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A Realization After Beijing

Coming to China studying abroad out of the University Denver would normally lead a student like me to study at Peking University in Beijing, China’s top university.  However, my experience coming from Denver has been much more original than my peers.  I chose to do a program unaffiliated with my university leading me to the southern capital of China, Nanjing.  At first, I was really nervous about my situation studying away from my classmates back home, but after having lived in Nanjing for the past 3 months and visiting those friends at Peking University in Beijing last week, I have come to realize how happy I really am to have chose Nanjing. 

            Last week was the first time I made the journey up to Beijing to see my friends all semester.  I got my train ticket, and four hours later on one of China’s 300kmh bullet trains, I had arrived in Beijing.  Stepping off the train I was completely overwhelmed.  People are everywhere and I really had no idea what I was doing.  All I had was a message from my friend Chris telling me to meet him at Wu Dao Kou station, wherever that was.  Not only is Beijing such a big city, but it is so spread out to the point that they have 15 subway lines; thirteen more than Nanjing.  I must have stared at the giant subway map displayed on the wall in the station for a good 20 minutes just trying to figure out where to go and how to get there.  I was easily frustrated, probably due to how spoiled I am in Nanjing with its two simple subway lines.  Our stop, Gulou, is right in the heart of Nanjing making everything so convenient and simple.  This process was the first realization I had, and I hadn’t really even experienced any of Beijing from a college student’s perspective yet.  It was an easy situation to be judgmental in, and I was definitely playing the role.    

One hour, two transfers, and a million new Chinese faces later, I had finally arrived at Wu Dao Kou station.  I had never been so anxious to get off a train in my life and was so relieved to finally see my friends waiting for me outside of the station.  It was night time around 6:30 or so, and we were hungry.  We went to one of Chris’ favorite local Chinese eateries, ate some food followed by a couple beers and then stopped by his apartment to meet up with his 4 other roommates and to drop off my stuff before we hit the town!  Chris shared an apartment with three other Americans and a Chinese guy.  All great guys, but the dynamic felt pretty awkward at points.  All of the Americans are best friends and do everything together, while the Chinese guy was just kind of there in the background minding his own business.  I felt bad for him.  Even Chris had mentioned how strange and awkward it is sometimes.  I have also been living with a Chinese roommate for the past couple months, so I understand the cultural differences, but my roommate, Ding Pan, and I got over the awkwardness very quickly and have grown to be good friends.  These guys had a strictly roommate only relationship with theirs, and it was clear from our first interaction.  We both have Chinese roommates but they are in completely different circumstances.  Mine is also a college student and he speaks almost perfect English while Chris’ is twenty eight years old and is a working man who does not speak of word of English past the simple greetings.  It was interesting to observe, and I was observing the dynamic the entire time I was there. 

After the first greeting with all these guys we finally hit the town and went out Beijng style, which meant paying lots of money!  In Nanjing almost every time we go out, everything is handed to us for free because we’re foreigners.  In Beijng we were literally surrounded by foreigner’s, which meant we did not stand out like we do here in Nanjing.  Other than these aspects, the social seen and nightlife were pretty much the same: loud music, lots of lights, and entertainment from dancers or singers from time to time.  We had fun, and after words I was feeling hungry.  In Nanjing, I eat a ton of street food.  After all, it is some of the best food China’s got, but when I told those guys I wanted to get some food on the street, they could not believe what I was doing.  None of them had ever even considered trying some BBQ and all the other cart food that lines the streets at night.  They looked at me like I was a crazy person, eating a bunch of kebabs at once.  They were mortified, but I was surely enjoying myself!  Nanjing has given me lots of practice, so I am confident with my street decisions.  I had no idea about their eating habits in China, but it all made a lot of sense the next morning. 

All of us got up and one of Chris’s roommates had his breakfast heart set on eating at a place called Grandma’s Kitchen.  He said it was the best Western breakfast in Beijing, so I was honestly really excited to have some good ol’ American cookin!  We got there, and it literally felt like we were in a diner back home until the Chinese waiter came and asked for the order in Chinese.  The menu had everything from pancakes to one of the best skillets I have ever had.  We were all excited and we got talking and one of them said he probably eats there four or five times a week, no matter if its breakfast, lunch, or dinner.  That’s when I new that these guys eat a lot of western food here.  They talked about burgers, deli sandwiches, Grandma’s, pizza, and all other kinds of stuff they like to have.  I do enjoy a nice change back to western food in Nanjing, but these guys eat it a lot here.  That skillet was amazing, and if I was in Beijing, I would probably eat there all the time too, but that’s also the reason I am happier in Nanjing.  Nanjing feels more authentic and my experience here has been amazing and is full of crazy Chinese stories and memories.  I could have been at Bei Da with all these guys and I know it would have been a great time, but Nanjing has been a truly out there abroad experience, and I am really proud to say I studied here.  It was the best choice I could have made, and the experience has been nothing short of amazing. 

01/09/2018

CIEE Study Center in Nanjing, Hard to Say Goodbye Fall 2017

Waking up in my bed and I still can’t believe it’s already 16th December---- the last day of this semester. It seems as if our students were just arrived yesterday and we were going to show them around the campus this morning. However, it’s time to say goodbye…

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In this semester’s first blog we talked about how our students made successfully transition living here in a complete new environment and culture, they did a great job especially for those who studied abroad for the first time. We organized a variety of cultural activities, which to a large extent, made those transitions much easier and helped them engage in local society and lives. Two of their favorites are our excursions and festival celebration.

“Huangshan was a must for me when I came to China. When I arrived in Nanjing, I immediately asked the CIEE staff how to get to Huangshan, then it soon became a class trip that wouldn’t have happened if we didn’t have the best teachers and program administrators in the world. I’m very thankful for them coming with us and being great, energetic people who constantly love on us and help us improve our Chinese. In short, we all had an amazing weekend and Huangshan is a world wonder.”---- Sam Trizza  

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Undoubtedly, we were all deeply impressed by its breathtaking view especially its four distinguishing features: Sea of Clouds(云海), Hot Springs(温泉), Unique Pines(奇松), and Unique Stones(怪石). But what we value most is the memorable experiences we had. Thinking about conquering the most fabulous mountain by climbing for 8 hours, we were all exhausted but we eventually made it. Or can you imagine waking up in 4am on top of the mountain to witness the sunrise? Everyone was totally frozen but it was definitely worth it.

