Alumni Spotlight: Autumn Welch


Autumn is a senior at Mount Holyoke College, majoring in Studio Art and minoring in Chinese. She enjoys hiking, playing piano, and trying to learn too many languages at once in her spare time.

Why did you choose this program?

I had heard nothing but good things about this program. A senior during my sophomore year came up to me and said that if I wanted to learn Chinese properly, then I should choose this program.

In addition to this, I liked the idea of studying outside of Beijing or Shanghai, which are more internationalized than Harbin is.

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

CET is completely willing to answer any questions you may have and will assign you with a specialist to assist you.

Once I happened to give mine a call about 3 times in one day with questions about my visa application, to which she responded very patiently to all of my question-asking. They will set you up with a company (CIBT) to complete a visa, as well as pick-up at the airport if arriving before 8 pm.

However, I was responsible for the purchase of my own airline ticket as well as putting aside money to feed myself while on campus.

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

I wrote in my review earlier about the two pieces of advice I would recommend to someone participating in my program, and I stick by them.

1.只说汉语 (Just speak Chinese)
2. Pack warmly

Oh! Something else -- have an unlocked smart phone with WeChat and Pleco downloaded. Pleco will save your life when you lose your key somehow in-between the dorm's lobby and climbing four flights of stairs to your room, but don't know how to say "I lost my key" in Chinese to the 服务员 of your dorm. It's an app that doesn't use the internet and it's a pretty good free dictionary.

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

Busy. To elaborate, 2-6 hours worth of classes a day in addition to about 4-5 hours of Chinese homework each night. You better love Chinese and be ready to live the language.

Many evenings will be spent in good, ol' room 303 (the local study room located in this program's dorm), or if you're like me and become tired of 303, there is a local 24/7 KFC that I spent most of my weekday nights splitting my time between eating midnight snacks and reviewing for my 一对一 class.

For classier locations, there are also a plethora of cafés in Harbin that I recommend checking out if you pass by one. They tend to close around 10-11 and can provide a more atmospheric place for study.

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 believe my biggest fear was that I would just overall hate it. It's hard to commit to 4 months of anything intensive (think: committing to going to the gym 7 days a week, only the language version of it), especially flying away to a country as culturally different as China.

There were many different misleading and useful pieces of advice I had heard about going to China, but what I learned is that every person has such a nuanced experience in this country that it's hard to put a pinpoint on it.

At times I would say to myself "Ah, I know what this person meant now," but other people's perspectives varied in positivity and would sometimes paint a picture of what I expected my experience to be like. I try to keep a balance between cynicism and optimism, but kept an open mind and went in knowing that I would have to form my own opinions.

Would you recommend this program to others?

Heck yeah. 5/5 would do again. If you want to learn Chinese properly, this program is the way to do it.