Written by Margaret Jackson, (Georgetown University) Student Correspondent CET Harbin: Intensive Language, Fall 2018
On our first day in Harbin, during orientation, one of the teachers told us, “My door is always open, please come talk to me about your experience, and by the way, it’s okay to cry.” As she said this, I thought, “What did I just get myself into?”
The CET intensive language program is just that—intense. My week is packed with classes and often the teacher to student ration is 1:2. When it’s just you and one other student, or just you in the case of a one-on-one class, you have no place to hide if you don’t prepare. Every day, the expectations are high; you must know the class material and be ready to perform.
The intensity of the classroom is one aspect of this program, but the other important aspect is what happens outside the classroom, the language pledge. During the first few weeks, by the end of the day, I felt like I could barely put a sentence together. Fatigue was a major factor, and luckily my friends, many of whom had the same experience, were all very patient. They sat and conversed with me over many dinners as I struggled to communicate my thoughts. The language pledge plays a very important role in this program. It not only reinforces the classroom material, but also encourages you constantly to learn new vocabulary to communicate your point clearly.
The energy students must expend in this program is not equally matched, but exceeded by the level of work that the teachers put into the classroom experience every day. I admire the attention that each teacher gives to my language development. They are able to cater the language learning experience to how each student learns best and know how to help each student overcome her weaknesses. Our classes are broken down by research and topic area, but also include a class solely for the purpose of improving pronunciation, tones, and fluency. The class structure builds in review throughout the lesson plan, and by the time it comes to test, I feel more than prepared to succeed.
One of the best parts of the Harbin program is participating in activities outside the classroom. Who doesn’t love a field trip? Whether it’s buying fruit at the local market, interviewing people over breakfast at KFC (yes, Kentucky Fried Chicken), or visiting a local newspaper office, having the chance to practice Chinese outside the classroom is invaluable. It helped me build my speaking confidence, and also gave me a better understanding of Chinese society. Obviously, we have opportunities to speak with people in daily student life, but these tailored activities helped me break out of my comfort zone and strike up conversation with people other than just the local café barista.
Looking over the past three months, I’m proud of my language development and the work I’ve put into this program day after day. I still haven’t cried in a teacher’s office, but I still have a few weeks left! This program is unquestionably a challenge, but one that is worthwhile for both language and personal development. The skills I will take away from this experience not only prepare me to speak Chinese, but also help me better communicate my thoughts and understand another way of life. The CET experience provides me the tools and fosters the desire to keep learning as I move forward in my career.