I stepped out of the airport completely drained from my sleepless 13-hour flight and awfully sweaty from the long wait to get through customs. The last time I spoke a word in Chinese was almost six weeks ago, so it wasn’t surprising that as I stepped out of the airport and saw a Chinese lady holding up the brightest yellow sign that said NDiB, I, exhausted yet somehow fully aware of the Language Pledge that this program would reinforce, was almost too afraid to approach her. However, I later found out through my terribly broken Chinese that she would be teaching 2nd-Year Chinese; she would be my teacher!
The Language Pledge was not officially implemented until the first day of class, when each of us signed a “contract” to promise that we would only speak Chinese during the entire program. Yes, I was warned that the Pledge would be challenging, but little did I know that I would still struggle with it after one full week of being here. Although I did not expect myself to be able to communicate fluently by now, I definitely thought that after one week I would have felt more comfortable carrying out basic conversations with others in Chinese. The strange, ironic feeling I got, however, was that the more I learned during the past week of class, the more incapable I felt of my Chinese abilities. It suddenly hit me that wow! Chinese is indeed an incredibly difficult language, and perhaps the objectives I set out for myself prior to the trip was unrealistic. There was no way I could come close to speaking fluent Chinese even after two months of being immersed in the Chinese culture. Understanding that it won’t get any easier from here, I only hope that I would soon get used to the struggle of communicating in Chinese. Although it might be frustrating, I must learn to embrace the challenge.
Besides that, my first week here was full of exciting things! My classmates and I did not wait too long to kick-start our adventure in Beijing. After our Placement Test on Saturday (the day after we flew in), we went out to explore the Summer Palace to tick off the first box on my Beijing must-do list. We also went to Nanluoguxiang, a famous old, traditional neighborhood, Tiananmen, and tried Beijing Kaoya (roasted duck) and scorpions.
However, I’m still not used to sitting in class for four consecutive hours every day. In fact, once I get out of class I cannot bring myself to do any more work. With that being said, I have created for myself a slightly different schedule than others’ to maximize my experience here in Beijing. I sacrifice my sleep and wake up early to complete my homework and prepare for quizzes before class. In return, I get to spend my afternoon and night exploring different parts of Beijing with, if not my classmates, my siblings, who are also in Beijing for their study abroad program. I have realized that as long as I keep myself busy exploring new things, I won’t be too overwhelmed by the academic aspect of the program. In addition, venturing out and interacting with local people is, in my opinion, the best way to practice Chinese and truly learn the culture.