It’s not what usually gets talked about, but schoolwork is a significant part of the study abroad experience. My program, Contemporary Issues in China is fairly intense. We have Chinese class throughout the semester and Area Studies courses, which are held in intensive blocks one at a time. Right now I’m in “China in International Relations,” already having finished “Chinese Literature” and the intro course, “Understanding China.” I have loved my classes here. It has been so fascinating to learn about some subjects that I’ve never learned before, and to attempt to understand China. I think what I know most certainly is that I will never know or understand everything there is to know about the most populated and most ancient country in the world. While a lot of my schoolwork looks like it would at Hope, with lots of reading, writing, and learning characters, the study abroad experience does provide some more unique opportunities including cool field trips and fun activities. My final block class, “Ethnic Minorities in China” means that we get to spend two weeks in Tibet!
Last week for IR we went to the Old Summer Palace, where the emperors would live until the place burned down. I’ve been here before, but it was so cool to learn more of the history with my professor along, and chuckle at all of the attention that 15 waiguoren in a group attract anywhere that we go. I love that this was class for the day!
For Chinese last week we went to a market and had to find items (we only had the word in Chinese), pick out a gift for someone else in our class, and talk to random people. It was a much needed break from sitting in a classroom. We’re at the point in the semester where people are staring to get tired and the novelty of being in China has definitely worn off in many ways. Usually my class starts at 9, but we were told that today we had a mandatory meeting at 8 to talk about our long travel trips. Our program director starts talking to us about shopping for hiking clothes and I can’t help but notice how distracted he is. He says, “You need to make sure you have good hiking shoes, but we can worry about that later, today we’re cancelling classes and everyone’s going out into the city!” Deciding in our still-tiredness that this was probably true we went downstairs to find all of the teachers and RA’s holding signs to different locations in the city. This was Crazy Day! A day meant to be totally fun and give us a break. I went with two IES teachers, one of our RA’s and seven other students to Fragrant Hills Park, a large hill that we climbed on the outskirts of Beijing. I am a Pacific Northwest girl and the constant being in the city/not being outside in nature has been getting to me. God gave me exactly what I needed today. Everyone was so happy to have classes cancelled, and it was a beautiful hike, even when the smog got the best of the view. We then went to a restaurant that some kids in the group knew for lunch and it was one of the top meals I’ve had in China. We ordered several veggie dishes, chicken, shrimp, and of course rice. We were literally silent because everyone was so focused on eating and savoring the food. It was incredible. It’s these experiences outside of the classroom that I will always remember.