Why did you choose this program?
I chose this program because I have been taking online Mandarin lessons with CLI for several years and had always planned to go to China for further study, but Covid put a halt to my plans for a while. My online teacher, Nancy, is great and she also teaches in person at CLI, so it was just a matter of time. I chose this program because of my favorable online experience. In addition, it’s located in beautiful, scenic Guilin which is not as big as places such as Beijing and Shanghai. Students can start the program on any Monday because the classes are one-on-one so there is a lot of flexibility in scheduling. It also has a nice building for classes and living quarters with 24/7 onsite personnel.
What did your program provider (or university) assist you with, and what did you have to organize on your own?
The program provider gave pre-departure information which includes when to apply for a visa after receiving the invitation letter, what to bring for clothing and supplies, what to expect from the community. The admissions director answered all of my questions in a timely manner. I was responsible to plan and book my flights and high-speed train tickets. The school transports students to and from the airport or train stations in Guilin. On-site interns help students manage phone plans, buy Chinese phones, or buy SIM cards. The interns performed many other tasks such as helping students use the bus system, finding supermarkets, restaurants, stationary stores, taking students to the police station to register, using TaoBao to purchase items, installing and using DiDi (a taxi service like Uber), etc. The activity director at CLI planned excursions to scenic spots in Guilin, Yangshuo, Laozhai (a farming village off the beaten path), the Long Sheng Rice Terraces, as well as activities at CLI such as: making dumplings, mooncakes, doing calligraphy, learning to play mahjong, etc. Students got together and planned their own activities, as well.
What is one piece of advice you'd give to someone going on your program?
Pack lightly. I took too much stuff with me, particularly clothing that I never used. It was cumbersome and unnecessary, and made travel a bit harder. I never dressed up, but had dressy clothing and shoes. I wore the same clothes over and over with no problem. I could have easily bought all of my toiletries in China at a much lesser cost, so I would advise just taking small, travel-sized soaps, shampoo, etc., and buying more in country.
What does an average day/week look like as a participant of this program?
Each student has 20 hours of one-on-one instruction with 3 different teachers, and homework every day. The student gets to select the level of difficulty. Some students were preparing for the HSK exams and had a lot of homework. Others wanted a lighter work load. During the day, the student will go to classes, do homework, eat lunch provided at CLI, relax in one of the activity rooms, play mahjong or other games, read books, go out to breakfast and dinner with friends, or order in. Then, the student can participate in any of the planned activities, as desired. Some were in the evenings, while others were day trips, or entire weekend trips. The student gets to meet people from all over the world who come with the same goal of learning Mandarin. They will speak Mandarin with each other and help one another along the way.
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 biggest fear was traveling alone to a country I had never been to, with a somewhat limited command of the language. I was unsure about making my high-speed train connections after flying into Hong Kong first. I actually did miss my train out of Hong Kong because the mass of people was so great and the customs process took so long. I was able to book another train to Guangzhou, from which I was then taking another train to Guilin. Because of the delay in getting to Guangzhou after missing my first train, I had an unexpected overnight stay in Guangzhou because there were no other trains leaving for Guilin by the time I got there.
How did I manage? I called my CLI teacher, Nancy, who arranged a hotel and taxi for me. I then got to Guilin a day later than planned, but no worse for the wear. I will state that the kindness of strangers was a big surprise and a welcome relief. People on the train, upon hearing that I’d missed my previous train, offered me food and drink. A stranger at the Guangzhou train station saw me struggling with my luggage, and offered to help me. She did so along the whole way as she was going to Guilin, also. How did my views change? I now realize that I can do what I had feared, and there are plenty of people who are willing to help. My trip back went much more smoothly because I understood the system better, and knew what to expect.
What was my favorite out-of-school experience?
My favorite story is about a weekend trip I took with my teacher, Nancy, to her little hometown close to Yangshuo. It is a little farming village, and was “the real deal” in seeing how Chinese people live. It was her mother’s birthday celebration, so friends and family were there. I was a bit of an object of curiosity as I was the only non-Chinese person in the whole town, I think. As we ate, comments were made about how well I used chopsticks, and the fact that I have all my teeth at my advanced age. I ate chicken feet (a first for me) and an amusement for those watching me. I declared that they were “so-so” in taste. I declined the snails, even after an explanation that they were river snails, not land snails. But, I enjoyed many other delicious foods—lamb, vegetables, beef, rice, fruits of all kinds, and a delicious birthday cake. In the evening, we went to the village square and found a group of women who were dancing together with music and movements shown on a large screen TV. I joined right in, to the surprise and amazement of the dancing women. We had a blast.
Afterwards, they gathered around me and I was able to tell them why I was in China, and that I was learning Mandarin in Guilin. I also told them that I like to dance, sing Chinese songs, and watch Chinese TV shows. They then asked me to sing for them, so I did. They clapped and congratulated me on a good performance. The next day, I washed vegetables at the village well, talked to older people in a park, and enjoyed the scenery of beautiful Yangshuo. I loved this experience and felt it gave me a greater appreciation for those hard-working people in that little village.