Alumni Spotlight: Luke Nestler

Luke is a professional development consultant, providing bespoke training solutions to the education industry in China. He is currently based in Shanghai, but his work takes him all over the country.

Why did you choose this program?

When I was first looking to begin learning Chinese, I was faced with an almost overwhelming amount of options, so it really made a difference when Silk Mandarin offered an initial free consultation and demo class. That first session, compared with their competitors, really left me with a genuine sense that they wanted to provide a learning experience that was specifically catered to my actual needs.

I was given good advice and clear explanations of the various options available to me and we finally settled on a plan that was perfectly suited to me.

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

As part of the package, Silk Mandarin provides all of the textbooks, along with proprietary "smart" flashcards, all of which are backed up with excellent apps and WeChat support. The amount of work that you should do outside of the classroom is made so much easier by these methods and I found that doing the hard grind actually became a lot of fun, rather than a hassle.

In addition to that, there are regular workshops and field trips, all designed to help you better integrate into life here in Shanghai and to have a stronger awareness and appreciation of Chinese culture.

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

For someone starting out at Silk Mandarin, I think I would simply say to listen to your teacher. They have vast amounts of experience and I have found that my teacher (Amelie) has a really strong understanding of my strengths and weaknesses. We often discuss how I'm finding the workload and she is incredibly flexible in terms of lightening the load if my other commitments become too burdensome. Likewise, if I find myself with a bit of extra free time on my hands, we can always arrange extra lessons in order to best fit my schedule.

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

My schedule varies a lot, so actually there's no such thing as an average week at Silk. The flexibility and ability to adapt our schedule according to my needs is one of the main selling points for me and something I value very highly.

Generally though, a standard week covers one or two units from the textbook, with 1-3 classes of 1.5 hours, plus another hour of homework for each of the classes I have had that week. I always take the flashcards with me wherever I go to make sure that no spare moment ever goes wasted.

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

As someone who studied languages (no Chinese!) throughout their life, I was no stranger to immersing myself in another culture or getting down to the hard work of learning another language, but I was initially quite worried about whether or not that aptitude would be the same in an environment so different and alien as China. Speaking a bunch of romance and Latin languages does not really prepare you for Mandarin in the slightest, so I really had to get into the mindset that this was going to be an entirely unique challenge for me.

What I learned as a result of learning the language was that it gives an invaluable insight into a culture and people, even a window into an entirely different way of appreciating the world, that simply living here on its own will never afford you.

Why is your teacher so awesome?

Amelie has exactly the right mix of toughness and empathy to cope with a student like me - I'm often impatient and self-critical and sometimes can get quite upset if I don't immediately grasp a grammatical concept that simply does not exist or is largely untranslatable into English. She is always very quick to spot when this is happening and never runs away from the hard work of getting me to the point of being comfortable with an idea - if that means stopping the flow of the lesson and just going over something over and over until it sticks, then so be it!