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So was our overnight excursion to the Silk Road. I still remember one of our students wrote in his journal, other than all those scenery sites such as the Great Mosque where religion brings people together, the world’s eighth wonder---- Terra-Cotta Warriors, or riding camels among sing sand dunes in the Gobi Desert, they were actually all those precious moments we experienced together that mattered.

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The other highlight, our students can hardly forget are our Thanksgiving celebrations. Why I use plural? Because we actually celebrated three times! The first time was in our resident director Fu Laoshi’s house on Thanksgiving Day. With a big turkey, stuffing, pumpkin pines and other traditional thanksgiving food, we ate, sang and danced, one of our students even said it's the best Thanksgiving food he ever had. The second was a Friendsgiving celebration in our lounge Room 608.


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The third and the final one was in our language teacher Zhu Laoshi’s house. Not only US students but also their Chinese roommates were invited and each one cooked his or her specialty for other CIEE Nanjing family members. That day was a real challenge for our stomach as we kept eating from morning to afternoon. By the end of that day, our stomachs were filled with nachos, tacos, pumpkin pine, apple square, red bean soup and lamb BBQ.

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After we’ve been through all these, we are not just students and teachers or US students and Chinese roommates, but are more like a family now. We cooked for our loved ones, we shared happiness, and we supported each other and made memories.

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Thank you guys for this incredible semester! It’s hard to say goodbye. But no matter where you are, geographical distance wouldn’t separate us from each other because a family for 3½ months is a family forever.

12/27/2017

Silk Road Excursion Fall 2017---explore the Northwest of China

As a language and culture program, we not only focus on intensive language learning everyday but also organize different cultural activities to help students engaging on local lives. And Silk Road excursion is definitely one of the highlights where we experienced the incredible diversity of China and traced back to the splendid Chinese culture from Han dynasty.

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“After arriving in Xi’an on the first day, we visited one of the two places I found most interesting. Construction on the Great Mosque of Xi’an started in the 7th century, as tradesmen brought their goods and religion to China from the Middle East. It wasn’t a typical mosque as you’d see elsewhere, this one was Chinese inspired. It was the same architecture style as an ordinary temple in China, with gardens, buildings, and all, but had a different meaning and use. This visit made me think a lot about other world religions and I had many questions answered about Islam.”---- Sam Trizza

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“On Tuesday, I learned an important lesson that I already thought I knew but now have drilled into my brain. We visited the Xi’an city wall, the best preserved in China, and had the opportunity to ride bikes on the 9 miles, bumpy wall. It was raining and I decided not to partake, but when we arrived, somehow it got into my head that “It’ll be nice to say that I’ve done this so I’ll do it.” That is the worst reason to do something ever, and I thought I knew that, but I guess not. For the next hour and a half, Calli, Galen, Ahmed, and I pushed through the ride in the rain, soaking wet, on a bumpy wall in the middle of a metropolis. If it doesn’t sound bad, it was. I wasn’t going to have a bad attitude about it though so we called it a bonding experience and laughed it off. It has now been drilled into my head to never do something to say that you’ve done it, but to do something because you have the desire to. We also saw the Terracotta Warriors. Those guys were really something special.” ---- Sam Trizza

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“After a 12-hour overnight train ride (the most fun way to get around), we went to the other one of my two favorite places on this trip. Dunhuang is where oasis meets the Gobi desert. I love the desert.” ---- Sam Trizza

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“On our last day, we visited the Mogao Grottos–man-made caves by Buddhists crossing the Silk Road. There are hundreds of caves with beautiful paintings and statues, but most importantly the world’s third-largest Buddha.” ---- Sam Trizza

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“Other than touring and seeing the local attractions and historic sites, I realized that the moments of traveling such as on the high-speed train or on the overnight train, also played a key role in developing better personal relationships. In fact, I felt this whole journey, brought us students and teachers closer together.” As a student said, this is our journey; our adventure in North West was not only about visiting all the tourist attractions and exploring the diversity of China, but more about bonding with each other and becoming a real family.

09/28/2017

CIEE Study Center in Nanjing, China Welcomes Fall 2017 Students

Time passes so fast that we are already in the third week of this semester. During the past few weeks in Nanjing, CIEE students, teachers, Chinese roommates and tutors have bonded closely through a bunch of activities such as orientation, welcome lunch, field trips and tutoring. Every member of our CIEE Nanjing family is so excited about this semester and unique adventure in Nanjing.

 

Our semester began with a well-organized orientation at the CIEE Study Center in Nanjing University by our resident director Dr. Fu Yanfei. On the very first day, our students learned a lot about the geographical and historical knowledge of city as well as the ways of living in a different environment and culture, which laid a good foundation for students’ adaptation to local culture. Moreover, Fu Laoshi recommended American students plenty of useful apps to help them quickly get accustomed to local life. In addition to living in a different culture, Fu Laoshi also talked about the academic requirements and cultural activities regarding to our Intensive Language and Culture program. It really surprised us that our students chose the highest level language commitment as they committed to speak Chinese all day long. It shows their strong determination to learn Chinese and we are looking forward to witnessing their achievements in the coming days.

 

After orientation, American students and their Chinese roommates went together to downtown Xinjiekou, a place with tons of modern skyscrapers and countless shopping malls, for welcome lunch. American students found that it was a great opportunity for them to bond with their Chinese roommates as they were introduced a lot of local dishes such as steamed bun (小笼包) and salty duck (盐水鸭) as well as Chinese table manners. Welcome lunch really gave them an eye-opening experience as they learned about why Chinese people liked to treat their friends and seating orders. Soon after the welcome lunch, our American students and their Chinese roommates were quickly becoming friends and couldn’t stop talking about food, dining habits, cultural differences and young generation’s lifestyle in both countries. They had a downtown tour afterwards and Fu Laoshi showed them the cityscape and introduced historical background to the students.

