Aaron “Mann”darin conquers China

Ella Bartlett, Editor in chief

After a 36 hour trip across the Pacific ocean, junior Aaron Mann did a headfirst dive into a country where he only knew the language and how long he’d be there: six weeks.


Traveling abroad, like Mann did this summer to Suzhou, China, can be very expensive and short-lived. However, this one was completely on a scholarship, and he learned more than his fair share as well.


“I sent an application in [last] fall, and got past that, and then there was an interview,” Mann said. The process, with about 15% selectivity, is put in place by the National Security Language Initiative for Youth (or NSLI-Y). This organization sends about 300 students abroad every year, including trips to cultures where their languages are less widely-taught, like Arabic or Russian.


Chinese isn’t an easy language to learn, either. There are many different dialects (practically in every city) that branch off from the main one, Mandarin.


“This is my fifth year [studying Chinese],” Mann said. “I started with a tutor who was an Iowa State grad student.”


His host family, which included a high school student of his age, helped him feel immersed and really get into the culture.


“[My family] didn’t help me with my homework, but they spoke with me a lot, and that was probably the most important part,” Mann said.


Mann did not only study the language while he was there. The culture and norms, he recalled learning, are vastly different.


“It seems like China is all strict about etiquette, but they don’t have table etiquette like we do,” Mann said. “Spitting everywhere is fine.”


Just like we would be surprised about the French or Italian’s tendency to eat dinner past 8pm, or some African traditions to be very laid back about deadlines and time, the Chinese simply have different customs.


“Gift giving is important there,” Mann said, commenting later on how many things were judged by their price tags. A different way of going about things can be a little startling, but Mann said, “As an American going there, it wasn’t as bad because they kind of expected me to screw up.”


Mann said he really knew for the first time what it was like to be a foreigner, as well as to see really where other countries get American stereotypes. “In the airports, you can see some pretty horrible Americans,” Mann said.


An experience that he will take with him throughout the rest of his life, his six weeks in China were spent well, listening to citar concerts and climbing mountains when he wasn’t learning about the language or trying to adjust to the culture.


“Most of the stuff I remember is what I did with my family,” he said, referring to his mini-trips to places around Suzhou like rock climbing and seeing the grand canal that goes through the city.


He Skyped his family just recently, and his adventures have shown him sides of the world many don’t get to see or appreciate.


“They really want me to come back,” Mann said.