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.
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!
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.
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.
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!
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!