Having lived in China for two years previously, without ever formally learning the language, I started at Omeida with a very basic understanding of pronunciation, tones and everyday phrases. I had spent much time preparing for my time here by learning the pronunciation and basic meaning of the most common Chinese characters, which I found extremely helpful, as that is one of the most time-consuming parts of study.
I found that the first six weeks of study especially were an absolute explosion of new information that pieced together all the material I had studied by myself. My classroom instruction loosely followed the Boya Chinese textbooks, which I believe are excellent resources for my level.
Once I had learned several dozen grammatical structures and knew how to use them, my lessons became more focused on new vocabulary, new characters, and frequently used idioms that increased my understanding of casual speech. I also at this point needed to constantly review and practice writing all the new grammatical structures so I wouldn't forget them.
Since the number of students at Omeida varies greatly between summer and winter, and since students progress at different rates, there is a lot of continued rearrangement of classes to maximize each student's progress. As a result, in my time here I had five different teachers, and all were excellent. From July to December I never had more than two classmates, and in my final month I had one-on-one lessons exclusively (something you would normally pay extra for). The teachers put a lot of effort into tailoring their teaching style so that the challenge was appropriate for the student, and that we focused on the areas we had the most difficulty in.
The teachers all followed a general structure for the three classes each day. Typically, the first class was entirely conversation, while the second and third would focus on new vocabulary, grammatical structures and forming spoken sentences out of these. Homework was given daily, often a writing assignment that focused on writing a short composition, or a series of made-up sentences, that included the vocabulary and grammar of that day. The homework was checked each day and the teachers were very helpful in not only correcting our mistakes, but also suggesting alternative, more "Chinese", ways of saying our clumsily English-style sentences that, although grammatically correct, would sound a little peculiar to a native speaker (much like the "Chinglish" of the locals that often makes sense but occasionally leads to hilarious misunderstandings -- one time one of the staff referred to the Senior's University as the "Senile University" and we all had a good laugh about it).
In my time here, almost everyone I've met has been highly positive about the quality of the teachers and their Chinese progress. There were one or two students who expected to have learned more, but I'll point out that these particular students also expected that simply attending class, without any review or self-study, would be enough for success. Disclaimer: if you don't put the work in outside of class and you don't practice your speaking in your spare time, you're not going to get very far!
A quick note on the accommodations -- I found the dormitories to be very clean and comfortable. If you're not okay with using a squat toilet, worry not: they supply you with a plastic seat that fits over it, just for us Westerners. (That being said, you really should try to get used to doing it the Chinese way -- it really strengthens your quads over time.)
Anyway, bottom line: I worked pretty hard for five months and spent a lot of class time asking clarification questions, and I went from only being able to utter a few caveman-level phrases to conversing relatively proficiently with native speakers, in Chinese, for an hour or more. I got exactly what I'd hoped for, and if I choose to study Mandarin again I will certainly return to Omeida to do so.
- Colin, 28, Canada