From the moment I started studying Chinese my freshman year of high school, I became infatuated with everything about the culture and the language. When I was able to go on a 10 day trip to China during my sophomore year of high school, I fell even more in love. Since then, I have always planned on studying abroad in China, in order to immerse myself in all things China. I knew that being there for an extended period of time would not only improve my language skills, but would also allow me to gain a better understanding of the culture.
Why did you choose IES Abroad’s program in Beijing?
I chose the IES Abroad Beijing Center after my Asian studies advisor recommended the program to me. She personally had visited the center and gotten it approved for University of Michigan credit, and she believed it was the best program available.
What was your favorite part about living in Beijing?
Beijing is a HUGE city! In fact, it is even larger than the entire state of Connecticut (my home state)! Because of this, there is so much to do and see. Not only is it a cultural and historical hub, but it also has a vibrant and exciting nightlife and modern culture. So, if one day you decide you're tired of traditional Chinese food and visiting historical landmarks, you can hop on the subway and see a movie, grab some Italian food or fancy cocktails, go shopping, or spend your the night at a club.
What made your experiences in China unique?
My experience abroad was unique thanks to the group of people I met. While abroad, you have the opportunity to live and work with people who come from vastly different backgrounds than yourself. This doesn't just include the friends I made who are Chinese nationals, but also the American students on the program as well.
Studying abroad with fellow Americans who share many of the same interests as you adds even more depth to the study abroad experience, and can really shape your time abroad in unique ways.
How did the local IES Abroad staff support you throughout your program?
The local staff at the IES Abroad Beijing Center were all wonderful. All of the professors were extremely supportive in our Chinese studies and really pushed us to soak up as much knowledge as we could. Even on rough days when speaking Chinese was the last thing you wanted to do, they were always understanding and willing to help.
In addition to the professors, the resident advisors were life-savers. They both lived in the same hallway as the rest of us and were willing to help us with anything at all hours of the day, from Chinese homework to directions to a restaurant to an emotional crisis.
What's one thing you wish you would have done differently?
If I could go back in time, I would have probably tried to find an internship to supplement my Chinese studies. That way, I could've begun to create relationships that could benefit me when starting my career search.
Describe a typical day in the life of your program.
A typical day at the IES Abroad Beijing Center started with Chinese class from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m., with a quick break in the middle. Afterward, most students would continue on to language elective courses, which included everything from Chinese slang to studying Chinese films. Then we'd have time to ourselves to relax, catch up on homework, or eat lunch until Area studies courses on some afternoons. These courses, taught in English, were two to three hours long, but were usually very relaxed and entertaining. After classes ended, we would have free time to do whatever we'd like, including homework, exploring the city, napping, or anything else that came to mind!
What did you enjoy doing in your free time most?
In my free time, I enjoyed doing a range of activities. Some days, my friends and I would arrange trips to local landmarks, such as the Lama Temple or the Temple of Heaven. On other days, if we felt like doing less touristy activities, we would find time to go shopping, see movies, or explore any part of the city that we hadn't gotten to see yet. Beijing is full of endless activities; you'll never NOT find something to do!
What was your accommodation like? What did you like best about it?
The program offers a homestay or a dormitory option, and I chose to live in the dormitory. We were housed in an international students’ dormitory with overall Western amenities, including Western toilets and big showers. The dorm rooms, despite being on the smaller side, were relatively similar to dorm rooms I've seen on American campuses. Rooms come with an air purifier and air conditioning (and heat), so I had very few issues.
What is one thing every student should know before participating in your program?
Living in China is easier than expected! Before going, I was terrified of what my living situation would be like. I was also afraid of living in a place that was so different from my current situation. Honestly though, living in China was so much easier than I had expected it to be, and if you're having a rough time adjusting or just having a bad day, the RAs and professors are always there to help you however they can.
Now that you're home, how has your time in China impacted your life?
My time abroad has made me realize how much smaller the world actually is. Before studying abroad, the idea of living in China seemed so far away. How would I ever survive being 7,000 miles away from home? However, I realized that while there, it doesn't feel as far away as it really is. It's super easy to stay in contact with family and friends back home! Now, I am even considering living in China after graduation, an idea I would have never considered before studying abroad.
Would you recommend IES Abroad’s Beijing program to others? Why?
I would absolutely recommend this program to others. It is a great way to vastly improve your Chinese language skills while immersing yourself in the culture. Additionally, it is an amazing way to make friendships that will last you forever.
Emily is a senior at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, where she is majoring in Asian studies, with a concentration on China and East Asia, and minoring in international studies. She is very interested in foreign languages and has seven years of Chinese and 11 years of Spanish under her belt.