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The second part about our orientation was campus and neighborhood tour. Nanjing University as one of China’s top universities has hundred and fifteen years history and Gulou Campus where our classrooms and dorms are has the most convenient location right in the city center. Campus and neighborhood tours with their Chinese roommates made the transition much easier for American students since them began their adventure in Nanjing by getting familiar with the environment nearby and further bonding with their new friends. Both the American students and their Chinese roommates were so excited about living in together for the next few months. And for those who were going to live with a host family, they expected to experience more authentic Chinese living style like homemade food and family life. Those host families we chose were quite experienced in hosting foreign students, as they were fully prepared before the students arrived. American students were warmly welcomed by their 叔叔,阿姨 and 弟弟,妹妹 while the strangeness were soon melted away by sweet smile and sincere greeting exchange between each other.

 

After the two-day orientation, our first week began! Students gradually settled into their new schedule and got to know their teachers’ teaching styles and class pace during the first week. As the theme of our program indicated, they have intensive language learning in the morning for 4 hours. Our Chinese instructors not only base lessons on their textbooks but also strategically emphasis on presentation, field trip reports as well as into the community activities.

 

In additional to intensive language class, we provide them with diverse cultural classes with Chinese characteristics. American students are quite into Taichi class where they get a chance to experience Chinese Kungfu at the first time. Taichi is a traditional Chinese material art and is well known for its great combination of movement and stillness from Daoism. Contemporary Chinese Study is also one of their favorites as they discussed a variety of aspects covering China’s economics, politics and culture with their instructors. Intercultural Communication and Leadership class, to a large extent, broad their horizon and develop their internal leadership in intercultural context.

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According to our language commitment, students agreed to speak Chinese all day long. It was a challenge for them, especially when they tried to explain something with limited vocabulary (sometimes they tried to order food in a local restaurant and found it hard to get what they want in Mandarin only). However, with the help from teachers and their Chinese roommates as well as their strong determine and passion in learning Chinese, they are getting used to it and more comfortable and confident in speaking Chinese in daily life. One thing that encouraged a student a lot was when a salesman tried to talk to him in English but he replied him in Chinese fluently.

 

After a few days, students got to meet their tutors. After icebreaking activities, they talked and shared lots of common interests and began to discuss about tutoring time on their own. On one hand, peer tutoring as a complement to Chinese classes, gives students customized after-class tutoring and chance to thoroughly research in areas they’re interested in. On the other hand, it provides more opportunities for American students to form social network with local peers and fully integrate in young people’s social life. Students sometimes invite their tutors to local restaurants with language meal fee we offer to study menus, dishes and to practice new vocabulary they just learned.

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By the end of the first week, one of our students, 歌扬, had his 22nd birthday in Nanjing! At first, he didn’t know there was a surprise party for him. We prepared a cake and invited all the students and Chinese roommates to the lounge waiting for him. The moment he entered the door, we jumped out and yelled “Happy Birthday!” 歌扬 was so thrilled coz it was the first time he celebrated his birthday in China and said that’s the day he would never forget. One interesting gift from a Chinese roommate was a happy birthday song in four languages.

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Students are so excited about every Friday as we usually arrange field trips for them together with their Chinese roommates. Our first field trip was to Jiming Temple; visit Ming City Wall as well as Xuanwu Lake. Jiming Temple is one of the oldest temples in Nanjing with more than a thousand years of history. While walking along from the main hall to the well-preserved medicine Buddha temple, Dr. Fu introduced the splendid history of temple as well as Chinese Buddhism to the students. They were also interested in the authentic way of praying with burning incenses. Stepping on the 600 hundreds years old Ming Dynasty City Wall, we took our first CIEE group picture against crystal clear sky and the highest skyscraper in Nanjing. Everyone was impressed by the perfect combination of historical sites and modern skyscrapers. We ended the trip by boating on Xuanwu Lake. Students chatted with their Chinese and American friends while paddling boats on the beautiful Xuanwu lake with the blossoming lotus flowers. Laughs spread out in the peaceful lake with the cool breeze of the early fall.

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Last Friday, we took the students to the renowned Confucius Temple where they learned a lot about Chinese imperial examination 科举考试. Imperial examination museum showed them the most profound examination system had involved thousands of years history since Sui Dynasty. The highlight of Confucius Temple was visiting Lao Mendong Historical Culture Block where students were totally attracted by Chinese traditional handicrafts such as clay figure, sugar painting and paper-cut.

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Living in Nanjing likes an adventure for our American students as they get a lot of chance to explore and experience a different life with their Chinese friends, especially during the weekends and returning with fascinating stories. Since it’s only the third week of the semester, there still more to be expected. And you know what? CIEE students are now learning Chinese songs for the coming Karaoke day this week!

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06/07/2017

Studying Abroad in Nanjing - By Sophie

 

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CIEE Spring 2017 Graduation Picture  

My time at the Nanjing Language and Culture Center has really provided me the opportunity to not only learn Chinese in a classroom setting, but to interact with various aspects of the Nanjing city community, whether through taking extra classes studying Chinese cultural activities, volunteering at a local elementary school teaching English, weekly excursions to different locations in Nanjing, living with a Chinese roommate, or simply by living in the heart of the city. Similarly, Nanjing’s convenient location and the existence of China’s high-speed train network provide numerous travel opportunities. One of the most interesting and influential travelling experiences for me personally has definitely been our program’s weeklong excursion to Guangxi Province in southeast China. Organized by our program coordinators, the trip was specifically designed to travel to a number of locations that were different not only in the area of the province they were located, but in their distinguishing cultural and historical characteristics. We began our trip in Longji, a village situated in the picturesque “Dragon’s Backbone”—a stretch of mountains dotted with rice terraces laid out in a spiraling, ribbon-like pattern. In Longji, we stayed overnight with members of the village and got to eat their homemade food, observe daily life on the rice terraces, and pick some famous Longji tea for ourselves. As someone who lives near many farms in the Midwest, I was not expecting to be able to observe an agricultural-based lifestyle that was so different from what I commonly see near my home. As a village based primarily on agritourism, Longji preserves its old rice cultivation techniques and cultural practices specific to the Zhuang ethnic minority group that makes up most of the population. Being able to visit and observe Longji’s environment and lifestyle was truly an opportunity that I never expected to have when coming to China, and visiting an area so different from Nanjing really allowed me to understand firsthand the diversity, size, and cultural richness of China as a whole.

