More Student Blog Posts!
Read these posts from our Beijing students to learn more about their experiences learning Chinese this summer.
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Having lived abroad in Singapore and Japan for most of my adolescent life, I wouldn’t describe the Asian culture as a foreign subject to me. However, living in the U.S. for the past two years has caused part of my connection to the beauty of Asian culture to disappear. Yes, I’ve stayed active with my learning of the Chinese language while repatriating to the U.S., but my passion for its beauty has dissipated due to the flaws in my school’s Chinese program. When I discovered Middlebury Interactive’s immersion program, I knew I had to be a part of it because I didn’t want to see my drive for studying Chinese vanish completely. My original intentions for this program have surpassed what I thought it would do for my education. Being here in Beijing surrounded by driven students, ancient architecture and passionate leaders has not only helped me rediscover my love and connection to Asian culture, but has also made me appreciate the Chinese language on a different level. The excursions I’ve been on, the classes I’ve been exposed to and the amazing friends that I’ve made in this short week and a half have helped me realize the beauty of this language. I can’t wait to see what other memories will be made the rest of this month and what knew things I will learn that will inspire me to maintain my passion for Chinese even more so than these first days have.
Today was a Saturday, which means that instead of having classes (which have been consistently interesting but challenging throughout this week) we spent the day sightseeing in Beijing. We visited the Heaven Temple as well as a huge shopping establishment called Pearl Market.
The Heaven Temple is the place where Chinese rulers used to go to worship. Due to this being the weekend, the temple was very crowded, but the other buildings farther from the main temple were less busy. The architecture was very impressive, and I liked reading the many plaques about the historic uses of the various buildings, but what I really liked about the temple were the gardens. We didn’t have much time there, so I ended up having to rush (and rushing is far from easy in Beijing’s constant heat) to get to the rose gardens I wanted to see and also be at the Eastern Gate at the required time, but the gardens were gorgeously designed and in full bloom at the time when we went.
Lunch today was delicious, a diverse buffet with really great desserts. It turned out I would need the caloric energy from all I ate at lunch for the tiring time at Pearl Market.
Markets like this in Beijing are entirely different from anything where I live, and they are very difficult for a foreigner like me to get used to. There are many stalls, each with different merchandise and owners. Items have no set price, so in order to pay a reasonable amount you have to spend what feels like ages arguing with the shop’s owner to lower the price. This takes practice, since the Chinese shop owners know they can convince the inexperienced Americans to buy things for much more than they are worth. And when they see you’re not Chinese, they can be very aggressive about getting you to enter their stalls. Pearl Market was extremely loud, and certainly a challenge for someone like me who is unused to arguing with total strangers, but I would recommend the experience.
I bought a pass to Capital Normal University’s pool yesterday, and although we get lots of exercise via walking every day, it’s been really nice to be able to swim for as long as I want to wind down from what are always busy days here at MIL.
Today was as usual a fun action packed day. For breakfast we got the chance to go out on our own to explore the area that surrounds Capital Normal University. Though, for those of us who can survive without or breakfast or were smart enough to go to the grocery store, they got to sleep in. I am not one of those lucky few, but I as many others have seemed to find a great bakery that has very good coffee, to fuel the day. We start our days with a morning assembly, to catch up with important things like the AQI or any lost items. Then we go to Chinese class for three hours. Today we learned the basics of clothes and bargaining. We ordered in lunch to the academy, and as usual it was very good. After lunch we have culture classes, this week I am signed up for calligraphy. Calligraphy is really fun and interesting, but I think I have learned it is not my calling. Everyday we have an afternoon excursion which pertains to our classes. Today we got to go to mall or market to practice our newfound bargaining skills, and buy gifts for our friends and family. For dinner again we got to explore the food around the school, or have time to go to the gym. My friends and I have discovered really good Japanese food in the school. We ended our day with “RA clubs”, and the one I chose to go to was Uno. After all this I am usually extremely tired, as I am right now. Our days at Middlebury are full but very fun, we are without a doubt making the most of our time.
