Gretta Herrin (郝思嘉) is an alumna of the 2015 CLS Chinese program in Dalian, China. She grew up in rural New Hampshire but is currently working in Washington, D.C. as the Student Services and Communications Manager at the Hopkins-Nanjing Center of Johns Hopkins SAIS. She is no stranger to travel abroad: she first studied abroad in Siem Reap, Cambodia, and later lived in Shenzhen, China for three years, working as an administrator for the Peking University Shenzhen Graduate School.

Why Chinese?

I chose the language somewhat randomly, taking a Chinese class for a challenge my freshman year in undergrad. Now, after over six years of studying, I’m committed to Chinese for the long haul! The CLS program improved my professional Chinese and helped prepare me for my current position at the Hopkins-Nanjing Center. Even though I’m based in Washington, D.C., my job with the Hopkins-Nanjing Center has taken me to China for recruiting, and I’m able to take Chinese classes at SAIS. I would like to continue working in the international education field, helping U.S. and international students study Chinese at the advanced level and helping Chinese students better integrate on US college campuses.

Hey, handsome!

My favorite Chinese words are美女 and帅哥 (meinü and shuaige), which literally mean “beautiful girl” and “handsome guy.” In southern China, where I lived for three years, it’s a polite way to refer to a waiter, clerk, etc. I enjoyed saying it so much that I used it by habit this past summer in Dalian…until I found out that in the north, these terms are not used in the same way!

Eating in China

When it comes to eating Chinese food, I've learned it's often best not to ask questions and to just try everything. At one restaurant with my host family, they were very excited about ordering one particular dish, which they told me was “活鱼” (huoyu), or live fish. I wasn’t sure what to expect. When the dish came it looked to me like Japanese sashimi, so I assumed that’s what huoyu meant. I explained to my host family that I thought they meant the fish was still alive. They responded, “No, it is alive! Look!” They then poked the fish body and it started to move. I was horrified, but I have to admit that it was pretty tasty!

I also loved buying Chinese BBQ from street vendors and eating it with friends on tiny stools on the street. Near our campus, there was a place that would prepare their food from live sheep to kabob on the street. It was shocking, but probably the best lamb kabob I’ve ever tasted.

Always more to learn

Every time I go to China, I feel like I realize how little I understand about the country. China can be a county of contradictions and ambiguity, but that’s what I love about it.

If you had one day in China…

Visit Dandong, the Chinese city on the North Korean border. We ended up hiking on the border next to a section of the Great Wall. It was fascinating to peek into North Korea with Chinese people, who were just as curious as we were.

Words of wisdom

Always be able to laugh at yourself and keep trying when you make mistakes. Also, make an effort to get to know your language partner. Some of my favorite memories are of just chatting (and gossiping) with my language partner.