As we continued our excursion in Guangxi, we visited a number of other places that also espoused very different environments and cultural characteristics than the others. We rode on rafts down the Li River, famous for being prominently featured on the Chinese twenty-yuan bill, and travelled to Beihai, a coastal city famous for its seafood. Perhaps the most different from Longji, however, was our last day of travelling to Weizhou Island. Aside from near constant beach access and a bustling seafood trade, Weizhou Island is also home to a Catholic church built on the island in the late 1800s. The difference between Longji and Weizhou Island alone were frankly astonishing—we had travelled for our entire trip completely within the same province, but had started in a mountainous region amongst rice terraces and ended near a Catholic church built on an island. Visiting such a variety of locations really allowed me to interact more deeply with China’s culture and diversity within the span of a few short days, as compared to the busy city life in Nanjing to the north. As a part of my study abroad experience as a whole, this trip will really stand out as one of the more memorable facets of my studies.

My Spring in China - By Nhu

I am not “a group of friends” person, which discouraged me from studying abroad in the beginning. But I soon realized the importance of learning a 3rd language in order to build a satisfying and rewarding career in the long run. So, I decided to challenge myself and go for it. I chose China as my study-abroad destination, where the spoken language is neither my first nor my second language, a place where everyone was a stranger to me. During this 3-month semester abroad in China, I felt the communication barrier, homesickness, and overload of classwork. Sometimes I let this depression get on top of me and push me off course. However, the most fortunate thing is that CIEE was able to share these difficult moments with me. My first impression about Nanjing was that it had a convenient public transportation system, nice people, cheap delicious cuisines, and high-street security. I was quickly welcomed and treated as a family member by CIEE staff and Chinese local students.

I believe that, for most of the students living in a foreign country, the hardest part of life abroad is adjusting to the unfamiliar ground, and becoming a part of the local culture. CIEE understood our difficulties, and helped us get through these moments to be more accustomed to the local lifestyle. They set up everything prior to our arrival. I could say that the first week with CIEE was a major first step in helping me leave my comfort zone. They organized on-site orientation in order to teach us to be safe in China. Following that, they introduced us to Chinese local students, who were also our roommates and tutors. These locals not only played tremendous roles in my Chinese studies, but also in a daily life while abroad. I felt that it was scary to speak the local language while abroad since I was a stranger. However, having those Chinese friends around, I learned to be more patient and confident when practicing my Chinese. I also felt more respectful and humbled to understand the local culture. Every time I wanted to try new cuisine at a local restaurants, go shopping, or go anywhere for entertainment, the only answer I got from my Chinese friends is, “我陪你走! (I will go with you!). They do not hesitate to try my favorite food, and spend time with me.  Most importantly, they were always there for me when I faced problems.

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Thanks again CIEE, for connecting me with new friends, new lifelong friends!

Besides my Chinese friends, I could not disregard the CIEE staff as they were the best part of CIEE. Although, we had a big difference in age, I never felt misunderstood in our communication. They were always willing to stay young, active, and socialize with us. Since the CIEE offices and activity rooms are located on the same floor as the student’s dorm rooms, it was convenient to drop by their office to have a cup of tea, a little chat, or just ask for some advice about any problems we were facing with studies and life. Even though I live with my homestay, and usually do not have time to drop by their office, CIEE staff members would come down to my class to say hi, and check in with me. Other than that, they were available 24/7 on phone, as I could call them anytime I wanted. These things made me feel safe, and I felt my voice was always heard.

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What made CIEE different from other organizations was that they stressed importance in helping us enrich our knowledge and experiences while abroad. Some of the ways they do this is by organizing field trips around the cities with local Chinese students every Friday and a long excursion trip to the west of China. I was also offered different elective classes including Tai chi, calligraphy, as well as the opportunity to contribute my service to the community through volunteering teaching at a local elementary school. In this semester long journey, not only did I learn a lot about China’s cultural traditions and society through classes and trips, but also cultivated practical experiences in the field of teamwork. I had to work with others in most activities, so I had to practice good attitude and behavior towards my peers and Chinese friends. I did this by looking after them and I was also always willing to help my teammates. I believe that, I ended this abroad journey better off than when I started it. It was all about cultivating richer knowledge and experiences through exploring the landscape, art, culture, and relationships.

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Thanks CIEE for sharing ups and downs, despair and repair, smiles and frowns, moments that make everything to this valuable and memorable study abroad journey worthwhile. Showing me the value of growing independently, confidently, appreciating cultural differences, and making me feel at home. I look forward to having my next study abroad trip in other countries shared with you, CIEE. All I want to do and always love to do is #Throwing❤toCIEE

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03/21/2017

Starting My Chinese Adventure — Riley Harris

大家好, I am Riley Harris, a participant in this Spring semesters Intensive Chinese Language and Culture here in Nanjing, China. I come from Denver, Colorado and I go to college at Colorado State University in Fort Collins.

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Spring 2017 student  Riley Harris 

  Coming to China has been a dream of mine for the last ten years, and now that I have been here for over a month now, I can confidently say it has been everything I could have ever hoped for and more. Traveling from Colorado to Nanjing was by far the worst part of my adventures so far, and that’s only because I have never been on a plane for more than five hours, so you can imagine sitting on one for close to fifteen hours (especially when you’re sitting next to a kid who keeps putting their feet on you) is a little draining. Regardless of how tired I was when I arrived, I felt immediately welcomed as there was a CIEE Chinese roommate waiting at the airport to receive me, making the rest of my travels effortless. Upon arriving to the dorm, I was more than pleasantly surprised by the quality of the rooms, as they are nicer than many of the college dorms I have been to in America. They also have a fantastic view of Nanjing, regardless of what side you are placed on.

