URI student studies the fabric of family in China

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KINGSTON, R.I.—January 5, 2010—University of Rhode Island student Nancy Tong, a textile marketing major, is spending eight months in China to improve her newly acquired fluency in Mandarin, gain hands-on experience in the fashion industry, and learn more about her father’s culture.

Nancy’s family joins two cultures. Her mom was born in Texas, her father in Hong Kong. The couple met in California where she and her brother were born. The family moved to Glastonbury, Conn. when Nancy was 13.

Last summer, Nancy was enrolled in a 6-week language program at Zhejiang University in Hangzhou with other URI students. During her summer breaks in July and August, she interned at global trend-forecasting firm WGSN in Hong Kong. Returning to Zhejiang University in the fall, she took business courses and she continued to study the Mandarin language.

It wasn’t long before she made local friends and discovered their deep cultural ties. Most were raised speaking local dialects and Mandarin. Her friends shared their views including the importance of family and country history, as well as the benefits of knowing how their present actions would affect their future.

Nancy found sharing meals with her Chinese friends helpful in understanding their culture. “Great emphasis was also placed on taste, look, and smell of food. I enjoyed eating with chopsticks and reaching over people to grab at food. It’s more casual, loud, and messy. Sharing a meal with friends there is more an activity than just a meal.” She admits, though, she did miss the occasional grilled cheese sandwich back home.

After graduation in May, Nancy plans to spend the summer months with her family and then return to China in September. Relocating to Beijing, she hopes to support herself by teaching English and will continue to develop a website she created last fall with Linnea Backström, a Swedish friend she met at Zhejiang University.

The website, www.eeera.net is written primarily in English and includes photos of the local scene and creative events. An accompanying blog includes personal thoughts and promotions of local music, artists, and shops. “The site serves a source of information for local residents, but we also want to show international viewers that there is a creative force in China’s youth: it is new and it is fresh compare to ‘western’ music offerings,'” Nancy says.

“I didn’t know I would fall in love with China. I really didn’t expect to feel this ultimate connection to the land and people,” she says. “I have spent 20 years in my mother’s home country so I should spend a decent amount of time in my father’s. I have also been able to understand my family, especially my father a lot better. “

Nancy Tong’s Tips for International Travel and Study

“Be open-minded and try to separate yourself from your comfort zone. While it is easy to meet and make new American friends, it limits you in many ways.”

“Do not be afraid to be by yourself. I think being abroad is a good time to learn about who you are. So exploring, shopping, eating and even taking walks alone is a great ‘life’ exercise.