What do you think of when you think of China? In my experience most people think of the smog, pollution, and overcrowding, as well as the completely different language that usually winds up with someone trying to imitate it, poorly. When I left for China, these conceptions of China were all swirling around in my head like a tornado, but once I arrived and settled in my preconceptions of China melted away and I understood what China is really like.
Beijing is an incredibly intimidating city. There are few places in the world where you are surrounded by 24 million people. However Beijing is not a vertical city, it is a sprawling city that reaches out over sixteen thousand square kilometers, which really makes the city seem like a small country. In Beijing, there is so much to do, see, and experience that it is impossible to put into a small review. Beijing has ancient cultural sites, buildings, and events but also has a very strong modern atmosphere to it. The Great Wall and the Forbidden Palace are typical cultural sites that many people think of, but there is so much more than just those sites. There is the Summer Palace, the Yonghe Temple, and so much more to explore. In addition to Chinese culture, there is Sanlitun, the famous district where there is shopping, cafes, and many other western influences. Sanlitun is something that I think most people would not expect of China, this is a place that shows off how modern China has become. While these places were the highlights of my trip, there are an unlimited number of alleys, back streets, and paths that could be taken to the next adventure and that was one of the reasons that I loved Beijing so much.
My time in the IES program was fantastic. Our program was smaller than in previous years, which I believe, lead to more personal relationships with the staff as well as other students. This program is heavily focused on language. There is a language pledge that requires speaking only Chinese on campus. I also had around 2 hours of Chinese daily as well as other cultural, economic, and governmental classes. This program is not a cake walk, however it was incredibly rewarding. My time in the classroom as well as my one on one tutor sessions helped my Chinese skill by leaps and bounds. My cultural understanding also improved significantly from my in class experiences, but also from the many trips we took throughout Beijing. On the other hand, the IES program is not all work and no play. There were plenty of opportunities to make friends, both from my home country and from China, throughout the entire trip. I met many people who were so different from me, but also so similar to me. It was easy to make friends and the intense anxiety I felt about being alone in a new country quickly vanished. Overall, the program was an excellent mix of both educational challenges, having fun with new friends, and exploring a new place.