Written by Paris G, High School/Pre-College Student Correspondent for JSA Diplomat Program in Beijing, Summer 2019*
Learning is essential to success in today’s world; however, physical classrooms are not always the best place to gain knowledge or experience. As a part of the student experience in Beijing, JSA and CET students must take classes! JSA students take Modern Chinese History and Politics while CET takes International Career Pathways. Additionally, both groups take one of three levels of Mandarin.
Mandarin is one of the most commonly spoken languages in China and is used for the majority of nationwide affairs. If you hear someone say that they speak “Chinese” (they don’t, but maybe don’t tell them that), they most likely speak Mandarin. It is important to note however that learning in Beijing is not a typical classroom experience! While two to three hours per day are spent in a classroom, the remainder of the day serves as a functional classroom. Every aspect of the JSA/CET student experience is geared towards helping students to excel, and in doing so, providing as many opportunities as possible to practice Mandarin with native speakers and apply many other academic concepts to daily life.
From Academics to Activities
A unique part of the JSA/CET program is experience-based learning. While classes are geared towards practical use, they still occur within a physical classroom. Therefore, the majority of practical application occurs outside of the classroom itself. One way that we’ve applied our learning is in ordering food, asking for directions on the street, and communicating with language buddies.
From day one onwards, we have had to order our own food at the cafeteria, local restaurants, etc. Additionally, when navigating our way around both the Beijing Union University (BUU) campus and within the rest of the city, much Mandarin has been utilized! One extremely exciting experience so far has been getting to know the students of BUU’s English Club who have volunteered to partner with CET and JSA in a month-long cultural exchange! In my group we asked for directions around campus- somewhat successfully, ordered milk tea at a shop recommended by our language partner (it was very good), and had quite the adventure speaking whole conversations in bits and piece of Mandarin and English.
Part of what makes China so fascinating for students is the nation’s rich history and culture. In order to better understand and study China’s past and present, excursions have been taken to destinations such as the Forbidden City, Tiananmen Square, and Kung Fu demonstrations. On one such excursion, we spent the day in Tiananmen square, then explored the Forbidden City- the largest palace in the world!
Personally, my favorite experience in Beijing so far has been simply wandering around and taking in the sights and sounds. It is quite the experience trying to navigate your way around a foreign city, especially one so busy and full of life, speaking very little Mandarin!
One of the most rewarding aspects of the CET/JSA program is, in my opinion, successfully applying my Mandarin skills to communicate with native speakers and making new friends along the way!