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Riley Harris and his Chinese tutor Xu Haoyue     

  Living in a suburb outside of Denver all my life made me worry I would not be able to navigate the busy city here in Nanjing, but with the orientation weekend activities, as well as the weekly Friday field trips helping you orient yourself with the city, I haven’t thought that it has been too much to handle. The program director, the staff, the teachers, and all the Chinese roommates have made me feel more than welcomed here in Nanjing, and have helped me establish a new home. They continually go out of their ways to make sure I feel comfortable, safe, and to ensure I am loving my study abroad experience. I know once my time here is over, I will have made many lifelong friends.

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First family picture at NJU 北大楼(Historical North Building)   

When I originally came here, I wasn’t quite sure how I would feel living in a city of eight million plus people, as I come from a state with only five million in total. However, I have never once felt overwhelmed by the city, and I highly recommend coming to study here in Nanjing over Shanghai or Beijing. Nanjing is a glorious city. It has not forgotten its cultural and historical importance. During our Friday field trips, whether you go to the Confucius Temple, Sun Yat-sen Mausoleum, or Xuanwu Lake, you will not only see a city that is experiencing vast economic growth, but also a city that is not willing to sacrifice the important pieces to provide that growth.

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Fieldtrip to Dr.  Sun Yat-sen Mausoleum

I have not yet been to Beijing, but I did travel to Shanghai two weekends ago and I can confidently say I am more than happy I chose to participate in a program here rather than somewhere else. Yes, Shanghai is a beautiful, large city with tons of skyscrapers, nightclubs, and shopping malls, but I did not get the same sense of connection as I have in Nanjing. The people here are kind, and although they sometimes may stare, it’s just because you’re an interesting foreigner and more times than not, they just want to talk to you and get to know you.

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The real reason I came here though was to study the Chinese language and culture. I will admit, the first two weeks were a little overwhelming, as many Chinese language students in the United States only study Chinese for about four hours a week and that’s it. Here, it is four hours of classes every day, and then studying, speaking, and practicing Chinese the rest of the day. Once you get in the groove of things though, it is fun, rewarding, and you will feel that you are learning valuable life lessons, as well as a new language every single day.

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  Fieldtrip to Jiangnan Examination hall

I can’t say enough about this program, and I highly recommend it to anyone who is looking for an extremely fun, but also very rewarding study abroad experience.

12/23/2016

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them— My Study Abroad Experience in Nanjing By Giselle Willis Cuauhtle

I will admit, I never had any special intention of coming to Nanjing. I thought it was just the southern version of Beijing but maybe with less air pollution. I ended up coming because my professor told me to...and because I thought the “intensive” in “Intensive Language and Culture” sounded neat.

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Giselle with classmates 

But now I love Nanjing. It's the perfect mega city for someone who is from Tulsa, Oklahoma because it doesn't feel too overwhelming. The average skyline is only extremely taller than the tallest building in Tulsa, not ridiculously taller. There's weirdly lots of trees and bodies of water too, which I think I might've forgotten about when picturing the rapidly industrializing China so often seen in the news. I also forgot about the animals.

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Giselle with her Chinese host family 

The first animal I met was Chip the hamster. He belongs to my host family and when I met him it was with the sinking realization that he understood more Chinese than I did. I envied Chip and his cozy existence. Having learned the little Chinese I knew with a northern accent, Nanjing’s southern accent was different enough to make sure I felt like I definitely wasn't anywhere near Kansas anymore. I watched Chip run around in his hamster ball while my host family tried to reassure me that my pronunciation was standard while theirs wasn't. My 15-year-old host sister, at least, spoke clearly and easily threw in English if I didn't understand something important. My host dad was definitely the hardest to understand, but it turns out Chip was more of a constant in my life than he was. Host dad works in Xi’an and comes back to visit about once a month. Now I look forward to his visits because they are always an extra challenge on my language ability. He speaks very quickly and with an accent, but every time he comes back he claims I have made great progress. As for my host mom, I have conversations with her every day because I have to record certain topics for my homework. I have also learned many useful phrases from her, such as “wear more clothing,” “drink more hot water,” and “you definitely need to wear socks or you will catch a cold.” Chip, however, continues to be unimpressed with my tones.

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Talking with Chinese tutors

As I became more familiar with the area around my school, I also encountered many stray cats. My favorite is definitely the calico who always hangs out on the stoop. We named her Stoop Kit. It's pretty cold outside now, so one time she crawled onto my lap and head-butted her way into my jacket. I was happy to help my fellow small mammal, especially because I miss my own cats at home. I also like the cat in the coffee shop across from our school, and I even saw a tiny kitten hanging out on the Great Wall. My tutor and I actually first bonded over our pictures of our cats, and she taught me one of my most-used words: “小可怜,” very roughly translated as “little pitiful.” It is useful for describing stray cats but also maybe your friends when they can't open a water bottle. Or like, yourself when you're actually the one who can't open water bottles. Thankfully my host mom helped me buy a thermos online because China’s online shopping is stellar. My tutor also helped a bunch of American students buy things online during the huge sale on China’s “Singles Awareness Day.” She is, in general, a fantastic person who puts up with me at least three hours a week, helps me remember how to write characters, bought me a cute comic book in Chinese to practice with, gives me Chinese songs, and did my makeup super well one time during a tutoring session all about makeup products. My teachers in general are very patient with me. Except sometimes if we aren't very responsive in class one of my teachers has us dance along to viral dance videos. Joke’s on her I love embarrassing myself.

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Giselle and her Chinese instructor Zhu Laoshi

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Discussing Chinese newspaper with classmate

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Sheepskin river-rafting on the Yellow River

Anyway, I also got to see camels. In the desert. Apparently some of my relatives saw my pictures on Facebook and thought that I had taken a side trip to the Middle East. But no folks, China is in fact big enough to have different climates in different areas of the country. I'm so thankful CIEE took us on a week long trip through cities on the Silk Road and they didn't even ask me to say that. It was amazing to get to see more of western China and not just the lovely east coast city that is Nanjing. We went to Xi’an, Lanzhou, and Dunhuang, to name a few places. We were all excited the whole time for riding camels in the last city, Dunhuang. But throughout the trip we also got to hang glide and ride on sheep skin rafts and take a motor boat to the most beautiful place I've ever been to: a Buddhist grotto in Xiahe. I would never ever in a million years call myself an outdoors person but I actually did all those things AND enjoyed them. One could even say studying abroad has helped me grow as a person and all that good stuff.

