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2 posts from February 2014


Summer in Beijing: Take the HSK Proficiency Test in Beijing with CIEE

Hey everyone, this is John Urban, Student Services Coordinator for CIEE here in Beijing. This post is about an exciting new program we have here in Beijing. As non-native speaker of Chinese myself, I can acutely understand the rigors of studying Chinese as well as setting goals to compel yourself to study!

Starting summer 2014, we are excited to announce that for students in our Beijing summer program who are interested and meet certain requirements, we will now offer an HSK Test Preparation elective during the summer program, as well as an optional HSK preparation add-on week after the eight week CIEE summer program ends. 

Focus your language learning by taking the HSK in Beijing

The HSK is a proficiency test that can show you have attained a certain level of language competency. In mainland China, this test is called the 汉语水平考试/hanyu shuiping kaoshi, or HSK, which literally translates as Chinese Proficiency Test. This test developed by the Chinese government has become more widely accepted across China and around the world as China's economic influence has spread.

Thus we provide this content in addition to our intensive Chinese language programming. This module contains two separate parts The first part during is a course during the semester will cover less in terms of nitty gritty content, and teach you how to study for the HSK and other similar tests in China. This course is for credit and is open to anyone. During the HSK add-on, the second part, which takes places the week after the language program ends, you will take an HSK cram session taught by CIEE that will offer preparation for the test itself.

Please do note that this add-on is strictly optional. But if you, yourself, are not sure about your goals, this may be a good way to give yourself a goal and narrow your focus, and be useful for some school or job applications (see below).

Why should I do this?

Like I mentioned above, taking the HSK is a great way for you get an independent, widely-recognized assessment of your Chinese language level. For many of our students who plan to have careers in China, the HSK looks great on a resume or CV. If you are worried about transferring credits to your school, this will be something that can help you transfer credits.

Majoring in Chinese at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, I was lucky enough to have two chances to study abroad in my college career. One was a summer program arranged by Wisconsin, and the other happened to be here in Beijing at Peking University for the very center I now work for.

One advantage of the Wisconsin program was that since my university designed and ran the program, they could control the curriculum and content. Admittedly, with a program like CIEE, it can sometimes be hard to quantify the progress you make during one of our semester, yearlong or summer programs in relation to your own school's language offerings.

Some schools make students take a placement test when they get back to campus, whereas some students simply put you in the next level - this will really depend on your university's academic and study abroad offices! In this case, by having Wisconsin’s credits transfer, this put me ahead in my major courses. By having an HSK score, perhaps this can be your motivation to come and improve your Chinese, and have something to prove for your time here!

Who's eligible?

Students who have intermediate or advanced level Chinese

How much does this cost, and what does it include?

Cost: 500 USD; this includes:

  • On-site housing in double occupancy hotel for one week after program end date.
  • Fees for written HSK test, levels 5 or 6.
  • Weeklong intensive preparation session taught by CIEE totaling 15 contact hours.
  • Transportation to testing location
  • Mailing of test results to US.

Things to keep in mind:

  • We teach for the HSK-5 or HSK-6 level tests. These are the two highest levels.
  • HSK-class during summer term does not mean you have to take the HSK Add-on course.
  • If you do take the HSK Add-on course, then the HSK class during the summer is required.
  • We will make it clear if we think your language level is appropriate to sit for the HSK, but we cannot guarantee a certain score or that you will pass the HSK for the level you apply for.
  • The 2014 exam will take place Sunday, August 17.
  • Students would then leave Beijing on August 18, 2014.  Students wanting to participate in the HSK preparation add-on should select the HSK Test Preparation elective during the summer (see website), and make sure their plane tickets and visa are good through Monday, August 18.

What about my visa?

Depending on where you apply for your visa, length and number of entries will vary from place of issuance.  You can request a visa through August 18, and if your visa still does not cover the entire stay of the program, you can work with Peking University to extend it once on site for an extra fee.

What about my plane ticket?

If you are not sure about whether you want to take this course, we recommend that you purchase a plane ticket that has minimal or no penalties about changing departure dates.

When do I get my results back?

Results are typically released one month later, and will be sent to the CIEE Beijing Study Center. We will then mail them to you in the US or home country.

Have any questions? Then contact us (jurban [at] with any questions.

-John, and the entire CIEE Beijing resident staff.


A Student's Perspective: Undergraduate life at Peking University

Leslie Dong is a junior from the University of Colorado at Boulder and currently an academic year 2013-2014 participant in the CIEE Advanced Chinese Studies program at Peking University (PKU). Unlike language programs, ACS students enroll directly into one of PKU’s many departments taking undergraduate content courses in Mandarin Chinese, and indeed, to be successful, a participant must not only possess superior Chinese language skills, but also strong intercultural skills as well as the ability to adapt to new social environments all while navigating an academic environment that is much different than what they are used to at home. As she is majoring in International Relations, Leslie chose to enroll in the PKU School of International Studies. We asked her to talk about her experience in the program thus far, making comparisons to her academic experience in the US as well as what she.

