A Day in the Life: CET Kunming

Written by Haleigh Morgus (Loyola College), Student Correspondent CET Kunming, Summer 2016

I thought I would miss eating plates of pancakes and waffles drenched in syrup, easy-to-prepare bowls of cereal, and steaming hot bacon and sausage, then I discovered Chinese breakfast.

When looking for breakfast food in China, a lot of students think they have limited options. But my advice is to simply look at what the Chinese students and professors are eating and follow their lead. You may at first think the food doesn’t look quite like your typical breakfast food, but it is delicious, I promise.

My breakfast in the cafeteriaMy go to in the morning is a bowl of congee (粥 zhōu) with sugar added, and some fried dough sticks (油条yóutiáo). You can also order steamed buns (馒头 mántou), hard-boiled eggs, noodles, and many other options.

It is hard to convince myself to get out of bed at 7am every morning to start preparing for my daily quiz and attend four hours of class, but thinking about the breakfast food awaiting me in the cafeteria gets me moving. This might sound like an exaggeration, but I genuinely adore Chinese breakfast.

Around 7:45 I typically finish eating and head over to our classroom building. From 7:45-8:20 about half of the CET students are in the common area prepping for the dictation (听写 tīngxiě) or quiz (小考 xiǎokǎo) that we have each morning at the start of class.
Class starts promptly at 8:30 with our quiz, and then until 10:20 we review the day’s text (课文 kewén) with our main teacher (大班老师). I am in the fourth level Chinese class (四年级), so my class has 6 students, but class size varies based on your level. After a 20 minute break (休息 xiūxi), we start up class again with our TAs or 小班老师. My class has 4 TAs, and they rotate each day so we get to learn from each of their teaching styles. The first half of class is simply drilling the vocab and grammar we learned during that day’s lesson. The second half of class is our “discussion class” or 讨论课. In this class we try to use the grammar and vocab we just learned to further discuss the topic of the day. So, for example, in my class we have discussed the commercialization of the media, how your father displays his love for you, the effects of China’s One Child Policy on Chinese society, and differences between American and Chinese ideas of marriage.

An example of daily text and homeworkAt 12:20 we break for lunch. Almost everyone eats lunch in the cafeteria, and our teachers also eat there so that we have even more opportunities to practice our Chinese. The cafeteria has plenty of super cheap options to choose from: typically, I eat rice with a veggie and a meat piled on top. Other students will eat the noodles, and you can ever add fried eggs to any meal. Everyone tends to head back to their dorm around 1pm, and all students have a well-deserved break until at least 2pm.

After our break is our “one-on-one” Chinese class or 一对一 (yīduìyī). This is probably the coolest part of CET classes. Our 小班老师 are all graduate students, so are relatively close to the students’ ages. For 20-40 minutes each day, each student has a one-on-one class with a 小班老师. You go over the reading, and then further discuss the topic and share your point of view on the issue (看法 kànfǎ). You also get to hear a Chinese college student’s point of view, which helps to expand your knowledge of Chinese culture and day-to-day life. Because of these classes, students build great friendships with their TAs. Our 小班老师 truly care about our Chinese development, and about getting to know us better. If you are struggling with something in class (for example, pronouncing the falling tone), they will go out of their way to make sure you improve throughout each week.
The rest of the day is filled with studying for the next day of class and hanging out with CET friends/ roommates. Surrounding the CET dorm buildings are a lot of delicious restaurants and neat coffee shops. Kunming, being a city in a country renowned for its tea, has a surprising amount of coffee Lichi Black Teashops. I am personally a tea person, and I know from experience that these coffee shops also have excellent tea. For example, Sunshine Cafe, located in our dorm, has excellent Lichi black tea. Mazagrans, a cafe a short walk from campus, has delicious Pu’er tea, which is native to Kunming. Conveniently, these coffee shops also have excellent wifi and are perfect spots to study. Many CET students have become regulars at various coffee shops, and owners will let us sit in their shops for hours as we study for tests. The amount of homework can be pretty rigorous, but becomes more enjoyable when practicing Chinese with friends in a unique coffee shop.

Learning to pour Pu'er tea at a nearby teahouseAfter studying, resting, and finding some time for dinner with your roommate, students have one last option to go ask their teachers questions. In one of our dorms, the sixth floor has the CET activity room. Every Tuesday through Thursday night, one 大班老师 and at least three 小班老师 are in the activity room from 7:30-9. They are there to answer any last minute questions you have about grammar, text content, or a test or homework that was returned to you. CET is such an intensive academic program, but truly does provide so many opportunities to help you succeed. Students are recommended to go see the teachers every night that they can, and it truly does provide deeper understanding.

After visiting the teachers, I spend my evening conversing with my Chinese roommate. The questions we discuss in our 讨论课 typically include finding out your roommate’s point of view on an issue. While our conversations typically start with these questions, we’ll end up talking for an hour or two about the aspects of these topics that interest us most. Every day is filled with so much Chinese, that each CET students’ Chinese level has skyrocketed since we arrived. It has been amazing to see how in seven short weeks we’ve learned so much!