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Visiting the Mogao Grottos

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 Visiting Binglin Temple

In the end, I think the most important thing I've learned from staring into Chip’s blank, beady eyes, Stoop Kit’s darling, reptilian eyes, and Fergie the camel’s super long eyelashes is that they aren't very different from their American counterparts. So I didn't want to write a blog post making a bunch of generalizations about Chinese people or warning of potential cultural faux paus either. I feel like the best way to travel is to do so with zero expectations. Not high ones or low ones, just none. I'm definitely not going to be an expert on China after one semester here, so all I can do is practice Mandarin as much as I can and keep talking to different people. Fortunately stray cats aren’t a bad conversation starter.

11/23/2016

Dinner Time in China——My Study Abroad Experience in Nanjing By Iris Parshley

My first few weeks living with my host family in China I observed many different habits and traditions during meal times. The first night I stayed with my family, they invited a few friends and family members to eat dinner with us. My host grandmother and host mother prepared about 15 dishes for the guests. My host parents offered me beer and wine. The men drank hard liquor and warm beer, while the women drank wine or beer. Water was not served at the table with dinner, and the children were given juice. My host family does not have a lazy-Susan, so the dishes were placed in the middle of the round table and overlapped each other. Occasionally the dishes were switched so that everyone could try all the food.

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Iris Parshley(left) and her Chinese tutor     

 

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   A toast and drink started the meal. Throughout the casual meal, the men clinked glasses before they drank, but everyone else drank freely. I was given a bowl of rice and a pair of chopsticks and told to eat. Before coming to China, I knew that families usually ate “family-style” by picking up small bites and eating them with rice, so that was not a surprise to me. What did surprise me was the fact that everyone spit bones and shells straight onto the table. By the end of the meal, there were empty bowls, plates of extra food, empty glasses, and undesirable parts of food covering the table.

       Even though I couldn’t understand much of the conversation at dinner, I smiled, drank, ate, and felt welcome. It was a loud but comfortable dinner. The dinner seemed similar to a family gathering I would attend in the United States. There was lots of conversation and laughter.

       A few weeks later, my host father took me to a fancy Tibetan restaurant for a formal dinner with a few coworkers. We went out on Teacher’s Day and were honoring an English professor and her husband. The women sat on one side of the table while the men sat across the table, and the honored guests sat furthest from the door. I noticed that all the men brought a pack of cigarettes and alcohol to share. The women were given red wine while the men drank shots of 白酒. The honored guests were given the most alcohol. The meal started with a toast to the honored guests, and during the meal, a lot of toasts were made to honor each person at the table. Many times during a toast between two or three people, they would get up and walk around the table to clink glasses and chat for a little while. Water was consumed if no one was toasting. Only the men smoked; they each shared their cigarettes with the other men and often offered to light the other’s cigarettes. The food was first given to the professor or her husband then passed around using the lazy-Susan. There was no spitting onto the table at the restaurant, and everyone had individual plates and bowls they could use for the bones.

       The formal dinner practices seemed rooted in Chinese cultural traditions. I think that toasting and giving the first bite of food to the elders was showing respect for the elders. Sharing the cigarettes seemed like a show of wealth; if a man could afford a pleasure item such as tobacco, he must have a stable job and be able to support his family. I believe the large flow of alcohol was for a similar reason. In the United States, usually the person being honored (for a birthday party or celebration) or their family pays the bill, but in China, the honored guests do not pay. This reminds me of the collectivism ideology in China; in the US, the host invites others to their personal party (the party is centered around the host), while in China, the guests are invited to another’s party to be honored (the host celebrates others).

       I realized a common global tradition is bonding with friends and family over meals and food. In both meals that I described, there was conversation, laughter, and a lot of food and drinks, which reminded me of home. Although both formal and informal meals were in different settings, both were at round tables with friends and family, and everyone used chopsticks. Whether it is formally or informally, all people must eat and tend to enjoy it most when it is with loved ones.

My first few weeks living with my host family in China I observed many different habits and traditions during meal times. The first night I stayed with my family, they invited a few friends and family members to eat dinner with us. My host grandmother and host mother prepared about 15 dishes for the guests. My host parents offered me beer and wine. The men drank hard liquor and warm beer, while the women drank wine or beer. Water was not served at the table with dinner, and the children were given juice. My host family does not have a lazy-Susan, so the dishes were placed in the middle of the round table and overlapped each other. Occasionally the dishes were switched so that everyone could try all the food.

       A toast and drink started the meal. Throughout the casual meal, the men clinked glasses before they drank, but everyone else drank freely. I was given a bowl of rice and a pair of chopsticks and told to eat. Before coming to China, I knew that families usually ate “family-style” by picking up small bites and eating them with rice, so that was not a surprise to me. What did surprise me was the fact that everyone spit bones and shells straight onto the table. By the end of the meal, there were empty bowls, plates of extra food, empty glasses, and undesirable parts of food covering the table.

       Even though I couldn’t understand much of the conversation at dinner, I smiled, drank, ate, and felt welcome. It was a loud but comfortable dinner. The dinner seemed similar to a family gathering I would attend in the United States. There was lots of conversation and laughter.

       A few weeks later, my host father took me to a fancy Tibetan restaurant for a formal dinner with a few coworkers. We went out on Teacher’s Day and were honoring an English professor and her husband. The women sat on one side of the table while the men sat across the table, and the honored guests sat furthest from the door. I noticed that all the men brought a pack of cigarettes and alcohol to share. The women were given red wine while the men drank shots of 白酒. The honored guests were given the most alcohol. The meal started with a toast to the honored guests, and during the meal, a lot of toasts were made to honor each person at the table. Many times during a toast between two or three people, they would get up and walk around the table to clink glasses and chat for a little while. Water was consumed if no one was toasting. Only the men smoked; they each shared their cigarettes with the other men and often offered to light the other’s cigarettes. The food was first given to the professor or her husband then passed around using the lazy-Susan. There was no spitting onto the table at the restaurant, and everyone had individual plates and bowls they could use for the bones.

