Spring 2013, Issue I
A Semester to Remember!
Better late than never, no? :) We hope you enjoy the highlights of our spring semester of the CIEE Intensive Chinese Language program at Peking University!
Hello, Everyone!: Orientation Week
With the disruptions of Spring Festival finally winding down, our Peking University study abroad students stepped off the plane and into Beijing on Monday, February 25, many for the first time. CIEE staff were waiting to greet them and help them get safely back to their dorms and settled down, before the activities of orientation week kicked into full gear the next day with a series of health and safety orientations, a visit to Tiananmen Square, and the continuation of a new tradition for CIEE’s Peking University programs: a group photo at PKU’s Alumni Bridge (校友桥). The rest of orientation week flew by uneventfully, a blur of tours, orientations and presentations, placement exams, and being introduced to a new life in Beijing, from food to friends to living arrangements, and with its conclusion students were finally ready to begin on their new journey in Beijing!
Food Counts as Culture, Right?: Semester Theme Meals
More Cultural Exposure: Art Classes
In addition to food-centric cultural activities, CIEE Beijing also arranges for some activities centered on the traditional arts, the first of which are short, one-time classes in which students get the chance to learn about and then practice a traditional art form. This semester’s CIEE-provided classes were offered on a Friday afternoon in March, to maximize students’ chances of attending, and included a traditional paper-cutting class and a face-painting class instructing students in the traditional face-painting used to decorate actors performing in Peking Operas.
Learning, à la Carte: Expert Lecture Series
With the success of the last several semesters’ Expert Lecture Series, students were again offered the chance to attend lectures on a variety of China-related topics on Wednesdays throughout the semester. This semester’s lecturers included CIEE Beijing Center Director Dr. Patrick Lucas (Intercultural Communication, Chinese Nationalism, Environment and Rural Governance), Dr. Ming Li (Geomancy Studies), Dr. Xiuxin Jiang (Chinese Medicine), and Dr. Kuoray Mao (Development in NW China). The lectures have met with a largely enthusiastic reaction from students, as almost everyone has found at least one or two topics in which they have an intense personal interest.
Service Activities: Blind School and Autism Institute Visits
In addition to the various educational outlets, CIEE students in Beijing are also given opportunities to do volunteer work and build closer links to the communities in which they live. This semester, for instance, several students volunteered to teach English at the Beijing School for the Blind and several more participated in a day of service at the Beijing Autism Institute. The Beijing Autism Institute trip (below, top) was as much an educational experience as a service one, as our students met and spoke with the students there and learned about the way in which mental disabilities are viewed and treated in China, more than actually doing teaching work themselves. At the School for the Blind (pictured below, bottom), on the other hand, CIEE has arranged for students to volunteer as English teachers on a long-term basis, even for their full semester. This is a program we hope to continue in coming semesters as we continue our efforts to help students branch out and gain a fuller, richer immersion experience in Beijing, and an opportunity to give back to the local Beijing community.
A Historic Capital: Nanjing
Of course, no study abroad experience is complete without travel, preferably extensive travel, and CIEE Beijing views extended weekend excursions a a great way to explore new places and different topics about China. In addition to whatever travel students choose to undertake on their own, there are several CIEE-sponsored and run trips offered each semester, each revolving around a different theme (usually with either historical, societal, or cultural relevance).
The theme of this trip was “Nanjing, China's Southern Capital: Defining Chinese Identity and History from 1368 to the Present”. As the title implies, this excursion took students to Nanjing to learn something of China’s several-times-over past capital, and focused on the ways in which Nanjing simultaneously set the trend in China and was influenced by its role as capital. As part of this excursion, students traveled to and from the city via overnight sleeper train, tried traditional (dumpling-centric) Nanjing cuisine, visited local temples, Republican-Era monuments, and temples, and saw modern industrial development sites and their impacts.
Urban Adventures: Shanghai
For the second major excursion of the semester, students got to choose between three options, the first of which was a trip to Shanghai, focused on the urban environment and architecture of Mainland China’s most modern and developed metropolitan area. Titled “Modern Architecture and Manmade Landscapes”, students visited neighborhoods which have preserved their traditional architecture, saw the Temple of the City God, and photographed Shanghai’s ultramodern cityscape from the observation deck of the 470 meter-tall Oriental Pearl Tower (pictured below, poking into the clouds). They also enjoyed traditional Shanghai cuisine, built around fresh seafood and soup dumplings, visited a museum which (quietly) displays the relics and propaganda of the Cultural Revolution, and got to experience China’s high speed rail system in a five-hour sprint back to Beijing.
Traditional Beauty: Kaifeng and Luoyang
The second of the available trips took students to Kaifeng and Luoyang, in Central China’s Henan Province, with an eye towards giving students a wider acquaintance with the aspects of China that we often refer to as “traditional” or “ancient.” Thus, this trip was built around the theme “Ancient Chinese Capitals, Art, and Re-inventing History.” In a country like China, experiencing a fast-paced economic boom and resurgent power abroad, history and tradition are often renegotiated and reexamined from new perspectives, and this is nowhere more apparent than in China’s most “historical” cities. In learning about China’s view of its own history in this region, students visited the capital district of the Song Dynasty, several traditional garden parks, and a valley filled, over the centuries, with Buddhist carvings and figures known as Longmen Grottoes.
Window on Rural Life: Shanxi and Hebei Provinces
The final excursion option for the semester was titled “Environment and Rural Governance in China” and was tailored for those interested in experiencing more of rural China and willing to “rough it.” Hebei and Shanxi are among the most rural, poorest, and most environmentally overburdened provinces in China today, and students who participated got to participate in some aspects of village and rural life, by helping prepare a meal and planting potatoes (both pictured below) among other activities. Additionally, they got to witness the state of the environment on which the villagers’ livelihoods so thoroughly depend. Other highlights of the trip included a six mile hike over sheep herding trails through the mountains, as well as a visit to a broken down temple overlooking a dry river bed - a once important trade route through the mountains.
Goodbye, Beijing!: Last Weeks and Farewell Banquet
Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end, in time, and this semester’s study abroad was no exception. Upon returning from Shanxi and Hebei, many students were struck by the realization that their time in China was rapidly drawing to a close; the last weeks, for many, were filled by a scrambling attempt to do and see all the things they’d missed until then. In an attempt to meet the demand engendered by this final burst of enthusiasm, CIEE Beijing arranged trips to a local rock concert, the 798 Modern Art District, the Temple of Heaven, and the Pearl Market, though pollution forced the scrubbing of a hike on Phoenix Mountain. Meanwhile, students took it upon themselves to engage in travel both inside and outside Beijing, including local highlights and excursions as far afield as Inner Mongolia.
Finally, on May 31, CIEE students and staff, PKU teachers and administrators, and tutors gathered to celebrate their time and accomplishments in Beijing at our farewell banquet. Led by student hosts Ellen Larson and Ben Omer, students relived their experiences one last time, thanked all those who made them possible, and received their certificates of program completion from PKU, before engaging in one final round of picture-taking with their classmates, tutors, and teachers. Over the next two days all but a few students departed for home or left Beijing to travel on their own before leaving China, thus bringing the spring semester of 2013 to a close for CIEE Beijing.
This Newsletter was compiled by staff at the CIEE Study Center in Beijing.
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