Summer 2018 Language Fellow – First Weeks in Beijing

Hello everyone! 大家好! I’m Kelly Alesio, this summer I have the opportunity to study Mandarin with Hamilton College’s Associated Colleges in China (ACC) program, so I’ll be living and attending classes at Minzu University of China, in Beijing’s Haidian District.

This program is an intensive one, recommended by the university’s Chinese department due to the program’s relatively small student body and individualized instruction, moreover, ACC student must adhere to a language pledge the entire time they attend the program.

I arrived in Beijing in mid-June, and after reaching Minzu University and sleeping for 12 hours straight, I immediately took my language placement exam.

In the couple of days between the placement exam and the beginning of classes, the ACC teachers my classmates and I to few well-known sites in Beijing, Tiananmen Square and the nearby Jingshan Park (景山公园), a former imperial garden with an amazing view of Beijing’s Forbidden City.

Although I had heard quite a lot about the rigor of ACC’s curriculum, particularly the summer session (it’s only 8 weeks long, as opposed to the spring and fall sessions’ 13 weeks), it was rather difficult initially to adjust to three to four hours of back-to-back language instruction (completely in Chinese!), and took slightly longer to become comfortable expressing myself in everyday life using a foreign language I’m not yet fluent in.

Additionally, the vocabulary learned at each level in ACC isn’t the same as those learned at a similar level in George Washington University’s Chinese courses, so the first week mostly involved adjusting to the workload (fourth-year students are expected to learn over 100 new words a day), and playing catch-up with some of the vocabulary.

My second week at ACC was both more difficult and more fun. The second week marked the start of extracurricular activities, of which I chose Taijijian, a form of the traditional Chinese martial art Taijiquan (太极剑) that includes swords (not sharp ones), and calligraphy, as well as our weekly 800+ character essays and oral presentations.

On the second Friday of the program, after our weekly exam, my classmates and I met our language partners, Minzu University students who would be in Beijing or studying at the university during the summer, and later our met Chinese host families. Additionally, the fourth-year students had the opportunity to visit a museum dedicated to Lu Xun (魯迅, real name Zhou Shuren), a highly influential 20th century author famous for his breadth and depth of work, having produced everything from thought-provoking essays on the Chinese education system, to classical-style poetry, to Chinese translations of foreign literature.

In these past three weeks I’ve fortunately found time to hang out with both my Chinese host family and my language partner, and had the opportunity to visit the Mutianyu (慕田峪) section of the Great Wall, explore a popular hutong (a traditional Beijing neighborhood), and visit Beijing’s National Gallery.

As I go into my fourth week at ACC, which marks both the halfway point in my time in Beijing as well as the beginning of midterm exams, I find that our small student body, regardless of year level or home university, has become increasingly closer, and more confident speaking Chinese in our private lives, whether deciding what movie to watch or debating the merits of the various campus canteens. I’ve eaten a variety of delicious (and strange) meals with these wonderful people, and can already tell these are friendships I’ll want to hold on to even after I return to the States.

 

      

It’s been a fantastic experience so far, having the opportunity to study Chinese intensively along with a group of incredibly motivated and hardworking classmates, and I’m looking forward to what the rest of the summer will bring!

After midterm exams, we’ll travel to Datong, a city in Shaanxi Province (山西省) about 6 hours by train from Beijing, so keep checking back for updates!

 

Katherine Alesio
B.S. Civil Engineering 2020
Sigur Center 2018 Asian Language Study in Asia Grant Recipient
Minzu University of China – Associated Colleges in China Program

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