       The formal dinner practices seemed rooted in Chinese cultural traditions. I think that toasting and giving the first bite of food to the elders was showing respect for the elders. Sharing the cigarettes seemed like a show of wealth; if a man could afford a pleasure item such as tobacco, he must have a stable job and be able to support his family. I believe the large flow of alcohol was for a similar reason. In the United States, usually the person being honored (for a birthday party or celebration) or their family pays the bill, but in China, the honored guests do not pay. This reminds me of the collectivism ideology in China; in the US, the host invites others to their personal party (the party is centered around the host), while in China, the guests are invited to another’s party to be honored (the host celebrates others).

       I realized a common global tradition is bonding with friends and family over meals and food. In both meals that I described, there was conversation, laughter, and a lot of food and drinks, which reminded me of home. Although both formal and informal meals were in different settings, both were at round tables with friends and family, and everyone used chopsticks. Whether it is formally or informally, all people must eat and tend to enjoy it most when it is with loved ones.

A toast and drink started the meal. Throughout the casual meal, the men clinked glasses before they drank, but everyone else drank freely. I was given a bowl of rice and a pair of chopsticks and told to eat. Before coming to China, I knew that families usually ate “family-style” by picking up small bites and eating them with rice, so that was not a surprise to me. What did surprise me was the fact that everyone spit bones and shells straight onto the table. By the end of the meal, there were empty bowls, plates of extra food, empty glasses, and undesirable parts of food covering the table.

       Even though I couldn’t understand much of the conversation at dinner, I smiled, drank, ate, and felt welcome. It was a loud but comfortable dinner. The dinner seemed similar to a family gathering I would attend in the United States. There was lots of conversation and laughter.

       A few weeks later, my host father took me to a fancy Tibetan restaurant for a formal dinner with a few coworkers. We went out on Teacher’s Day and were honoring an English professor and her husband. The women sat on one side of the table while the men sat across the table, and the honored guests sat furthest from the door. I noticed that all the men brought a pack of cigarettes and alcohol to share. The women were given red wine while the men drank shots of 白酒. The honored guests were given the most alcohol. The meal started with a toast to the honored guests, and during the meal, a lot of toasts were made to honor each person at the table. Many times during a toast between two or three people, they would get up and walk around the table to clink glasses and chat for a little while. Water was consumed if no one was toasting. Only the men smoked; they each shared their cigarettes with the other men and often offered to light the other’s cigarettes. The food was first given to the professor or her husband then passed around using the lazy-Susan. There was no spitting onto the table at the restaurant, and everyone had individual plates and bowls they could use for the bones.

       The formal dinner practices seemed rooted in Chinese cultural traditions. I think that toasting and giving the first bite of food to the elders was showing respect for the elders. Sharing the cigarettes seemed like a show of wealth; if a man could afford a pleasure item such as tobacco, he must have a stable job and be able to support his family. I believe the large flow of alcohol was for a similar reason. In the United States, usually the person being honored (for a birthday party or celebration) or their family pays the bill, but in China, the honored guests do not pay. This reminds me of the collectivism ideology in China; in the US, the host invites others to their personal party (the party is centered around the host), while in China, the guests are invited to another’s party to be honored (the host celebrates others).

       I realized a common global tradition is bonding with friends and family over meals and food. In both meals that I described, there was conversation, laughter, and a lot of food and drinks, which reminded me of home. Although both formal and informal meals were in different settings, both were at round tables with friends and family, and everyone used chopsticks. Whether it is formally or informally, all people must eat and tend to enjoy it most when it is with loved ones.

Overwhelming and New ——My Study Abroad Experience in Nanjing By Grace Gowen

When first arriving in China, the intensity of the being here was like nothing else that I had ever experienced. Almost everything was new to me, despite my having traveled to China on numerous occasions in the past. I had always heard that traveling to China versus living in China would be different, but I really had no idea what to expect.

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Grace Gowen   

    After arriving, I was thankful that CIEE provided dormitory housing for the first couple days for orientation, even for the students that were staying in host families. Even though the move from the dormitories to the host families was a little bit stressful, I was glad that I had the support of the teachers and other American students. This helped me adjust to the new environment that I was in.

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Qinhuai River  that I visited when I was exploring the city

For the first two weeks or so, everything was overwhelming and new. The amount of homework that I had felt like a mountain of work every night and I came home exhausted and too tired to think clearly for very long, so finishing homework every night was difficult. Even going back home to my host family was a challenge at first because I was surrounded by the language and the culture and felt like I didn’t have a calm place to relax.

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On my way back to my host family's home       

Gradually, I became more accustomed to my life here in China. After a while, getting up at 6:30am didn’t feel as bad anymore. In America, if I had to get up at 6:30, I would be tired for the rest of the day because I wasn’t accustomed to waking up that early. Here in China however, I feel like this is a normal part of my day, waking up as early as I do. I think this has to do with cultural influences and the people that I am surrounded by. In China, people have a custom of waking up early, and thus I’ve tried to adapt to this custom as well. I also have gotten used to speaking in Chinese. In my university in America, I hadn’t really spoken very much Chinese, even in Chinese class. With the total immersion program in Nanjing, I have no choice but to speak in Chinese, both in class and with my host family. My ayi and my main language of communication is Chinese and so most nights when I get home, she and I will talk for a few hours about our days, or we will engage in an interesting conversation about an aspect of Chinese culture, etc. The more I talk to her, the more comfortable I am with the language.

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Although it’s taken me about a month to really become accustomed to trying to speak Chinese, I think I will really miss China, Chinese culture, and speaking Chinese, when I am back home in America.

09/25/2016

CIEE Study Center in Nanjing, China Welcomes Fall 2016 Students

It’s hard to believe that it’s only been three weeks since we kicked off our Fall 2016 program! Through orientation and activities together, CIEE Nanjing students, staff and Chinese roommates have bonded very well and start to come together as a big CIEE family. We all look forward to spending the semester with such an interesting and lively group of American and Chinese students.

