Looking back on my semester studying Chinese at Beijing University
I took my last final on Friday, which means my semester at Beijing University is officially over. I can definitely say that I’m relieved – Beida demanded a lot from my friends and I, although it wasn’t in the way that CET did, and it wasn’t necessarily the learning Chinese part that was so demanding. Am I sad about leaving Beida? Not really. However, I can sit here today and say that I’m still happy with my decision to study at Beida, and I consider what I did learn about Chinese, my own self, and life in general to be very valuable. As is becoming habit, here’s a review of my semester studying abroad at Beijing University.
I was originally going to start off the post with the positives, but we may as well get the negatives out of the way now.
Quick preface to this next section: Concerning the character of my professors at Beijing, they were some of the nicest and more understanding people I have met here.
Here goes. To start, the program at Beijing University is not an intensive language program. There’s no language pledge, people speak their native language in class pretty frequently, you’re allowed to miss 1/4 of scheduled class time (unless your teacher doesn’t take attendance, in which case you can miss as much as you want), and your class can have upwards of 20 students – individual interaction with your professor is pretty rare.
Which brings me to the next point – relationships with teachers are very different from what I’m used to. I remember how awful I felt if I missed class at CET – I think I missed class twice, and once I even went to my afternoon class after missing my morning classes due to a case of under-cooked dumpling food poisoning. But that’s because I knew the massive progress I was making was the result of both mutual effort and mutual respect.
Professors at Beijing University, on the other hand, were different from both my college professors back in the U.S. and my teachers from last semester at CET. Unlike professors back home, my Beida professors didn’t necessarily seem that into academia i.e. they never really talked about starting research, preparing for a conference, or publishing a paper or book.
Not that a good professor should always be busy working on their next PhD, but there were times when I thought that if they weren’t busy with other academic endeavors outside of class, maybe they could’ve spent just a bit more time preparing a better plan for utilizing time in class.
And lastly, students don’t have extremely high expectations for the program. Due to a combination of factors, there just wasn’t much motivation to try that hard, and I felt as though my teachers were okay with it, in a few cases even condoning it. Chinese isn’t the easiest language to study, and when there are other distractions going on around you, it doesn’t get any easier.
Now on to the more optimistic part.
Like I said above, I’m still very happy with my decision to go to Beijing University, and I wouldn’t have done it any other way. Although in the beginning I was frustrated with everything from the lax nature of the program to what I thought was a culturally outdated (and biased) textbook, about 2/3 of the way through the semester I came to realize that not only had I made progress, but that my progress was actually pretty significant.
I was also able to become friends with plenty of great people from countries all over the world, and while I wasn’t as close with people in my own classes as I could’ve been, I was able to meet a lot of other students from other levels and classes via mutual friends.
A good number of foreign students at Beijing University can speak actually speak English very well, but like I said in a recent guest post, I genuinely thought it was cool that a class of students (my written language class) from Argentina, Mexico, Australia, Indonesia, the Philippines, South Korea, Japan, and America could all communicate entirely in Chinese if and when we wanted to.
If nothing else, Beida forced me to continue studying Chinese, by which I mean translate, read, write, and listen to Chinese every day. No, it wasn’t at the pace or intensity of CET, but if I’d been trying to study on my own and hadn’t been in a structured program, I have a feeling I would’ve gotten increasingly more lazy to the point where I may have just stopped.
It is what you make of it
This was a phrase we uttered almost daily as we tried to keep Beida in a positive light. In the end, any and all experiences are what you make of them, and whether you’re satisfied or dissatisfied with the result is merely your own decision. Philosophy out of the way, the reality was that the conditions in my life weren’t exactly creating the perfect Chinese learning environment.
For one, a big part of the semester was spent trying to teach English. Running around trying to get hired, teach demos, and secure contracts for English Teaching “Companies” can take a big chunk out of personal study time.
Second, the one drawback of my apartment is that between it and school is a bottle-necking intersection running perpendicular to train tracks. When the semester started, I didn’t have a bike which meant I had to ride the bus to school (smelly story for a different day). There were many days when traffic was so bad that we would get stuck behind the tracks for two different train crossings, making time on the road upwards of 45 minutes to an hour, and me late for the first two weeks of class. (To get an idea, I can now ride my bike to school in about 15 minutes.)
And lastly, I just had a lot of other “life stuff” that took precedence over Chinese. Issues with my banking and debit card, my ticket for my flight home, and a number of other issues all resulted in many late night calls back to the U.S., often lasting until 1:30 AM.
However, these difficulties can be overcome, and if you decide to create a different experience, Beijing University can be a great place to learn Chinese. Start off by applying for the Chinese Government Scholarship. That immediately knocks out tuition and housing costs. Buy a bike right when you get to Beijing – I don’t know how I lived without one. If you don’t need to get a job, utilize your spare time to study harder and prepare well for class, even if no one else is. You’re Chinese will be better off for it in the end.
What I learned from my semester at Beijing University
What I listed above – the good, the bad, and everything in between – those are the realities of studying abroad, and yea, it can make going to school full time a bit more difficult. But for the most part, I’ve been able to overcome the majority of those difficulties (with the help of a lot of people), and so can anyone else. It was the first time in my life where I was truly out on my own, and I was responsible for any mistakes or successes along the way. I may not have learned as much Chinese as I had hoped, but over the course of last semester, I learned a lot about life, and that may be just as if not more important.
And so it was, my semester at Beijing University. My current situation closely resembles my situation at the end of the fall semester at CET, i.e. a list of things I need to get done in the next few weeks to prepare for a relatively unplanned future.
However, while everything is still up in the air, I can definitively say that I have a flight booked back to Beijing on August 10th (I’m going back to the States for a few weeks in July), I hope to continue studying Chinese in some way shape or form when I get back, and like I’ve said many times before, I plan on being abroad for a long time to come.
As always, if you have any questions or comments, please feel free to leave them below and I’ll get back to you!