Obies Using Languages: Ari Robin ’16

Ariana Robin is a senior majoring in Chinese who studied abroad this summer in Kunming, Yunnan, China with the CET Language Immersion Program based out of Kunming.


Ari’s introduction to language immersion began last summer at a Middlebury Language Immersion program. This summer, however, was her first immersion in Chinese culture.

During the day Ari and her classmates would participate in 5 hours of intensive language classes. Ari differed from her peers in that many were younger and interested in going out to absorb Kunming night-life, while she was more absorbed by the daytime tranquility of the college campus she lived on and the nearby lake.

Ari found herself interested in exploring the city’s hustle and bustle after going to class and eating her daily dose of vinegar-soaked hard boiled eggs. She collected sound samples as a way to interact with and understand Kunming culture. Sound collection added nuance to her understanding of the city. The bird calls, sounds of the market, and children shrieking while playing at the lakeside mixed together in a clamor, unlike any other city in China.

Her interest in sound recordings fostered a Sunday ritual. Each week she would walk to a lake where the elderly gathered together to play music. Each musician played a different instrument; many of the instruments Ari had never seen before. The twang of strings flowed out over the trees and mingled with those enjoying a relaxing afternoon. She would listen and record, hoping to go unnoticed by the laughing musicians. Ari, of course, stood out from the locals taking their weekly stroll around the lake. One old woman befriended Ari as her youthful foreign sidekick exchanging uniquely flavored sweets for company.

Ari’s first experience living in China is not her last. She has already begun planning her return voyage. Her challenge of learning Mandarin in Oberlin will now be paired with the sights, sounds, smells, and tastes of China. Ari faces a daring year in Oberlin as she hopes to be the first to translate a controversial novel, “Youth” by Han-han, from Mandarin into English. She has the unwavering support of her professors and memory of delicious hard-boiled treats egging her on in the struggle to pursue her dream of translating Mandarin.


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