Why did you choose this program?
I learned about the program by word-of-mouth, and after looking through its website, I knew it was for me for a couple of reasons. First of all, the classes are all taught one-on-one which allows them to tailor the lesson content and teaching approach to your individual needs.
Second, they advertise a "pengyou" program, which essentially means there are always Chinese friends around to not only help you with whatever you need, but to practice communicating with, and just hang out with. I feel a social atmosphere is very important to the process of learning a language so its invaluable to also have the opportunity to communicate outside of class.
What did your program provider assist you with, and what did you have to organize on your own?
CLI provided a comprehensive packet about living in China – whether in regards to technology, culture, transportation, weather and clothing, and any other miscellaneous need-to-knows. They offer on-campus housing and home-stay, or you can choose to organize your own living arrangements.
You need to organize your travel to China, or to Guilin. You're also responsible for obtaining the tourist visa to come into the country, but they provide helpful information and assistance along the way. If your stay is beyond a certain length of time, they will arrange for you to get a student visa after you arrive at CLI. When you arrive in Guilin, they have train station or airport pickup. They offer meals on-campus, provide textbooks, and give plenty of information about getting around Guilin.
What is one piece of advice you'd give to someone going on your program?
Take advantage of the immersion environment available to you, and be self-motivated in your study. CLI has plenty of foreign students, which is fantastic, so you’re able to interact with people from around the world and share your stories. However, everyone is also there for the same purpose.
To learn the language, the teachers will push you as much as you want to be pushed, and help you as much as they have the opportunity to. However, self-study and especially PRACTICE are essential.
Most students come from countries with no daily Chinese environment or Chinese friends, let alone Chinese restaurants, grocery stories, taxi drivers, coffee shops, etc. While I was at CLI, I observed many foreigners who only used Chinese in class, and spent the rest of the time using English with other foreign friends. I also observed many who consistently tried their best to communicate in Chinese at every opportunity, based on their language proficiency.
CLI won't force you to do total immersion. Part of the beauty of the program is that they will do everything to make it the experience you want. If you want to be pushed and challenged and improve quickly, push yourself. Get out of your comfort zone, make mistakes, and use the language as much as you can!
What does an average day/week look like as a participant of this program?
Each student has 20 hours of one-on-one classes a week, which breaks down into two 2-hour classes per day – a Reading/Writing class and a Speaking/Listening class every other day, and a comprehensive class daily. At orientation, they will tell you to expect to do about four hours of homework per day. Because all the classes are one-on-one, all the classes are at different times.
They provide a weekly schedule, with classes starting as early as 8:20 AM, and going as late as 6:10 PM, but four hours a day, so you will either be done early in the day or have plenty of breaks. CLI arranges optional activities every night – culture, physical, or just fun. We had badminton, bowling, Tai Chi, traditional tea ceremony, hot pot, and others.
It's also easy to find activities on your own. There's a nearby gym. The Chinese interns are always willing to get dinner together. CLI also arranges longer weekend trips to nearby scenic areas like Longsheng, Yangshuo, and others.
Going into your experience abroad, what was your biggest fear, and how did you overcome it? How did your views on the issue change?
My goal for the experience at CLI was total language immersion. While it wasn't my first time abroad, or even in China, it was still a new environment and a new challenge. I was nervous I would get frustrated trying to communicate, or others would become frustrated trying to understand me. I worried I wouldn't progress fast enough.
CLI helped me develop patience with myself and reminded me that language, like most things in life, is a process, with no one setting standard for how quickly you ought to progress, and in what ways. Adjusting to new culture and new surroundings is the same. We need to have patience with ourselves and keep in mind that everyone's experience will be different. We can and should learn from others, but we won't necessarily experience what they experienced.
What does a person need to know or understand in order to survive in another culture?
Respect. Patience. Accept your own ignorance. Ask questions. Remember that your way, or your culture's way, isn't the right way, it's just your way. And there are other ways. Culture is not right or wrong; it's different. Before you arrive in the new place, prepare yourself to know nothing. Try as much as possible to erase all expectations, and expect to be surprised, challenged, amazed.