Nihao from Nanjing!
I can’t believe it’s been one month since our Fall 2014 students arrived in Nanjing. I still remember how excited I was to receive this new group on their arrival day on 8/29, 2014. They are my fifth group since I joined CIEE in 2012 but each time before a new semester begins I feel full of hopes and excitement. I know I’ll witness life-changing study abroad experiences and I’ll be part of those amazing experiences. This is why I think it’s important to let previous, current and prospective students, parents and study abroad advisors hear our side of study abroad stories. For those who don’t know me yet, my name is Jun Jiang. I am the program assistant in CIEE Nanjing Study Center. In this blog, I’ll talk about how our new students survived their first month in Nanjing.
The orientation started the day right after students’ arrival. Everyone was still struggling with jet lag but also super excited to know about how to start living in a new campus in a new city in China. The orientation components are diverse. First of all, we offered a talk given by Dr. Yanfei Fu, the resident director, about aspects from campus life to living in the city. The talk was followed by a welcome lunch in Xinjiekou, the city’s downtown area. Students walked around Xinjiekou and had their first shopping experience in a Chinese Walmart!
However, my personal favorite orientation activity was the Xuanwu Lake tour during which we did great icebreakers. First of all, the Xuanwu Lake itself can make a great trip. It’s the biggest lake in the city, very close to the city center. Imagine after only one subway stop from our center, you walk in from one of the 600-year-old city gates, and feel welcomed by the open view of the beautiful lake, islets connected by stone bridges, and breezes that flurry away the summer heat. Our icebreakers full of laughters created exhilarating moments while next to the lake we even zumba’ed! Justin Nygard, a previous student and a professional zumba instructor, brought this fun sport to Nanjing. After he was gone, his students decided to continue and pass down this great sport. That’s why it’s a CIEE Nanjing tradition now. CIEE Nanjing is full of stories like this; while students get a life-changing experience studying abroad, they make impact and change life of the local people.
Many previous students told me while they studied at CIEE Nanjing Center, they felt CIEE was a family of American peers, Chinese roommates, tutors and staff. During the orientation and follow-up activities, our goal was to let our new students, through knowing and hanging out with their Chinese roommates and tutors, feel like Nanjing is their second home. A great icebreaking opportunity we offered was a “Deep Connections” meeting of all American and Chinese students. We encouraged students to make “deep connections” with their tutors by answering intriguing questions about their hobbies, goals and dreams.
The connections got deeper when everyone hiked the Purple Mountain, the highest mountain in Nanjing, also very close to the city. In the first half of the hiking, American students were not very used to going up a mountain on stairs, and there were many stairs, so it was quite a challenge. However, on our way down the mountain, we started hiking on a lesser-known dirt road hidden in the woods. The best part was that the dirt road led us to the Zixia Lake (Purple Cloud Lake) at the foot of the mountain. Many students couldn’t resist the temptation of the beauty so dived in and let the waves wash away the fatigue. While sitting by the lake, watching students having a great time in the water, and gazing at the mountain right next to the lake, I felt so fortunate to live in a city blessed with nature and felt happy for our students. Nanjing couldn’t be a better choice.
While Nanjing is a great place to be in for tree huggers, you should never worry about the lack of convenience and fun of city life. A CIEE karaoke night explains it. It’s another CIEE tradition. At the beginning of each semester, we have roommates singing their hearts out at karaoke night. But before that each American student studies a Chinese song from his roommate, and teaches his roommate an English song. The reciprocal teaching and learning serves as a great ice breaker and makes karaoke night unforgettable.
Weekend trip to the Mt. Mogan (莫干山Mògān shān)
It used to always be Shanghai for a fall semester weekend trip. Although previous trips proved to be successful, Shanghai is easy for American students: it’s very close to Nanjing; it’s an international city where you don’t have to speak Chinese to survive; and public transportation is super convenient. We decided to take students to places not only worth a visit but are hard for them to go and explore on their own.
Mt. Mogan is such a place. It only takes one and a half hour to get to the city closest to the mountain by bullet train, but you’ll have to transfer to a private bus and endure a 40-minute bumpy ride to reach the foot of the mountain. However, when you get there, you’ll realize it’s all worth it. That’s how our students felt. The mountain is covered with bamboos and is lush all year round. To some students, it is “the real China”, a picturesque landscape from movies like “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”. In eastern China today where modernization is bulldozing nature everywhere, views like this are few and far between. I feel so glad we took students here. The hiking in the mountains has been amazing. Walking on the broken stone stairs, surrounded by the sea of bamboo on both sides, although tired from climbing the mountain, I wanted to hike forever. When we got to the peak, the view of the lush range in the distance and villages at the foot of the mountain was breathtaking.
Besides being in touch with nature, another important part of this trip is to experience countryside life in eastern China. We stayed in two family hostels whose owners are farmers. They’ve lived and worked at the foot of the mountain for generations. On the first day of the trip, we learned from the mom of the family how to prepare Nangua bing (a dissert similar to pumpkin cookies). The ingredients are easy to find and the recipe is duplicable. Students can make it for family and friends after they go back to the States. In terms of night life, as in all countrysides, there is not much to do, yet the mahjong fans were satisfied for the two nights here. I was amazed by the fancy mahjong table which could get the tiles piled up for you before the next game in just 10 seconds. It was a magical 10 seconds.
Probably you never imagined what an English class would be like in a Chinese elementary school and how you could teach 40 Chinese first or second graders English for 40 minutes. CIEE Nanjing offers this opportunity. It happens in an elementary school close to our center. For the first visit, student sat in one English class, then talked with the principals about the school and China’s elementary school education. More than half students signed up to volunteer in the school. Last Friday, they had the first teaching. It was harder than they expected. The class size can bring big challenges: with 40 kids in one class, the key is to figure out a way to get the kids’ attention when they are becoming out of control. Fortunately, our students will be better prepared for their next class coming in two weeks. More importantly, they get to have the first-hand classroom teaching experience and close contact with China’s education.
In one day, students are setting off for their independent fall break trips. Their destinations include Tibet or Yunnan in western China, and nearby cities like Suzhou, Hangzhou and Shanghai. Some people will stay in Nanjing to explore the city more. The first month in Nanjing has armed them with necessary language skills and understanding of Chinese culture. I know they’ll face difficulties and challenges, such as adapting to the “人山人海 rén shān rén hǎi”(a direct translation would be “people mountain people sea” which is quite self-explanatory) as their fall break coincidences China’s national day holiday. However, I know they’ll survive and come back with many amazing stories to share with everyone.