A Travellerspoint blog

Survival Chinese

Learning to Live in China

This week, the NSLI-Y students attended introductory Chinese classes called "Survival Chinese," but our real survival Chinese lessons have taken place outside of the classroom.

So far in my Chinese class, I've studied colors, greetings, school vocabulary, and papercutting. Outside of class, I've had to learn how to use this vocabulary in new and unexpected ways: knowing colors came in handy on Tuesday when I ordered "that green one" in the school cafeteria, and my school vocabulary was useful on Wednesday when we went out to dinner with my host parents' friends, who happened to be primary school principals. Most of my language learning, though, has had nothing to do with the vocabulary I'm learning in school. Over the past week, I have gradually been able to understand more and more of what my host father says to me; he reminds me again and again that he will continue to speak only Chinese so that I can learn as fast as possible. When I listen to my host family speak, I can pick out more and more words that I understand, and they are often surprised when I answer their questions in Chinese.

Practicing School Vocabulary

Practicing School Vocabulary

This past week has been a crash course not only in basic Mandarin but also in life in China. Throughout my daily activities I notice differences between my life in the US and life here, both small (like the fact that my host family always wears slippers everywhere in the house) and large (like the fact that tap water here is not safe to drink). I was surprised yesterday when my host sister told me to bring my umbrella to the park; it clearly wasn't going to rain, but she wanted me to use it to prevent a sunburn. Some differences having nothing to do with culture but are different to adjust to nonetheless; two days ago when I checked the weather report at 8 pm, it was 95 degrees outside with a heat index of 111. It is so much hotter here than in New Hampshire that it feels refreshing to set the air conditioning to a temperature of 82 degrees.

NSLI-Y Students at Hongmei Park

NSLI-Y Students at Hongmei Park

More than anything else, my first week in China has taught me flexibility and openness. At the beginning of each day, I never have any idea whether I'll stay home all day with my host sister or go out with my host family. On Monday, my host sister picked me up from school at 11:00 and we didn't arrive home until 8:00 that night. I have to be willing to do almost anything and eat anything, from delicious pig intestines to not-so-delicious Chinese cafeteria food. Even when plans are made ahead of time, I have to be willing to change them; I found out just this week that I would be attending classes with Chinese students in addition to my Chinese language classes each day. As long as I keep this flexibility in mind and continue trying my best to learn about Chinese and China, I know that I will have a wonderful ten months here in Changzhou.

Changzhou from My Window

Changzhou from My Window

Posted by ccole 15:19 Archived in China Comments (1)

Orientations and Arriving in China

My First Week as an Exchange Student

As of today, I’ve been in China for a week. Last Tuesday, I began my journey across the world with a flight to New York, where I met up with the four other students with whom I would spend the next ten months. I already knew two of them; we had studied together in Anshan last summer, and we all decided together that we wanted to spend another year in China. We stayed in New York for two days for our gateway orientation, where we learned about Chinese culture, travel safety, and other important information for our ten months abroad.


On the second day of our orientation, we met two members of the state department. We had a long discussion with them about our program, the benefits of being NSLI-Y alumni, and careers and internships in international relations.

Thursday and Friday seem to have disappeared, because we spent them flying to Tokyo and Shanghai, then taking a bus to Changzhou. We arrived at 3:00 on Saturday morning, exhausted after almost 30 hours of travel. For our first two days in Changzhou, we had another orientation with 40 AFS students from around the world. It was a lot of fun hearing about all of their different countries, and I even got to practice some of my Spanish in China!


On Sunday, we said goodbye to the students going to other cities, and drove to Changzhou Senior High School to meet our host families. My host family took me out to dinner that night; we went to a restaurant called Grandma's Cooking, but it was definitely nothing like my grandma's cooking. My host parents and host sister are very friendly and eager to help me learn Chinese. Unlike last summer, when my host siblings were a 15-year-old boy and a 3-year-old girl, this year I have a host sister who is only three years younger than me and wants to show me her city and help me learn Chinese.

On Monday I started school with the other four NSLI-Y students. This week we have a survival Chinese class on our own; next week two other AFS students will join us, from Japan and Italy, and we will begin taking classes with the Chinese students in the afternoons. So far we've studied pronunciation, greetings, colors, school vocabulary, papercutting, and colors. Today class was cancelled because our teacher has too many meetings in the week leading up to the first day of school, so she couldn't find time to teach our class. Instead, my host sister is taking my classmates and I to the park for the day.

My first week in China has been wonderful, and much easier than my first week last summer. Although there are many differences between life here and in the US, I've been having a good time trying to be open to everything; last night at dinner I ate pig intestines, wild boar stomach, bird liver, duck tongue, and peacock, all in one meal. I'm learning Chinese as fast as I can, and I'm having tons of fun. I'm hoping for a terrific ten months in China!

Posted by ccole 17:40 Archived in China Comments (4)

Two Weeks

Preparing for a Year Abroad

Two weeks from today, I'll be in China. I arrive in the evening on August 23rd after a two-day orientation in New York City and nineteen hours of travel time (including a layover in Tokyo), and I'll be in China for 10 months.

Like last summer, I am traveling to China with the National Security Language Initiative for Youth, a U.S. Department of State program that provides full scholarships for high school students to study seven critical foreign languages (Mandarin Chinese, Arabic, Korean, Hindi, Persian, Russian, and Turkish) in full immersion programs in eleven countries. NSLI-Y scholarships fund programs implemented by various study abroad organizations; both my summer and year programs have been implemented by AFS, a well-known student exchange program that has provided programs for high school students around the world since after World War II. I know of at least one exchange student who has come to WHS through AFS in the past two years. Because AFS programs exist in many countries, I will meet many non-NSLI-Y exchange students in China who come from all over the world.

This year, I will spend ten months in Changzhou, Jiangsu, China, a city of 4.5 million people in Eastern China, almost 200 kilometers from Shanghai. Preparing for such a long time on the other side of the world is definitely daunting; I've made a few attempts at packing and have studied some Chinese using CDs, flash cards, and skype calls with the other four NSLI-Y students who I will travel with, but I still have lots to do to prepare in the next week and a half. Deciding how to pack my entire life into one or two suitcases is definitely a challenge. I received information about my host family a few weeks ago, but was informed today that they dropped out of the program. Instead, I will stay with a temporary "welcome family" until October, while AFS China searches for a permanent family for me to live with for the rest of the program. It's nerve-wracking to know that I will have to meet a new family twice, but hopefully it will bring me a broader perspective of China and an easier time adapting to my life therel For now, I will have host parents and a 15-year-old host sister; from what I know about them they look wonderful, so I only hope that my permanent host family will be as great!

I'm definitely nervous to leave home and live in China for almost a year, but I'm excited more than anything else. I've been hoping and planning for this trip since last summer when I visited China for the first time, and I can't wait to begin what I hope is one of the most exciting years of my life so far. Wish me luck, and read my blog while I'm in China!

Posted by ccole 23:19 Archived in USA Comments (4)

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