I had narrowed my choices down to a Chinese University in Beijing and LtL, but settled on LtL because of my correspondence with the school's director, Andreas Laimbock. Those conversations made me feel like LtL had an environment that would be fun and productive, and that they had a strong commitment to quality home stays, which the university did not provide.
Why choose LtL?
What made this study abroad experience unique and special?
Despite the fact that I've travelled a lot, the two home stays I did in Beijing and Chengde were mind-blowing. It is a cliché that travelers look for authentic experiences, but nothing is more authentic than living with a Chinese family that doesn't speak English. Also, having had a lot of experience learning languages in a variety of formats, I can also say that their quality of instruction is top-notch. This also applies to the ultra-immersive environment of Chengde, where there is no classroom: I was by myself and had the same teacher six hours a day, for three weeks, where she would force me to immediately apply lessons "in the field" while she observed.
How has this experience impacted your future?
As someone who is good at languages but has done most of that learning in American academic environments, full in-country immersion has always been the Holy Grail. It is a priceless thing to say, "I like something, am good at it, and I gave myself the fullest experience possible in that field." Being in China with awesome instruction and support at LtL is nothing short of a dream come true.
Highlights: By my last week in Chengde, I had been in China for seven weeks doing six hours of lessons per day. One day Teacher invited me to dinner with her. We talked about random things and eventually got back to talking about my family. I explained things that had happened to us, how they affected us at the time, how they shaped things throughout my life, how my thinking has evolved, how things are now, how I want them to be, the psychology and social dynamics of my family, and ten thousand other things. I waited for her response, but she stared off to the side, chopsticks hanging mid-air, silent. I then realized I had been talking for a very long time. I became self-conscious and worried that I had over-reached in complexity, not known enough words, and botched most of my tones. Still no response, so I asked her, "Did you understand that?" "Oh yes," she replied. "That was great. I understood all of that. I was just thinking about how amazing you mother must be." A dangerous mix of relief, validation, happiness, and pride set in as I went back to my noodles.
Morning: Up around 8:30am in my own air-conditioned-room-with-wifi, hot breakfast (usually small, tasty, steaming hot pork buns) is waiting for me by the time I'm out of the bathroom. I discuss the day's plans with Auntie, specifically whether or not I'll be home for dinner. I take her trash out on my way to school. The 30-minute walk is filled with sights, sounds, people, and other all the other small things that make living in a Big City fun - much better than a 30 minute car commute at home. It's hot and humid already, so I stop to buy cold water. It's gone by the time I reach school. I enter the lobby and am happily greeted by the staff, because they're great. My classmates and I kid around, because they're great. I have 10 minutes before class starts, so I relax on the balcony despite the heat and contemplate the crazy awesomeness of my situation.
Afternoon: My brain is fried from morning class. A welcome break finds me on the balcony with classmates again, sometimes after a quick run for another cold drink. We're having a good time trying to tease each other with the new vocabulary, which that day included "pink" and "high heels." Afternoon class resumes. I'm hoping at some point my brain will surrender, melt, and hit some kind of subconscious flow where everything gets magically assimilated. It doesn't. Apparently language learning with challenging teachers requires active hard work. And somehow remains fun.
Evening: The walk home is hot and sweaty, but the down time is good. Sometimes I take new routes and get lost. Auntie wonders why I didn't call her to ask for directions. I try to explain "adventure" to her. Dinner is ready and again super tasty. After eating, Auntie quizzes me on what I learned in class. We watch the Olympics. She asks me about current events and further furious addition of flashcards ensues. She goes to bed, I go to my room and crank the A/C. I try to do some internet but am too mentally exhausted to explain as much as I ought to. Posting is less frequent, emails more curt, and I drift off to sleep wondering what the heck I'm doing in China, knowing full well that I wouldn't want to be anywhere else.