Caitlyn Carpio, who studied Mandarin in Suzhou, China through the CLS program, experienced firsthand the power of cultural exchange in sparking new friendships and reaching mutual understanding. Caitlyn grew up at the crossroads of three cultures. She was born and raised in Northern Virginia, but her mother is from South Korea and her father from El Salvador. Caitlyn’s multi-cultural background proved to be both a challenge and an opportunity while she was in China.
“My outward appearance caused many people to expect that I spoke Mandarin fluently. When I ordered food and had to ask the vendor to slow down, he/she was often surprised. It opened up the opportunity for some cool conversations.”
By being open about her background, Caitlyn helped to educate many people in her host community about the diversity of the United States.
According to Caitlyn, the benefits of CLS include the opportunity for significant language gains and professional development, but also rich personal growth.
“CLS not only improved my language skills and cultural knowledge, but challenged me in ways I had never been tested before. The experience expanded my worldview, increased my self-confidence and independence, and unlocked a myriad of meaningful relationships. The human connections I made in Suzhou have given me further motivation to continue pursuing Mandarin.”
As a result of her experience abroad with CLS, Caitlyn is in the process of formally establishing a cross-cultural organization on her college campus, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
“My vision is to help grow cultural understanding, language skills, and friendships between Chinese international students and Americans learning Mandarin.”
Caitlyn is a CLS Alumni Ambassador, and is passionate about other students getting the chance to have their own impactful study abroad experience.
“My goal is to support, inform, and help provide more opportunities for students across all backgrounds, socioeconomic levels, and majors to participate in a global experience. I am also looking to spread awareness about CLS and other opportunities to younger populations, including elementary, middle, and high school students.”