Written by Miranda Hermes (University of Georgia) Student Correspondent CET Harbin, Summer 2017
It’s summer vacation and some of my friends are taking photos on the beach while others are in Europe or South America having the mostly relaxing experiences typical of a student studying abroad. I expected that kind of a summer. However, the sense that my time in Harbin would be anything like a vacation ended shortly after the start of my first few classes. One of my harder professors, Ma-Laoshi, told us on that first day that we could cry in her class. I took it as an exaggeration, an excessive measure of precaution for an overly sensitive student. However, it was not an exaggeration. Since I got here, I’ve pulled two all-nighters and gotten around 5 hours of sleep on the regular. After the first all-nighter, I went to class feeling unprepared and majorly overwhelmed by all that we had to do that day. When the tears started coming, I could see the calm of experience in her eyes as she brought out her packet of tissues. The work is getting lighter, however, with each passing day. Though the teachers assign more, I am also better able to manage more. I’ve currently studied 329 new vocab words in just these two weeks, not to mention the reports, essays, and conversations we’ve had to memorize.
In all of the stress, the CET student body is really a body. We do life together. We stay up late together, get our meals together, and talk together in “San Ling San,” the living space of our dorm. We never fail to have food to share in San Ling San, and when one of us is down, friends are there to offer a hug. The teachers also understand our stress. Because of them we have a great room in the International Education Center with snacks, coffee, and most importantly, AC. I never fully appreciated it until coming here, where practically no space has it except that one!
However, studying is only a (very large) aspect of my life in Harbin. One of the best experiences thus far was a four-
hour scavenger hunt we had last Saturday. CET covered the cost of individual transportation, so in our groups of three or four, we all hopped into taxis and scavenged the city for Russian fur hats, shrink wrapped chicken feet, deer to feed, and lots more. It was a real experience, especially the friendly competition when we ran into competitors at similar locations. Other times, we went swimming together. I went with three other friends—two of whom are students here. They helped us get our swimming cards and learn the etiquette of the pool. There are two big differences. First, women strip completely in the changing rooms before and after swimming in the pool. This is a difference that made me feel really uncomfortable about swimming here at first. However, it helped me to understand my roommate as well, as she frequently goes all-natural in front of me in the room. The second difference is that there are greater safety precautions with the swimming pools in China. We must all visit the campus hospital for pre-screening before we can receive permits to swim. We must also remove our shoes at the entrance to the facility and rinse our feet before entering the pool. On top of that, we all have to wear swim caps. So, the pools in China are definitely more well protected than those I’m accustomed to back home. It’s not a problem, however, because we could still have just as much fun. When we exhausted our muscles, we went out to get a Harbin special called “Chuar.” It’s a kind of BBQ kabab—perfect for after a good swim!
The progress I’ve made in Chinese has been gradual, and the work I’ve had to do has been hard, but we never let it hinder our enjoyment of this new and wonderful place. Running has been another great delight. We typically run only around the track at the school. However, one day a friend and I decided to take a look at the nearby river. As it turns out, that river extends all the way to another college campus several miles away, and we never even reached the end of it. Visiting there was an experience because it took us out on a beautiful, paved trail that went under bridges and through the city. On the way we made friends with old men who were whipping spinning tops and making what sounded like music. However, according to them it was only an exercise for strength. After taking several tries with the whips, we continued until we got to the other campus and joked about swimming in the over-polluted river on the way back. When we arrived, a good bubble tea cured all the thirst built up by the long run.
We’ve done other things since then like climbing up onto the fence to watch the after-graduation party for my Chinese roommate and her graduating class before finding out that we could simply enter with our student ID cards. We went out for karaoke, and we participated in a class on Tai-chi. The instructor is strict, so, in the future, I will have to better prepare. I’m glad I had the opportunity to spend the past two weeks here. Studying in Harbin has definitely been much more of a struggle than I bargained for, and at times it has made me feel truly discouraged. However, the fun I’ve had here and the friends I made have no comparison. Moreover, I believe that this current struggle will truly change the nature of my studies in Chinese. I am “shi-fen” excited for the journeys ahead with CET Harbin.