Highlights: I came back from Beijing feeling much more confident with my Chinese ability, especially with speaking. It took me some time to really get used to the Beijing accent at first, but what gave me immense satisfaction was the fact that I was able to happily chat away to a taxi driver by the time I left. Being at Tsinghua for two semesters meant that I was able to see my progress throughout the months, from intermediate 1 to advanced 2. Having tutoring sessions afterwards also made a big difference since I was able to go over things that I had learnt that day, or raise any questions I had over grammar/sentence constructions/idioms I didn't understand the same day.
Nevertheless, I would say that I learnt the most by just taking myself out of my comfort zone, talking to locals and really immersing myself with my new surroundings. I was really nervous about spending a year in Beijing before I got there. I didn't know anyone, and I didn't really know what to expect. But I can honestly say that my decision to go was one of the best decision I have made to date! One of the best things about my year abroad without a shadow of a doubt, were the new friends I made along the way. We all had great fun exploring the city, sharing experiences whilst learning how to master a new language together. The CSA-ers from London still meet up regularly!
Morning: I opted for morning classes which start at 8.00am and finish at 12.00pm just in time for lunch. I lived in Wudaokou and cycled to Tsinghua University every day which took about 10-15 minutes ( I must admit that it was really cold during the winter so I suggest wearing lots of layers). Bikes are relatively cheap in China and the CSA very kindly take you to a place to buy one when you first arrive. I would also advise people to buy a good lock, especially if you have an electric bike which are more expensive, since there have been quite a few cases of theft, especially if you park them by the Wudaokou station. Classes are divided into four categories; reading, writing, listening and speaking. Each day consists of two out of the four classes with a half an hour break in between where you can buy lots of snacks to keep you going at the massive shop in the basement.
Afternoon: When After class ended, I would go and eat lunch with the other CSA-ers at the Tsinghua canteen- you'll get given a pay-as-you-go card when you register for classes. The food is very reasonably price which means that 100 kuai (just over 15 USD) could effectively last you for an entire semester. For those of you studying at Tsinghua, I would recommend their 6 kuai bi bim bap if they still have it! After lunch, I would cycle with the others over to the CSA office where we would catch-up with the staff and have our one-to-one tutor sessions. When I was there (2009-2010) the CSA offices had their own breakout area complete with a wii and a massive tv, as well as a separate area with tables for students to have their tutor sessions. Some of us also studied at a very popular coffee shop nearby called The Bridge!
Evening: I normally spent the evenings with CSA-ers sussing out where we'd like to go to have dinner; whether it's somewhere local like a pizza at Pyro, a yummy burger at Lush, 'that' cheap and cheerful place by Fu Run Jia Yuan, a Korean BBQ...or head further out to Sanlitun. What's great about Beijing is that there are always new places opening up to try. The nightlife is pretty buzzing as well so a typical friday night used to be drinks in Wudaokou, before heading off to a club in Sanlitun much later on (a lot of people went to Mix and Vics when I was there). There is always the weekly Lush pub quiz which the CSA-ers participated in too, and I hear the beer pong nights at Pyro were very popular too.