Written by Elizabeth Underwood, (Washington and Lee University) Student Correspondent Middlebury School in China: Hangzhou, Fall 2018
Moving halfway around the world to a foreign country already comes with its own set of challenges, but obeying to a language pledge for a semester is its own unique challenge meant to drastically improve students’ language skills. While obeying the pledge can be frustrating, especially during the first couple of weeks, it’s important to remember to stick to it! Don’t give up on it! It’s there to help you and it shouldn’t be viewed as an obstacle. Everyone in the program is going through the same situation and are all feeling the same way.
With that being said, it’s important to understand that it can be difficult for students to truly express themselves when speaking in a new language. For instance, I’ve discovered that it’s harder for me to show my personality and humor when I’m speaking in Chinese. Communicating with the other students can even sometimes feel like playing charades.
But there’s no need to worry! After two weeks in Hangzhou, I’ve found that certain extra-curricular activities can really enhance the study abroad experience and help break the ice between students while communicating in Chinese.
1. Weekend Trips
Taking a quick weekend trip to Wuzhen with my Chinese roommate and other CET students was the absolute best way to form friendships and create lasting bonds with the people in my program. From riding on the high-speed bullet train for the first time to trying adventurous Chinese food, sharing experiences with new friends can help you create meaningful relationships while still adhering to the language pledge. I personally don’t recommend going on trips every weekend, but a weekend getaway with friends every once in a while is the perfect way to see different cities and make lasting memories, all while speaking Chinese.
Enjoying an evening at KTV is an absolute must in China. During our first week in Hangzhou, our Chinese roommates took all of the CET students to sing some karaoke at KTV. We had an absolute blast laughing our way through some pitchy singing and questionable pronunciation of “小苹果“, but more importantly, we really began to bond with our new Chinese roommates.
3. Ping-Pong Tournament
Ping-Pong, or playing any sport for that matter, is a great way to take a break from studying and quickly destress. Almost every evening, students will go outside to play a competitive game of ping-pong with other classmates and Chinese roommates. There’s nothing like some light Team USA and Team China rivalry to break through the language barrier!
Within the first week of arriving in Hangzhou, our Chinese roommates taught everyone in the program how to play Mahjong. It’s surprisingly not as difficult as it looks and closely follows the same rules as the popular card game “gin rummy.” Most students can constantly be found in our common room playing Mahjong for hours at a time, and if a game is especially intense, crowds will gather around the table and watch to see who will be crowned the next Mahjong champion. Bonus: The games Mafia and Jenga are also major hits with the students, and sometimes, even teachers might join in.
5. Class Excursions and Activities
Last weekend, students and Chinese roommates traveled to visit the famous West Lake located right here in Hangzhou. We were able to take a boat ride to the “three pools mirroring the moon” in the center of the lake and walk around the lily ponds to admire the peaceful environment that the lake has to offer. In addition to weekly class excursions, the school also provides us with opportunities to join clubs, like ping pong, calligraphy, and a Chinese cooking class. I specifically joined the calligraphy class to try and master the art of drawing beautiful Chinese characters, and while it can be frustrating at times, it is very rewarding to see improvement in my characters and also get to know other students in the process.
While I’ve only been in Hangzhou for a few weeks, it is already noticeable that my Chinese level has improved, largely because of the language pledge. Speaking Chinese outside of class now feels more natural and completely unforced because we are in an environment where there is no temptation to speak English. Obeying the language pledge is a group effort, and it is crucial that everyone in the program sticks to it.
My final words of advice: don’t feel discouraged by the language pledge! It’s only temporary. Studying abroad is an incredible experience and it goes by fast. It can be tempting some days to stay in your room and avoid talking to people in a different language but go outside and create lasting memories in your new community.