Despite having studied Mandarin at University for 2 years, nothing can quite prepare you for actually turning up in China - but that is part of the experience! Everyday brings something new.
LTL provided tremendous support throughout my time in China, and I never felt uncomfortable. The social nights were generally well organised, and you are never short of opportunities to meet new people, whether that be at school dinner, or in Sanlitun (Smugglers in particular).
The school also seems to have a knack for selecting fantastic teachers - all 4 of my teachers (2 in Beijing, 2 in Chengde) were incredibly patient with me, particularly when my brain refused to function properly (which happened rather often!). They were more than happy to go out of their way to ensure I was learning in the best way I could. It is testament to their teaching ability (and a willingness on my part to converse with locals) that I went from being unable to ask for a map at my hotel on my first day in China, to holding a 4-hour conversation with some Chinese people (a train conductor included) on the train from Chengde to Beijing on my last day.
For all students coming to LTL, you'll likely experience life in Beijing. It can be easy sometimes to get lost in the pollution (which wasn't at all that bad during my 6 weeks in the city), the traffic, and the constant honking, but taking a step back reveals so much more to the city - a thriving culture, and so many things to see that you'll never be short of options.
For those opting to do the full immersion in Chengde (and I would urge you to do so), you'll be greeted by a quaint city (by China's standards), surrounded by some incredible scenery and mountains, providing something a little different from the constant hustle and bustle of the capital. It was in Chengde that I really found my Chinese progressed, with far more opportunities to converse with the locals (who were often much easier to understand than those in Beijing) - one example was when I ended up having lunch for over an hour with 4 older Chinese men who offered me their food and Baijiu (the main Chinese spirit), even though I had originally turned up at the restaurant to order a takeaway of dumplings!
The surrounding areas of Chengde are truly stunning, with some very interesting and unusual temples, while the Mountain Resort was a fantastic place to go for a leisurely hike on a nice day.
In both Beijing and Chengde, I opted for the homestay option of living with a local family, and their kindness, the food and a willingness to converse with me really helped me settle into both cities. I truly felt like part of the family by the end of my stays with them. This is definitely the best option if you want to really progress your Chinese.
Overall, I had a fantastic experience in China, and it was with a heavy heart that I had to leave at the end of my 3-month stay. Huge thanks go to the people behind LTL, and also to the countless people I met along the way. I left China with some great memories that I hope to add to in the future.
Go there with an adventurous and open mind, and I promise you you'll have one of the best times of your life. 我想念你中国！