This morning, I went to the Temple of Heaven and saw traditional Chinese temples. I do not usually appreciate architecture, but I found these Chinese temples to be particularly interesting, because it is so different from the skyscrapers and buildings that I typically see in Hong Kong. After one tiring, hot hour of visiting temples, I ate lunch at an American buffet-styled restaurant! I have been eating Chinese food for the past week, so eating a different cuisine was refreshing for me. I feel extremely fortunate because my class RA, Hou Laoshi, is very considerate and flexible with the meals that she buys my class for lunch. For instance, she goes out of her way to make sure that vegetarians in my class have a satisfying meal. Sometimes she will even go to a different restaurant to ensure that they have something to eat. After lunch, I went to the Pearl Market and bought a lot of bags. My sister bargained so much, her voice started to hurt. I thought it was a good way to practice Chinese, because I was actually able to get a decent price out of fake goods, while improving my Chinese at the same time. Although I can understand Chinese pretty well, my sentence fluency and grammar is poor, so during this three hour period, I had to attempt to speak fluently so shop vendors were able to understand my argument. I was able to take photos with my phone, which was also pretty nice, because I took pictures with my friends and the temples. For dinner, I ate at a Japanese restaurant on the school campus. The school location is very practical, because there are multiple restaurants and convenient stores nearby. I previously went to the French Middlebury camp is Vermont, and I found the Beijing camp to be a completely different experience. Although many people may not think that China is a fun and comfortable environment, I find it really nice to bond with people who have the same motivation to learn a new language as me. I live in Hong Kong, so many people expect me to speak Chinese. Even when I tell Beijing people that I live in Hong Kong, most of them will test my knowledge and will honestly think that I am stupid, as I am not fluent in the language. So this camp gives me more drive to improve my Chinese and continue to follow the language pledge that I first signed.
Kamran King Class Blog (Filling in for Lucas)
We began this morning with our daily 8:30 meeting in which we received information about the schedule for the rest of the week. We were spoken to in English to make sure we understood important information such as the fact that we were going to the Pearl Market on Saturday and would need to exchange money if we hadn’t already and were hoping to buy anything.
Once Na Laoshi wrapped up the meeting we had the three hours of class that we have every weekday. Today we went over the previous lessons’ vocabulary and studied new vocabulary concerning shopping and bartering because we were going to shop in a market as a class that afternoon. We ate the same lunch we ate the other days this week, and then had an extra half hour to relax before our culture class and class outing. We returned some of us bags in hand, with two hours to eat dinner and prepare for an hour long class in which we worked on homework assignments. This was followed by an hour of soccer during RA clubs, after which I rushed up to room 517 to write my class blog post. All in all our days are busy and sometimes hectic, but my Chinese is definitely improving, and I’ve seen a lot of Beijing. Such a full schedule is hard to handle while adjusting for time difference and such a vastly different country, but it feels more and more manageable as I get better sleep and start to better understand the instructions that we’re given.
It has now been 8 days since the start of the language pledge. While many of my new friends seem to be counting down the days until we leave due to the rigor of maintaining the language pledge, I am staying optimistic. I, every day, think about how much I have learned in such a small amount of time. Just today I learned that one street food (that, because I don’t know the characters to read it, I will call a sweet sesame thingy) costs only 1 yuan, so I can finally fulfill my dream of becoming fat on something other than cereal! Another thing I won’t forget about my time in China is the 30 minute speech one local father regurgitated at me. It covered topics such as, why China and the US are secretly one and the same, 9/11 (which I now know how to say in Chinese), racism in America, and of course a plethora of Chinese idioms which I promptly forgot. I only understood half of it too, making it all the more stressful. I would’ve not been able to withstand his onslaught of Mandarin if not for the help of a friend. So, thanks MIL, you got me into a learning situation, let me marinate in it for just long enough so I don’t forget about it, and then left me out with a deepened relationship.
These past few weeks have been full of new experiences. Even though I had visited Beijing twice before, on our daily class outings and weekend trips I’ve gone to places I didn’t even know existed. My conversational Chinese has also improved a lot. I’m still struggling to understand locals, who speak very quickly with heavy Beijing classes, but I don’t feel lost in my classes at the college. I am only struggling in class when our teacher is explaining new vocabulary in Chinese, because with some words I end up feeling like I have a vague sense of what the word means or that I know 2-3 words that could fit what she’s describing. However, I am learning a lot of new vocabulary that I am then able to incorporate into our assignments, and use when I am out in Beijing. Going out in Beijing and having to use Chinese to finish your homework or just to get around can be very daunting, but our teachers and RA’s make it a lot easier.
