After spending five weeks in China, senior continues studying the language

“I kept myself open to trying new things.” Senior Keegan MacDonell



Annika Garwood, Reporter

An average high school student spends a little more than 20 hours a week on media and communication devices, according to the federal government. Over the summer during a five-week trip to China, senior Keegan MacDonell was allowed only one hour of internet access per week. This proved difficult because MacDonell missed coverage of many terrorist events that happened around the world, such as the Pulse Nightclub shooting in Orlando and the Islamic terrorist attack in France.

Along with this, MacDonell described other restrictions that were required during his IU Honors Program in Foreign Languages experience. There were to be no electronics brought overseas and he could speak no English to his host family and other students who were also in the program.

His daily schedule wasn’t any less rigorous than the rules.

On the weekdays, MacDonell said that he would get up at 5 a.m., and eat a typical two-piece Nutella toast and hard boiled egg breakfast.

Long days at school

Then, MacDonell and his host brother would take the hour drive into the heavily populated downtown providence. From 8 a.m. to 4:45 p.m. he would attend school. Classes included Chinese grammar, culture, literature, pronunciation, art, writing and sports.

Lunch was cheap, according to MacDonell, the equivalent of $1.20 in American dollars. There was an American cafeteria with hamburgers, rice, chicken and a variety of other foods. Near the school, there was a restaurant called The White Deer that is famous for large portions of food for a cheap price. One of the teachers would take the seven exchange students to the restaurant.

Food was served lazy Susan style, and everyone ate out of the same bowls, each dinner equipped with his own chopsticks. This was a weird tradition, according to MacDonell, because he noticed that the Chinese were very sanitary and neat during the other meals.

Duck brain and fish eyes

MacDonell said, “I kept myself open to trying new things,” and this proved true as he ate a variety of unusual foods: fish brain, scorpion, duck brain and fish eyes.

After school, MacDonell and his host brother would take a taxi back to the family home, which housed his host brother, sister, mother, father, grandfather and grandmother. Dinner would be ready as soon as MacDonell returned to the house, and after eating some variety of rice, chicken and soup, the residents would retire to bed for the night at a regular 8 p.m. time.

KFC, McDonald’s and Pizza Hut were nice sit down restaurants and were expensive compared to other options available. MacDonell said that on weekends his host family would venture into downtown and eat at one of these restaurants. Cheese on the pizza was rare and only for special occasions, because many Chinese are lactose intolerant, according to MacDonell.

MacDonell said that the culture is different, but he was struck by the similarities in Chinese and American personalities. The Chinese natives treated MacDonell and his traveling companions like celebrities, forming lines and asking for pictures.

Four years of study

The native people were amazed at how fluent the foreigners were in Chinese, but MacDonell said he has the Chinese language class, which has been offered all four years of his enrollment, to thank for helping him expand his knowledge of the language. Currently, MacDonell is the only Chinese IV student, as his Period D class consists of him and two Chinese III students, a junior and a senior

After graduation in May, MacDonell is taking a gap year and his mother suggested spending a year in China and working at a school that his Chinese teacher started so he can improve his Chinese. He said he is somewhat hesitant to spend a full year in China because his trip was so rigorous and schedule so strict.

In college, MacDonell plans to minor in Chinese to continue his studies in both the language and culture. “I very well could continue studying Chinese, but I’m not sure if I could live and work there for a year,” MacDonell said.