Written by Courtney C, High School/Pre-College Student Correspondent for CET Beijing JSA Diplomat Program in Beijing, Summer 2019*
When coming to China, my initial intention was to use the trip as an opportunity to practice and improve my language and speaking. However, this goal quickly shifted. Instead, I decided to focus on making the effort to meet as many new people as possible. I tend to have a relatively reserved personality, so putting myself out there and trying to start new friendships was no easy task, especially if I wanted to make local friends. However, I have discovered that it was not as tricky as I initially thought it to be.
Within the first two weeks, I met a freshman named Mint from Beijing Union University. Everyone on the program was assigned a Chinese buddy to talk with and get to know better. We went on a scavenger hunt with them, celebrated the Fourth of July with them, and even had a small gift exchange. Mint and I were put in a group together, and we got to know each other extremely well. Even though talking with a Chinese buddy was mandatory, our conversations were far from forced. We used WeChat to share song recommendations with each other and talk about our favorite movies (hers seemed to be the Fast and Furious series). After talking for only four days or so, I found that we had a lot more in common than I was initially expecting.
In addition, I have met lots of new people and interacted with many of the locals during our excursions. For example, after eating dinner on Friday, our group made an outing to the park. At night, the park is a lively place filled with many elderly Chinese men and women. The park comes to life with people cutting each other’s hair, playing cards, and dancing. I am not much of a dancer, however, my friends and I joined into line dancing with many of Beijing’s elderly women. It proved to be a lot of fun.
Although most of us were completely lost and could not master any of the steps, we all had such a positive experience trying, laughing, and meeting some of the women along the way. This created such a friendly environment where we could both practice Chinese and talk to some of the women dancing. Another excursion we took was to a local high school. Here, we were taught calligraphy by the school’s students. My partner, Gu Xinyi didn’t speak English very well, but somehow, we were able to communicate and overcome the language barrier. We have become close and have remained in touch. One of my other most memorable encounters has been with a woman who works in the university cafeteria. Whenever I order my meal, she corrects my pronunciation and introduces me to new words. She always remains excited to see me trying to use my Chinese and cheers me on as I go along.
Besides meeting many locals, I have also had the experience of meeting people from all over America within my group. I often feel as though I am stuck in a bubble and only regularly encounter people from the Northeast corner of America. On this trip however, I have gotten the chance to befriend people from such interesting places such as Ohio, California, Kansas, Colorado, and Georgia. My fellow peers on this trip bring such new perspectives on issues and topics that I never would have thought of myself.
Just in my first two weeks in Beijing, I have started to feel more at home. I have met so many new people, both local Chinese and Americans. All my new experiences with them have helped me immerse myself further into Chinese culture and gain new perspectives.