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 The very first morning we started off our orientation at the CIEE Study Center with a talk from our resident director Dr. Fu Yanfei. After everybody had been introduced, the students learned about the many aspects of daily life in Nanjing and how they could best become accustomed to their new campus and home. Facts about the city of Nanjing and Nanjing University were introduced, as well as useful recommendations of different apps that would help the students to explore the city. Dr. Fu also talked about the academic requirements that would best assist the students to improve their Chinese language skills as well as the variety of cultural activities that the students can participate in to learn in depth about Chinese culture and history.

 After the talk we took the students to a welcome lunch in Xinjiekou, the city’s bustling urban center surrounded by high-rise buildings and countless shopping malls. For several students, our trip to Xinjiekou was their first ever experience riding a subway! They were both impressed by the accessibility as well as a little daunted by the amount of people that can be seen at peak hours.

The welcome lunch was the first time for our students to meet their Chinese roommates, the roommates are all students from Nanjing University, who are genuinely interested in making friends as well as helping our American students to adapt to their life in Nanjing. All being of similar ages, they had so much to share with each other during our welcome lunch. The Chinese students introduced to our students the different kinds of Nanjing specialties like 盐水鸭(salty duck ) and 桂花藕(Osmanthus lotus roots), as well as the different seating orders and table manners in a formal Chinese setting. This was an eye-opening process for our students to learn that there are different seating orders according to their relationship with the host and even that the person who pays for the meal is decided from the start!

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After the lunch they had a visit to a Chinese Walmart, and between the welcoming lunch and their adventures in Walmart, the bonding quickly began. Many students said later that these opportunities to go on adventures with their new Chinese roommates are what made the transition so easy for them. Within days of arriving in China, they’re already able to make lifelong friends with both their American classmates and their Chinese peers.

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The rest of the orientation included introducing the students to the campus and the surrounding neighborhood. Everything was getting more familiar and more comfortable, and then the day for their Chinese roommates to move in finally arrived. As some students were joyfully welcoming their new friends, some others were experiencing a bit of anxious excitement about meeting their “future family members,” seeing as it was also the day that the Chinese host families picked up their new American friends. Students are provided with the option to live either in the dorms with a Chinese roommate, or in a host family where they are able to experience not only authentic Chinese food, but also the typical Chinese family life. In order to welcome their new family members, the families had been preparing for a long time, and the host siblings were excited to meet their “哥哥” or “姐姐”. The shyness of those first encounters was quickly melted away by their genuine smiles and the exchange of greetings in both Chinese and English.

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Iris Parshley making dumpling with her  host sister


Then our first official week began! Over the first week the students settled into their new schedule and were able to get to know their teachers. Their Chinese class is very intensive with a four-hour learning period every morning. Our Chinese instructors also offer a lot of useful learning strategies to help students practice what they have learned, both in everyday activities and in daily life through presentations and reports in class as well as interviews with local Chinese people.

 

Chinese learning is a long process, which needs constant effort, and carrying out our language commitment policy is a really practical way to help our students improve. From the first day of class, students sign a language commitment to only speak Chinese during the weekdays from 8am to 8pm, and the roommates also assist them in their daily conversations. Although it was very challenging during the first few days to speak only in Chinese (sometimes simply asking what one has eaten for lunch is a struggle and requires patience) nevertheless students gradually become used to, and comfortable with, speaking Chinese. Many students say that to speak and think in Chinese is the best way to help them immerse in the local language and culture. One of our Chinese roommates also shared a fun story that one of our students even started talking in Chinese in his dreams, trying 24/7 to “practice” his language skills!

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After a few days of classes the students also met their Chinese tutors for the first time. During the introduction students were encouraged to use Chinese to learn more about each other, answering icebreaker questions about their hobbies and dream jobs. CIEE’s peer tutoring gives our students regular opportunities to seek help on classwork, or study independent areas of interest with native speakers. For example, several students used their first tutoring sessions to study menus of nearby restaurants before going out together and ordering local Chinese dishes using their new vocabulary!

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In addition to their regular classes and tutoring sessions, many students take Tai Chi and Chinese Calligraphy classes in the afternoon. Taichi classes are an experience of the balance between the Chinese “动”(movement) and “静”(calmness), and this semester we added something new to this traditional art. Instead of just learning regular Taichi moves, the students learned 太极扇(Tai-chi fan), a combination of traditional Taichi moves, martial arts, and dance moves.

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Learning Chinese calligraphy offers the students a chance to learn the traditional method of conveying thought through the “abstract” beauty of the line. Students appreciate the beauty of this traditional art through practicing each stroke and movement.

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By Friday most of the students seemed ready for a break from their new classes, and were all excited for the chance to explore some of Nanjing’s local sites. In the morning we visited the renowned Jiming Temple, one of the oldest Buddhist temples in the city. Underneath the beautiful seven-story pagoda, the students learned about the traditional methods of lighting incense and making offerings at a Buddhist temple. Many students made offerings with hopes for everything from success in their classes, to finding new relationships. Directly from the temple we were able to walk along the Nanjing’s Ming Dynasty city wall, where it’s 600-year history was contrasted against a backdrop of skyscrapers and blue skies. We finished up the morning with a tour of the scenic Xuanwu Lake, where students were able to stroll across the lake’s many islands and stone bridges, appreciating the cool breeze that attracts both locals and tourists as an escape from Nanjing’s summer heat.

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One of our students, Mathew Gammons, had his birthday right before the Chinese Moon Festival Holiday. We decided to combine the two events and surprised Matthew with a birthday party. Apart from eating birthday cake together, we also tasted traditional Chinese moon cakes of different flavors at our Mid-Autumn celebration. Moon festival is time of reunion and gathering of the family, and we hope all the students can feel the warmth of family here at CIEE Nanjing!

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We then took the students to visit Nanjing’s famous Confucius Temple where they learned about the history of China’s culture surrounding the Imperial Examination. The highlight of the day for many of the students was getting to explore the lovely gardens of the Zhanyuan complex, the most well-preserved Ming Dynasty complex in Nanjing.

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Many students passed the following long weekend getting to know the city of Nanjing with their Chinese roommates, returning with stories of Chinese movie-theaters, karaoke adventures, and much more. It seems that this fall semester has started off with lots of adventures for our CIEE students, and I’m sure that there will be many more to come!