-in: Kagan Marks

- How does your plan fit into what you're studying?

A big part of my plan is Chinese, and I’m in Beijing, China, so...

Actually, tho, the program I’m in is called Popular Culture and Social Change, which I thought would tie nicely into my plan of Chinese+Animation=>Animation in China, which it kinda does? I dunno.

Honestly, if I had to give anyone one piece of advice on choosing a study abroad location/program, it’d be to not only know your priorities, but also be honest about them. Like, are you going to improve your language ability (If you’re a language student, this should probably be top priority,) are you going because the program you chose offers something really really dope or unique or whatever that Bennington can’t (even just a city or country definitely counts—Bennington can’t offer you Tokyo or Prague or Beijing or anything, no matter what we tell you on the admissions blog,) or are you just going because you want an excuse to vacation for a semester (also a valid reason, I guess, but fuck you.)

But anyways, yeah, it’s really cool here. I’m currently running around the city trying to find animation students to interview for a project I’m working on. Beijing’s a big city, though. Really big. Often I find myself wanting to just lay down on the subway tracks because commuting across town for shit can be so awful, but in a fun way! Does this make sense


- What has most surprised you or been the biggest change for you on study abroad?

The mandarin term for “foreigner” is technically wai guo ren (literally “outside country person,) but more often than not you’ll hear people saying laowai, which basically means the same thing, but it began as anti-imperialist slang, so it’s a little less friendly. China’s relatively homogenous, demographically. There’s something like 56 official ethnic groups within the China, but the country’s something like 95% “Han” Chinese. So even in Beijing, a relatively globalized city, people are still often very surprised to see a laowai walking around, let alone talking to people.

It’s been an interesting experience at best and a frustrating one at worst to be this object of curiosity/ridicule. Having people come up and ask (more often than not they don’t even do that) to take a picture with you is fun for maybe about a week. When interacting with a laowai, people automatically assume they’re not going to understand you, so there’s this dumbing-down and subsequent surprise when someone realizes you can speak something other than English.

It’s a strange (but probably healthy) experience not being the majority for once.

That being said, I still have it pretty damn easy, being a white male, even in China. After the initial curiosity and/or apprehension, people almost always warm up when they realize I can actually speak with them. I’ve never been to a city even half the size of Beijing where people have been so friendly, and while I do think part of the reason is simply because the culture and big city atmosphere here is much different than what we’re used to in the West, a larger part, unfortunately, is probably due to me being a white American male.

So, yeah, white privilege definitely still exists even in China, but I’m accepting the fact that I have a little less of it than I do back home as a valuable experience. White dudes could always use a little less privilege.

- What's a good food you've tasted?

spicy bugs, better than your dad’s bbq brisket