I started studying Chinese when I was 13 years old. Almost 8 years later you’d think I would be fluent by now, but alas, that is not my reality. However, within these 8 years I have developed a deep appreciation for Chinese language and culture, so much so that I made it a personal goal of mine to spend a semester abroad in China. Congratulations, 13 year old Abigail, you did it!
As you may have guessed, life in Beijing was not what I had expected. In fact, it was the opposite. The bikes, the traffic, the pollution, the population density; it is, in every way possible, the opposite of my hometown. I thought I would find pockets of similarity, and for the first two weeks, that was all I was looking for, or so I thought. Looking back, it was not similarity that I was searching for at all, it was a sense of home. Those first two weeks were by far the most difficult. Not only was I adjusting to the academic rigor of the program itself, I was also trying to make a home within Capital Normal University and trying to create a support system within my fellow participants and CET faculty. Everything was hard, everything was unfamiliar. However, that feeling of home I was so desperately searching for, along with the support system I was working tirelessly to create, came quicker than I had expected it to. There’s something about working through a mutual struggle that creates a bond between those experiencing it, and a deep one at that. I truly believe I made life-long friends while on that program, both from my college and others. I learned that I was not as independent as I once believed myself to be, and that’s okay. I learned that it’s okay to struggle, that it’s okay to lean on others when you need to and that it’s okay to ask for help. I had been so focused on becoming emotionally self-sufficient that I had forgotten what it was like to really need someone. This experience helped me navigate that dependency in a healthy way.
While the personal growth that comes from studying abroad is unbeatable, the academic growth I experienced cannot be ignored. Within my first few years of college, I had heard about study abroad experiences in Europe, ample freetime allowing students to travel from country to country on a whim. For most, academics were able to be put second. I ignorantly went into this abroad experience anticipating something similar, I was rudely mistaken. In order to stay afloat at CET Beijing, your studies must come first. This program is known for its complete language immersion with a 24/7 language pledge put into place for all participants regardless of one’s location. There are quizzes every day, tests every week, and essays every weekend, in addition to your daily homework and studying. There is a clear expectation of excellence. With these expectations and requirements, you may believe that the staff is unconcerned with students well-being, but that could not be farther from the truth. Within my academic career thus far, I have had my fair share of faculty that are uninterested in creating a relationship with me, and are unwavering in their course requirements regardless of student feedback. The teachers that I was so privileged to have at CET Beijing were excellent, in and out of the classroom. They were always willing to help, regardless of the subject matter. The office faculty made themselves available to you throughout the day leaving their door open and encouraging students to stop by, even if it was just to chat. The CET faculty had always said Beijing was our second home, and by the end of the program, I really believed them.
For students on the fence between choosing to participate in CET Beijing or choosing to stay at their home institution, my advice would be to take that chance and go abroad. It’s bound to teach you something, if not about yourself, indefinitely about the world around you. What do you have to lose?