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CIEE Nanjing 2014 Fall Mid-term Program Update

We came back from our weeklong trip to northwestern China about two weeks ago. Although busy in catching up with the office work after a week’s travel, I can’t wait to write about the program update and most recent activities. The improvement our students have made in Chinese surprised me; and the weeklong trip was, citing a student’s comment, “an oasis of fun in a desert storm of Chinese studies”.

I am very glad to see the progress our students made in their Chinese classes. For each of the three levels, there are four hours of Chinese classes each day from Monday to Thursday, focusing on reading and speaking separately. It’s very intensive and it’s not unusual to see some meltdowns at the start of the program. At least two students from the highest level came to my office in the first few weeks, tears flowing down like streams, expressing difficulty of the class, and how hard it had been for them to adjust to the class pace and teaching style. In cases like this, the best I can do is only to offer encouraging words, such as 继续加油(jì xù jīa yǒu, keep trying) and 慢慢来(màn màn lái, take it slow) as it takes persistence to learn a language like Chinese. When I see our students work on their homework after class, or have a one-on-one tutoring session with their Chinese tutors, I know no matter the length of time, all their efforts will pay off. Lately I got a lot of positive feedback from our Chinese instructors and tutors that our students progressed greatly, which is surprising as we just came back from a weeklong trip. However, it came to me that probably it’s the time for all the efforts to pay off. What’s more, even though the students could not bring Nanjing University classrooms while traveling, by frequently interacting with local people such as tour guides, restaurant waiters, street vendors, etc., they were able to create their own real-world classrooms, and felt more confident in speaking Chinese. IMG_5147a tutoring session

At the same time, I attribute the progress to our fantastic faculty. Some teachers have been teaching CIEE students for the last ten years. Their teaching methods and styles are distinct from what our students are used to in the States. For example, Professor Zhu, one of the instructors for the highest-level class, is famous for her strictness, and a tingxie(dictation) every day which requires you to memorize up to 70 new words daily. She never caves in to pressure from students’ complaints, because after ten years of teaching, she knows what works the best for  progress in the long run. Now after almost two months since the start of the program, most of Prof. Zhu’s students have got used to her teaching methods and found them very effective. The classes became enjoyable and the progress students made even surprised themselves. IMG_5188in Professor Zhu's class

Besides Chinese classes, CIEE Nanjing offers two courses taught in English: history of the US-China Relations instructed by Dr. Liu Woyu and Intercultural Communication and Leadership
(ICL) instructed by Dr. Yanfei Fu, resident director of CIEE Nanjing study center. The history class examines the relations between the United States and China from the 19th century until the end of the 20th century with topics such as the US and China modernization, Mao’s China in the cold war, and the Threat if a Rising of China. By conducting and presenting an independent research, students are able to pursue a topic of their interest in the historical evolvement of US-China relations. In the Intercultural Communication course, through discussions, small group activities and interaction with cultural partners, students develop skills, knowledge and understanding that help them to communicate effectively cross culture and engage more appropriately with local people in their day-to-day life.

As an old Chinese saying goes, 读万卷书行万里路(dú wànjuàn shū xíng wànlǐlù), or in order to attain wisdom, it is not enough merely to read books, you must be well travelled as well. Thus after two months of study in Nanjing, we embarked on a weeklong trip to the Northwestern China. As Nanjing is located in the economically developed Eastern China, we took students to the Northwestern China which is still underdeveloped or even struggling in poverty. This way our students will have a more complete China experience. What’s more, the Northwestern China, especially along the Hexi Corridor, or the Silk Road, is full of historical sites which played an important role in the religious, trade, and knowledge exchange between China and the Middle Asia almost 1,000 years ago. 

More specifically, the places we covered in the Northwestern China were Ningxia and Gansu provinces. Ningxia is a Chinese Muslim autonomous region. In its provincial capital Yinchuan, we had the opportunity to enter a mosque, admire its ceiling and pillars with intricate patterns and hear an Arabic song used to call other Muslims to come to service. Although none of us is Muslim, the simple yet beautiful Arabic song resonating in the mosque hall evoked a sublime feeling in everyone. IMG_4671students outside the mosque in Yinchuan IMG_4674inside the mosque 

After having a first close contact with Chinese Muslim culture, we took an overnight train ride and went on our trip. Next came the Bingling Temple in Linxia and the Labrang Monastery in Xiahe. The Bingling Temple Buddhist grottoes built on cliffs are isolated by the waters of a reservoir and therefore survived China’s tumultuous 20th century thanks to its relative inaccessibility. IMG_4721overnight train ride IMG_4752in the Bingling Temple JD-Gansu-14outside the Bingling Temple

Our experience in Xiahe is yet more unforgettable. This Tibetan town attracts visitors from all over the world because it’s home to the Labrang Monastery, one of the six great monasteries of the Gelug School of Tibetan Buddhism. Before our visit to the Monastery, a group of students ran into a very friendly Tibetan young man who was eager to communicate with foreigners. He invited our students to his simple dorm and told his stories. He is a student at the Monastery studying Tibetan philosophy. He expressed his complex feelings towards the majority Han people: he dislikes Chinese government’s policies that he deems unjust for Tibetan people, but he has many Chinese friends from whom he learns Chinese language and culture. It was the first time for our students to have such a close contact with a Tibetan and I’m glad that their openness and spirit of exploration gave them some authentic Chinese and Tibetan insight that normal tourists wouldn’t get. IMG_4782Outside the Labrang Monastery, Xiahe, Gansu Province. IMG_4780


The trip culminated in Dunhuang, once the most prosperous city along the Silk Road. This fertile
oasis has long been a refuge for weary Silk Road travelers. Most students have picked Dunhuang as their favorite place for the unique experience of camel riding in the desert. Dunhuang is home
to the Mogao Grottoes, one of the greatest repositories of Buddhist art in the world. One student, Henry Guyver, loves Dunhuang more than anything. He’s got a true writer’s talent.We welcome you to read about his Dunhuang experience on this blog. JD-Gansu-29

Coming back to Nanjing with so much shared and cherished memories about the trip, we all settled down again in our home far away from home. Thanksgiving is only three days away. While I feel sorry they can’t go back to the States to be with their families, I’m sure they’ll feel thankful that the CIEE family Thanksgiving in Nanjing will be packed with turkey, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, gravy, pumpkin pie and even Sparkling cider! It’ll be their one of their most memorable Thanksgivings.








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