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Miles From Home: Julia Tabaj Shares Experiences From China

Julia Tabaj with pandasJulia Tabaj, a senior computer science major from Twinsburg, Ohio, is currently far from Ohio's blustery winter weather. In fact, she's far from this continent altogether. Tabaj is spending a school year abroad at the Southwest University for Nationalities in Chengdu, China.

Tabaj decided to study in China after enrolling in Mandarin Chinese classes at ONU during her junior year.

Tabaj said she felt "drawn to China," especially since she's seen the country "become a bigger player on the international scene in recent years."

"I thought knowing Chinese would help my job prospects after graduating," she said.

Since August, Tabaj has been halfway around the world, living in a culture very different from the one she grew up in. She's taking intensive language classes, practicing Tai Chi, and learning what it feels like to be the minority in a crowd. Since Chengdu is not a destination tourists often flock to, Tabaj said she gets "a lot of stares."

"In America, we are used to diversity," she said. "We see people who don't look like us every day. Here, I may be the only foreigner they ever see in their lives."

Tabaj in China But adapting to China's culture is a challenge Tabaj has been enjoying.

"China has been an education," she said, "and not just in finding out about a culture 180 degrees from my own, but in discovering who I am."

She has discovered that she can survive on about $3 a day in Chengdu, and eat out at family-style restaurants for most meals. She is taking language-intensive courses, and finding that consistent exposure is often the best form of learning for her. And she is also being educated in Chinese government, policies, society and culture.

"China as my host country has taught me that not everything I hear about China is true," she said. "There are more similarities between the U.S. and China than may appear at first glance."

Tabaj said she chose to study through the University Studies Abroad Consortium (USAC) in Chengdu because she thought being in a less westernized area would offer her a more authentic Chinese experience. Chengdu, the capital city of the Sichuan province, is most recognizable for the earthquake that ravaged the region in 2008.

"Though this happened before I arrived in Chengdu, in smaller cities outside of Chengdu, the devastation is still quite apparent," Tabaj said. She plans on participating in volunteer relief work in the region in the future.

Tabaj at a Tibetan monastery In order to keep family and friends at home updated on her various experiences abroad, Tabaj has been utilizing the Internet. She set up a travel blog through, and uses it as way to share her Chinese experiences with those still in America.

"This way I can keep a log of my experiences at the same time as sharing them with the people who care back home," she said. "The experiences are non stop. With the way the Internet is accessible these days, I can't see any other way."

To read about her travels and thoughts and see photos from her adventures, visit her blog.

Photos courtesy of Julia Tabaj. Top photo is Tabaj with pandas. Middle photo is Tabaj on Emei Mountain. Bottom photo is Tabaj in traditional Tibetan clothing at a mountain monastery in Kangding, a Tibetan city in the Western Sichaun province.