When someone asks me what it was like to study abroad with CET in Beijing, I always say, “It was awesome.” So why is this? CET’s Intensive Chinese Language program not only provides you with great support from teachers who are more than willing to help you, but also with a warm and friendly environment by competitively selecting Chinese roommates from across Beijing and by choosing a wide variety of American college and sometimes, gap year students.
The immersion experience in Beijing really adds to what this vibrant city has to offer, because you are placed in such small institution such as the Beijing Institute of Education (BIE) and because you are in a neighborhood where, by nature you along with your classmates are the main group of foreigners, compared to other neighborhoods like Wudaokou 五道口 or Sanlitun 三里屯, you become very close to the others American and Chinese students in the program. Excursions, which are included in tuition, that take place every Friday around Beijing’s various sights, such as the Summer Palace, the more modern 798 Art District, and an acrobatic show, allows you to see Beijing more through the eyes of a local than a tourist.
The most critical characteristic about this program is the language pledge. Although the language pledge is strict in class and out, it also challenges you in a positive way. The Chinese roommates are also under a language pledge. I remember within a month, seeing the changes and improvements in everyone’s language level. After the first few weeks kick in, it’s much more enjoyable to speak with everyone. As a 200 level (2nd year at the college level) student in Beijing, I had about 3-4 hours of class per day. Scattered throughout the week were one-on-ones with teachers and one-on-twos with other students, which effectively target your oral Chinese skills. Other students who placed into 300, 400, or 500 level Chinese classes had additional classes about other aspects of Chinese culture in Chinese.
There are also volunteer experiences outside of the CET bubble as well. I volunteered in Wudaokou at BEAM, Bridging Education and Mobility, for their Big Brother, Big Sister project last spring every Saturday (2013). BEAM is organization aimed to “provide the proper incentives and support for teachers in migrant, rural, and disability classrooms to turn their own ideas into unique opportunities for their students to grow". I was able to both make connections with some of Beijing’s migrant children, but also with other expats working in Beijing and other international students studying at different universities in Beijing.
The most positive takeaways for me about this program were the immersion possibilities outside of the classroom. CET really encourages you to explore the city and reimburses cultural visits to museums, movies, and historical sites under 70-100 RMB (*price varies). I had the most fun exploring other parts of China over a weeklong spring break, seeing David Guetta at the Great Wall Music Festival, and meeting other expats by volunteering at BEAM every weekend. The connections that CET provides is invaluable and both the staff and teachers are very open and approachable. However, it is good to keep in mind that this program has high expectations on academics and because of the language pledge, you may feel more homesick than if you were on a non-language pledge program. The pollution in Beijing is not the most ideal, but many CET students, including myself were able to go to a local gym for exercise. Also good to know that in this program, only lunch is served at the cafeteria so students have to buy their own breakfasts and dinners. However the neighborhood has a lot of family run businesses and restaurants that have good food for very little. I had a very positive experience with CET and if what I have written above sounds appealing to you, then it may be the right fit for you too.