Readers of The Chronicle-Express first saw this article on Jan. 26.

In China, almost everything is different. There’s a premium on space, and the language is totally different, right down to the alphabet characters. But Keuka College junior Matt McFetridge can’t wait to go back to China for his second semester as an exchange student.  

While Keuka College has hosted several Chinese exchange students on its home campus in Keuka Park in recent years, McFetridge is the first Keuka student to study in China.
McFetridge started classes Aug. 28, 2010 in what he calls the “Keuka corner” of the Yunnan University of Finance and Economics (YUFE) in Kunming, in the Yunnan province in the south central area of mainland China.

YUFE is one of four Chinese universities that have partnered with Keuka College to offer Keuka business management degrees to Chinese students. McFetridge enrolled in business and marketing classes, where he found himself one of about 60 students and the only American student in the classroom. In his three other classes – Chinese history, comprehensive Chinese language, and a Chinese listening and speaking class – McFetridge was the sole student, something he relished because it forced him to improve at a new language, he said.

According to McFetridge, the “Keuka corner” of the YUFE campus has two academic buildings, an administrative building, and two dorms, all within the same amount of space as between Lightner Library and Space Hall on the home campus. Beyond that area, however, the rest of the YUFE campus is “absolutely huge, five to seven times the size of Keuka,” he said.

At first, he would need Chinese friends to help him communicate with the locals, or to pay for a package of Oreo cookies in a campus store, for example. The fun really started when he ventured off-campus to explore nearby parts of the city.

“Once I could start figuring out what to say in Chinese, I could go up to random people and speak, and they’d often love talking to me because they hadn’t spoken to Westerners,” McFetridge said, recalling how one man he met on a street simply wanted to have his picture taken with him. “That’s what I love; you see real Chinese culture.”

McFetridge was introduced to other unique aspects of the culture such as the popular KTV (Karaoke Television) “destinations” where multiple private rooms enable groups of friends to relax at couches and cue up vast selections of English, French or Chinese music to sing for hours around a microphone.

“They’re all within a 10-minute cab ride. Cabs are so cheap. It’s like $1 to go as far as you need to go. If you were in New York City, you’d spend $30,” McFetridge said.

Sometimes, friends took him to out-of-the-way shops and restaurants that were only able to be reached on foot.

“They called it ‘the back culture,’” he said, describing how a shop might be in the back of someone’s home, and he would be served more authentic foods, or tea in fancy cups.
With the extended semester in China, McFetridge spent Christmas away from home. However, he and several acquaintances from Canada, Germany, France, Latvia, Turkey and the U.S. gathered for a sit-down Christmas dinner, and shared memories of celebrating the holiday in their home countries. Some of those same people were instructors teaching classes in China, college graduates about three to four years older than him, who would occasionally meet for Sunday dinners to cook Western foods.

A good friend of his, Chinese exchange student Andi Liu, who attended Keuka in McFetridge’s sophomore year, made sure he was warmly welcomed. Virtually adopted as their “American child,” McFetridge said, the Liu family took him on vacation with them over a week-long break in October, showing him around the Yunnan province.

He was invited to a grandfather’s 88th birthday party, has occasionally stayed overnight, and was even given his own pair of slippers to keep at the Liu home. Both McFetridge and Liu’s parents exchanged gifts at Christmas, and McFetridge said he’s under instructions to bring back several American products for Mrs. Liu when he returns.

With a better grasp of the Chinese language, McFetridge plans to do more traveling throughout the country in his second semester, and said he would like to visit Beijing, the Great Wall of China, and possibly Korea or Japan, too.

He may even conduct a cultural studies Field Period under Wendy Gaylord, the dean of the Keuka China Program. He recently discovered an old high-school buddy will also be in China next semester, about a two-hour plane ride away from Kunming, and the two friends have already planned to visit.

“If anyone wants to go (as an exchange student) or has thought about going, they should pursue it. You’ll never regret it,” he said, adding, “I’ve really developed myself as a person, stepped out of my comfort zone, and become more self-sufficient. That’s a good thing.”

A history and political science major, McFetridge said the Chinese culture and history has fascinated him since before he started college. Once he finishes his bachelor’s degree, he’d like to complete a master’s or possibly a doctorate, and ultimately, “teach something that has to do with Chinese history.”

“Seeing the culture first-hand has really solidified my goals,” McFetridge said. “This is something I can see myself doing in the future; splitting time between both countries. I really enjoy China and everything it has to offer.”