Alumni Spotlight: Hermine Durand


Hermine is a french high-school student at Lycée Chateaubriand of Rome, Italy. She's chosen the scientific path. She's a world traveler, she loves traveling to peculiar places and has recently been to Slovenia, Liechtenstein, Andorra, and Laponia. She also loves to learn new languages, which is the reason why she enrolled in Hutong School's Summer Program.

Why did you choose this program?

I've been learning Chinese for 4 years now, but I had never been to China before. I'm convinced the best way to learn a language is to immerse yourself in the country's atmosphere, culture, and environment, so I searched on the web for a "Summer Camp in China" and I found Hutong School's website.

As soon as I read all the advantages this Summer Program had, I didn't hesitate long. I wanted something which combined Chinese classes but also activities and visits. The program further ensured accommodation, city transport, and organizational support. It was reliable and efficient, just what I was looking for!

What did your program provider assist you with, and what did you have to organize on your own?

The program provider assisted me during my visa application process (which was longer and more difficult than expected). The program consultant provided me with all the information the visa center requested in a record time. She also indicated me what I needed to bring (type of clothes, sunscreen, etc.), what I had to prepare before my trip (VPN, WeChat...).

The school also ensured the transport to and from the airport. They were very professional and were always there for every single request I had! During my stay in China, I had nothing to worry about, as everything was included in the program. This allowed me to focus on my classes and my activities to have an unforgettable time in China!

What is one piece of advice you'd give to someone going on your program?

Don't hesitate! Traveling and discovering new places is not given to anyone, this is an opportunity you have to take! The advantages and benefits you'll gain from this experience are numerous and will be beneficial not only for the rest of your studies but also for the person you'll be in life. New experiences shape us and they change us, for the best. We learn from new experiences, we grow from them, and this is priceless!

When you're abroad, never forget that you're there to be immersed in a different culture, to learn a language, and to have fun. Two weeks is very short. It might seem a lot, but it's a just drop in the ocean of your lifetime. But it's a precious drop. So, try to make the best out of it!

Once there, you won't be able to bring back The Great Wall, The Forbidden City and the people you're going to meet in your suitcase, but you'll be able to bring back unforgettable memories in your head. So, try to start conversations with Chinese people, try to learn more about their culture, ask questions, be curious! If you don't, you'll regret it. Take pictures, talk with every new person you meet, create new memories, and new friendships.

Also, you have to remain open-minded and optimistic. Even in difficult, strange, or unusual situations, because special experiences also come with special situations. Embrace the beauty in everything you see and take the most out of it!

What does an average day/week look like as a participant of this program?

I would wake up every day around 7:15 to have breakfast at 7:45. My program mates and I would then leave the hotel to walk to the school at 8:10. The school was very close from the hotel, and it was exciting to see Beijing's morning swarm as Chinese people would be on their way to work.

The lesson would start and we would first have 2 hours with one teacher. We had a break every hour. Then another teacher would come and we would have 2 more hours of lessons. During these four hours, we worked on our listening, speaking, writing, and understanding skills.

After this, we would be joined by our guide, who would bring us to a new restaurant every day. We had evening activities, which were usually visits - we went to the Forbidden City, Summer Palace, Temple of Heaven, Beihai Park, Lama Temple, Gulou District. We also had night activities where we attended a Mahjong workshop, an Acrobatic show, an opera, a Chinese knot, calligraphy, and taichi lessons.

We would then have dinner and go back to the hotel.

Every day was packed with new and interesting activities! It was very exciting.

Going into your experience abroad, what was your biggest fear, and how did you overcome it? How did your views on the issue change?

I'm used to traveling. I know that traveling usually implies managing unexpected or unusual situations. Sometimes, things just don't work out the way you expect them to.

Perhaps, my biggest fear coming to China was to feel lost. Beijing is very big, most people don't speak a word of English, there are a lot of people, and the Chinese culture is very different from the western one. I guess that's the feeling you always get when traveling to such places. You imagine the worst, right?

But during my stay, I felt everything but lost. I was with my program mates, an American and a Dutch girl. They were both extremely nice and kind. We immediately forged a friendship and this friendship helped us to have a nice time in Beijing.

Our guide was extremely nice as well. She was an incredibly happy and joyful person. Spending time with them was always a pleasure. The teachers, my classmates, and all the people I met in Hutong School were very nice, and they undoubtedly made me "feel home", at least in the school.

Hutong School was a real shelter, a place where I met students from all around the world: Spain, USA, UK, Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands. Meeting all these students who were staying in Beijing for a long time and speaking with them also made me feel very comfortable!

Finally, my golden piece of advice for any situation during your stay in China is again, to stay open-minded and optimistic!

Do you have a favorite story to share about your time in China?

The third day after my arrival, I was in the hotel's bar, drinking a mangosteen juice. It was almost 10 pm and I was on the phone with my mom.

I remember turning around and looking through the bar's window. I could see the other side of the street as it was a bit dark, but I remember distinguishing a woman, sitting on a plastic chair, outside of her home. Her hair was wet as if she had just got out of the shower.

Suddenly, I saw her flip her head towards the ground. She grabbed a fan on the table next to her and put in underneath her hair. She then unfolded it and started waving it. I was amazed! She was blowing her hair dry - not with a hairdryer - but with a fan! I laughed and I told my mom, "I really feel like I'm in China right now".

Definitely! I would do it again! And I really recommend this program. My main goal was to improve my Chinese, which this goal was more than achieved. I improved A LOT.

I had never spoken Chinese much, and during this program, I heard Chinese every day for two weeks. It really helped me learn.

I also made many friends I'm still in contact with. And last but not least, now I can finally say that I've been to "the Middle Kingdom"!

I came back from this trip with one certainty - I'm definitely going to go back!