Written by Taylor Ginter (Rice University) Student Correspondent CET Harbin, Fall 2017
Take it from me, CET’s Harbin program is tough, there’s no sugar coating it. I spent this summer in Harbin with CET’s program and am now a continuer through the fall semester. The teachers expect the very most out of students during class time and don’t hold back on assigning homework. I spent a lot of time studying this past summer and although I’m happy with how much progress my Chinese made, I know during this fall semester I will be even more successful. After many trials and errors and some time off to process the whirlwind that was my summer semester, I recognize some changes I can make to be not only a better student but also a happier, healthier person.
- In reality, the language pledge was way easier to follow than I initially expected. It’s exciting to be constantly challenged to apply classroom learning to real life and I was actually sad when Ren Laoshi declared we could speak English again! Overall I followed the pledge pretty strictly, with one exception: acronyms. Since a string of letters isn’t “actually” English it was easy to lean on acronyms as a crutch and not feel like I was breaking the pledge. But this semester I will remove GPA, ATM and RIP, among others, from my vocabulary. And speaking of crutches, another one is speaking Chinese more often with other Americans than with Chinese people. It’s so much easier to converse with someone who speaks at your speed and has about the same size vocabulary, but taking the easy road isn’t the way to improve. So I’ll also seize more opportunities to speak with natives, no matter how badly I feel about asking them to repeat themselves multiple times.
- Asking questions will help me learn right, to do my homework correctly the first time around instead of telling myself I’ll correct it after the teacher hands it back (but then never giving it a second glance). When I’m doing homework in our dorm’s common room I will ask our Chinese roommates; when in our classroom building’s CET common room I’ll ask our teachers; and when at any one of HIT’s numerous coffee shops I won’t hesitate to ask the baristas. I’ve yet to come across anyone not willing to help me with a quick vocab question, and having the memory of being at a specific place, asking a specific person and hearing their specific response helps me engrain that vocab word into my memory.
- I’m usually not a big fan of flashcards, but I’ve been using a free, downloaded computer program called Anki this past week and it has helped me tremendously! Anki relies on “spaced repetition,” or reviewing material over the course of a long time period, so, for example, the cards I’ve learned this first week of classes will still keep popping up when I’m studying a month from now. And Anki’s method of mixing all flashcards together into one session (instead of studying one class at a time) has helped me use one class’s vocabulary words outside of the context of that class’s specific text so my classes are more integrated together. The initial learning curve for using the program is a bit steep but is well worth the investment. There are plenty of online help guides for any problem you might encounter (here and here are a couple of my favorites that are tailored for language learning).
Studying abroad isn’t always a romantic vacation away from American school: it’s study. But it was oh so ever rewarding to look back at my summer semester knowing my hard work had paid off. And, okay, I know I just stressed the importance of working hard, but self-care is ultimately the most important. So I’ve also been reflecting on my habits outside of the classroom and away from homework.
- Keeping a routine sleep schedule is tough when I have an 8am class one day but my first class at 2pm the next. During this first week I’ve gone to sleep no later than 12:30am and gotten up at 6am every day and my body has been so thankful. I need to keep telling myself that, as important as finishing my homework is, it pales in comparison to being well rested. Without any energy I won’t participate in class and I won’t be able to commit my learning to memory. So when it gets to the point in the night where all I can think about is crawling into bed, I have to listen and not push myself to continue working.
- It’s also tough to make time to exercise but I’m finding ways to fit it in. I recently realized exercise doesn’t have to be as official (or as much of a hassle) as lacing up my tennis shoes and lapping the track, it can actually be as easy as taking the long way back to my dorm or choosing a farther away grocery store at which to shop. I also signed up for CET’s tai chi class, which, twice a week will help me shake off the sitting-at-a-desk-all-day feeling.
- I keep telling myself I don’t have time to explore Harbin because I have too much homework, but all things considered, I’m only in this city for a short period of time and need to make the most of it. So I’m going to start getting off campus more often and checking off my Harbin “bucket list” including but not limited to: attending a concert at the breathtaking Harbin Opera House after a recent snowfall when it’s even more beautiful (or so I’ve seen from pictures); visiting Saint Sophia Cathedral, probably Harbin’s most well known product of Russian influence; riding the city’s large Ferris wheel; and having a snowball fight. Alright, that last item isn’t unique to Harbin, but I’ve never had the opportunity to partake before!
Obviously these goals are also not an exhaustive list, but if I can manage to make these few changes in my day-to-day life I know this semester I can improve by even more leaps and bounds than last semester!