Photos by Nathanael Cheng (Hillsdale College) Student Correspondent CET Beijing, Summer 2017
Looking back at nearly two months in Beijing, it has been a fast-paced, exhilarating journey. Heading into final exams, it seems only yesterday that I landed in Beijing. However, there are several things that I wish I had known before arriving in China.
- Intensive language means intense. Having participated in “intensive” language courses before, I did not expect the amount of work that this program required. Typically, we learned a new lesson and up to 150 new words every day. Additionally, a page-long essay is usually assigned for homework each day. Although the amount varies by class level, hearing from other students, the work load for all classes is truly “intense.”
- Make friends quickly. Whether they’re Chinese roommates or fellow CET students, it’s a good idea to find a group of good friends as quickly as possible. That way, navigating an unfamiliar city will be much less stressful, and the culture shock will be more manageable. Making friends who will push you to go out into the city instead of staying in the dorm will force you to make the most of your time in Beijing.
Always carry water. Beijing summers are humid and draining. When walking around the city, a regular water bottle won’t cut it. Most of the students ended up carrying a 1.5 L bottle around wherever we went.
- Bring rain boots. Talking about weather, the CET packing list suggests you bring rain boots; they’re not kidding. The torrential rains can leave your shoes completely soaked even if you walk outside for only a few minutes. Also, the air-conditioned dorms are not good places to dry shoes, and air pollution limits the ability to open windows. Pack waterproof shoes; you won’t regret it.
- Free time is limited. If you want to get good grades, don’t expect to have a lot of free time during the week. That said, take full advantage of the free time you do have during the weekend to go exploring in the city. In fact, a group of friends and I were able to manage a weekend trip to Xi’an without much difficulty. Even during the week, sometimes we were able to slip in a game or two of mahjong in the CET Activity Room on a Wednesday evening.
- Sleep habits. At the same time, just like in college, managing an academic workload and an active social life can wreak havoc on a regular sleep schedule. But unlike America, due to the time difference, you’ll wake up much earlier than you normally would.
- Go to the same restaurant multiple times. The student cafeterias aren’t open the whole summer, so many students chose to eat as reasonably priced restaurants around campus. It’s often a good idea to go to the same restaurant several times and try different dishes to see which ones you prefer.
- Food is oily and salty. A lot of Beijing cuisine is very oily, heavy, and salty. If you’re looking for lighter options, I would recommend steamed dumplings (水餃) or cold noodles（涼麵）.
- Chinese people are more open than I expected. One of my pre-conceptions about China was that people would shy away from discussing political topics. On the contrary, although certain topics are more sensitive than others, many of the Chinese teachers and roommates were curious and at least somewhat knowledgeable about American and global current events and were eager to strike up a conversation.