Another thing that surprised me was dorm life, I’ve really enjoyed living on the floor with all the other girls. We all have our own bathrooms, and the beds are easy to sleep in. Our RA’s come every night and morning to make sure we’re awake/in the dorms, and to let us know the schedule for the next day. The only issue I’ve had is the laundry, or more specifically lack of a dryer. I unfortunately didn’t bring a drying rack, and the RA’S had none to spare so my sister and I hung our clothes on our towel rack and alongside the bath tub. Other than that, I’ve been really happy with my dorm life. I was able to buy a gym card, and the convenience store on the second floor means everything is pretty easy to access.
The last thing I feel I should talk about is the Beijing food. Although a lot of days we’re given 20-25 yuan to go buy ourselves dinner and breakfast, or eat delivery food for lunch, every meal we’ve had a restaurant has been delicious. My favorite meals have probably been our Peking duck meal, and the time my teacher took our class out to a restaurant and we all ordered our own food. The restaurant had delicious dumplings. Eating family style gives the students a lot of opportunities to try food they wouldn’t have tried otherwise. Overall, this has been an incredible experience to learn Chinese and try new things.
Today, we started off the day in class where we learned about clothing and shopping. To go along with this theme, in the afternoon, we went to a flea market where we are able to shop and practice our bargaining skills. At the market, I bought a water bottle/ tea mug. I was able to bargain the price down to half of what was asked, but still paid too much. The sales person would not budge! When we got back to campus, we were given around two hours to grab dinner and relax. After going to the gym, three of us went to grab dinner quickly. Since our Chinese is very limited, we had trouble reading the menu, so we just pointed to a dish and wished we ordered something good. I was not a big fan of what I ordered! Later on in the night, we were given the opportunity to participate in RA activities. I played soccer which is one of my favorite things to do. Although the game was not organized and no one knew who was on their team, it was still a lot of fun.
Every day is a packed with so many things to do. By the end of each day, I am extremely tired, but I am enjoying every second of it.
Thomas—"2C BO KE"
Today we began with the usual school-wide meeting describing the day’s itinerary and then started class by reviewing what we’ve been taught this week. Soon though, we moved in to new territory—learning about money, prices, and bartering. During our three hour class we went over how to express amounts of money in Chinese and the workings of the Chinese monetary system, as well as how sales work in China, how to ask for prices and other information, and of course, how to barter. Then we ate lunch in our classroom and had a couple minutes of free time before going to our cultural class. My class is calligraphy, and we spent about an hour writing a single new character, which, in my opinion, was very relaxing if a little tedious. Quickly after, however, we were swept through the subway system to a local mall, full of merchants selling miscellaneous clothes, jewelry, electronics, and other doo-dads. Here a few friends and I were able to go out and practice our bartering skills, all ending up with a T-shirt or two and a couple other tokens of our visit. After going back to the dorm I went to the building’s gym for a little while to get back in running shape after a long absence of exercise due to injury, leaving me very tired before dinner. Being given some money by our RA, we had freedom to choose any local restaurant to eat at. With this in mind, I choose to get a familiar Domino’s pizza as a small break from all the (good) Chinese food I’ve eaten lately. Before bed we had our “RA Activity” from 8-9PM, which ranged from quiet card games to soccer on the Universities’ field. I went for the card games due to my physical and mental exhaustion, which I’m still very much feeling as I write this blog. Overall it was a very fun day, and if I had to describe it in two words, they would be “Good Night.”
Every day, we go out to different places in order to explore the diverse aspects of the Chinese culture in relations to what we are learning in class. Today, our main theme was “Living in Beijing: Shopping.” Thus, we went to Xi’dan Joy City, a modern complex of malls, to ask the denizens of Beijing what they think is the “trend” amongst the people living in Beijing. As a small group, we wandered around the shopping mall asking people our question. After we completed our main goal, which was researching and accumulating an understanding of the Chinese culture, we were given free-time to do anything we wanted to do. With my classmates, we bought a cup of bubble tea and went to different shops in the mall until it was time for us to go back to Capital Normal University. We rode the subway back to our dorms—when we go to places with our class, we ride the subway because it is both convenient and we can also learn about the Chinese transportation culture at the same time. Then, we were given time to go buy our dinner. Once we finished eating our dinners, we went back to our classroom to finish our daily homework. The last activity of the day was “RA activities” where we got to choose from a diverse range of activities. Today was both a fulfilling and meaningful day, like any other day at our camp.
Student Logs for July 6th from Beijing! Updates from Beijing Academy Students Our First Few Days in Beijing Welcome to the Beijing Academy!