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Sylvia Wang

About My Study Abroad Program

Major/Minor: Pre-Nutrition, B.S.P.H. / Music, B.A.
Program: School of International Training: Community Health and Traditional Chinese Medicine
Location: Kunming, China
Term: Summer 2019


Why did you choose to study abroad and how did you select your program?
I wanted to study abroad to become more connected to my own Chinese culture. Since coming to Carolina, I had introduced Asian culture to many aspects of my life, whether that was co-coordinating an Asian Music Bank radio show or choreographing a K-pop dance for the biggest dance company on campus. But I hadn’t been able to explore China as much as I thought I should as a Chinese-American with Chinese immigrant parents. I had a chance to interact with people from my own culture and see how their way of life differed tremendously from the American way of life I have become accustomed to. T I also wanted to study abroad to enrich my academic experience. Studying in Asia is something that I want to continue doing throughout my undergraduate career. I believe that truly making change, or changing oneself through experiences, is something that only happens after a longer endeavor into a certain experience. I hope to continue doing public health and cultural experiences in Asia, to help the people in Asia that I know need public health and to help myself gain a deeper understanding of the human side of medicine. I believe that public health is one of the most important humanitarian causes in the world, and I wanted to apply my passion for public health to the global scene. Therefore, a public health program in China was the perfect choice for the rest of my academic experience at UNC. I got to interact with native Chinese people, learn about the intersections of traditional Chinese medicine and Western medicine, and help patients that I otherwise would never see. It’s exactly what I was looking for, and exactly the kind of experience that I’m hoping to get more involved in for the next few years. I wanted to really supplement my premed and science courses with real public health work, where I could feel that I’m truly making an impact and helping others. I don’t want to get bogged down by all the chemistry and biology I have to learn, and I want to get as much patient contact in as many different settings as I could.


What did you learn about yourself?
I learned how to gain confidence in myself! Without the program, I would never have been exposed to so many different people - both students within the program and Kunming locals. I had never been more outgoing as I was while on the program - stepping out of my comfort zone of UNC really freed me to show off a personality that wasn't centered around school. I also learned that I am capable of eating more food than I ever thought possible. Seriously, I must have eaten enough food for a small army each day.


What is one of your favorite memories from your program?
During the program, we embarked on a week-long excursion trip throughout rural areas of Yunnan province. On our last couple days, we stayed in Shangri-La, a beautiful, picturesque city on top of a mountain. Even though I was suffering severely from altitude sickness and had to carry an oxygen tank around with me, I couldn't believe the mystical nature of Shangri-La. It seemed frozen in time, with Buddhist monasteries flanked by a small village of tiny buildings with curved roofs. Late at night, my friends and I climbed to the top of Guishan Buddhist temple and found a secret balcony view unpopulated by tourists. We stood there in silence, taking in the beautiful view of Shangri-La below us - the lights of the tiny city, the mountains in the distance, the thousands of years of culture that lay before us. It was probably one of the most beautiful things I'd ever seen in my life, and I don't think I'll ever forget that view.


What advice do you have for future study abroad students?
Have as much fun as possible! You don't know when you'll ever come back to that place again, and you should take advantage of the time you have to explore with friends, experience the culture, talk to locals, and eat as much yummy food as you can!


Would you do it again?
Yes, a million times yes. If I had the money, I'd go on a study abroad trip every year.


How were your classes abroad different than if you would have taken them at UNC?
Classes were very small at my study abroad program! We would have a lecture centered around public health and traditional Chinese medicine with the rest of the program (about 20 students), usually led by an expert in the field - either a public health official, a doctor at the local hospital, or traditional Chinese medicine experts! Multiple times, we would take field trips to local hospitals to have lecture and tours. On these tours, we would often also shadow physicians at work. Our Chinese language classes were very small - my class only had 2 students! They were very interactive and involved more of a dialogue of conversation between us and our teacher.


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