Here is what she had to say.


It's like the first major exam during freshman year all over again. It's the same dread for the dark unknowns of the test, the same late-night cramming the night before, and the study sessions that only make you feel more nervous and unprepared. Much of all these sentiments are the same, only this time it's in a room filled with 300 elite Chinese students, at one of the most prestigious universities in China, and tackling a 2-hour written exam in complete Chinese. And did I mention that this midterm is worth 30% of our overall grade and the final is worth 70%? Well, then welcome to my life at Peking University this semester! As stressful and emotionally-draining as this may seem, I've waited for this opportunity for a very long time and have never regretted my decision in enrolling in CIEE's Advanced Chinese Studies (ACS) Program at Peking University. Despite having lived in China for 3 years of my life and devoting an additional year to studying Chinese at Tsinghua University, another top university in China, I still felt so unprepared and incompetent when I first started taking International Affairs classes alongside Peking University students. Thankfully, my CIEE tutors and CIEE-taught writing course have made handling coursework a bit less daunting, but as I like to think about it, with greater challenges, comes even greater rewards. Up to this point in the semester, to me, the two most meaningful things thus far have been experiencing firsthand, the differences between Chinese and American universities (through frustrating at times). The second has been getting a chance to understand a subject from a different point of view, shaped by dynamic factors like history, politics, and cultural identity – something I surely would not have been able to achieve by sitting in classroom in Boulder.

In terms of class organization, China and the US both have professors and TAs, but that may be where the similarities stop! In the US, for example, classes tend to be very efficient and student-centered with the focus being on teaching content effectively and clearly. An average undergraduate 4-credit course in the United States is likely to meet 2-3 times a week for approximately an hour or so. Although each class session is relatively short, professors tend to be very organized and can efficiently disseminate large amounts of information within a short amount of time. For large lectures with 150 or more students, the classes are often broken up in discussion sections where students receive more individualized assistance in reviewing the class material. The repeated meetings during the week also help cement a student's understanding of a subject.

In my time at PKU, on the other hand, an average 4-credit course will only meet once a week for 3 hours straight in the same room with the same professor. Additionally, there aren't organized discussion sections for lectures with more than 150 students and thus, the responsibility of learning the material clearly rests on  students’ shoulders, having to do all of the assigned readings and learn the entire semester's class material on their own. Chinese university students – my classmates – have grown up in this environment and are accustomed to exams where there is no partial credit, and consequently, have adapted to being extremely precise and detailed in their studies.

So how do the professor’s teach? Well, it is different than the US system in myriad ways. What surprised me and other foreign classmates was that while professors have more time to explain class material, compared to my classes in the US, the pace of the class is often very slow and sometimes seems to be unrelated to our readings. Instead of teaching material that I feel is relevant to the class, most professors spend the entire class time lecturing on different topics, going off tangents, or just voicing their own personal opinions about a subject. While this is indeed valuable as I’ll talk about below, some professors may never teach what will be tested on both the midterm and finals. I definitely have found this to be the case in some of my classes, and indeed, it has been a challenge in adjusting!

To be honest, coming from the US academic environment, the academic experience and uncertainty, for example, trying to figure out when my final exam is, or what will be on said final exam, can be downright frustrating sometimes. However, coming abroad and experiencing the same thing as I did in the US would be a waste of my time, and although it has challenged me, I know that it ultimately has been rewarding. One experience that has stuck with me was during a class in modern Chinese history, and the in-depth examinations of history we cover in our class. As an International Relations major, we come to realize that history is subjective and is something that is defined given current political climates for the needs of the time. Thus, what I study in the US will have biases or focus on certain aspects of history that perhaps someone in China would downplay or view as irrelevant. While Chinese professors and courses may provide many challenges and may sometimes seem dry, the experience I lay out below was anything but.


As I stared at my professor, I realized that I was traversing history simply by being in this room. Not only was I staring into Peking University's past, I was also peering into the scholarly side of modern Chinese history. I started to wonder how many people that have changed the course of Chinese history started their careers in this room, or better yet, right in my chair.

I listened attentively to my professor talk about China's engagement in the Korean War. But he would always catch me off guard whenever his Fujianese accent surfaced up or when he threw in a few professional terms or slang jokes that I just could not understand. While the entire class would burst out in laughter, I glanced over at other foreign students and exchanged looks of confusion. Even after a few months of class, these moments still made me feel like I was playing a game of hopscotch, skipping across select words or phrases trying to maintain balance and understanding the gist of what he was saying.

But nevertheless, these things never masked the liveliness and the humanness that my professor was able to give to history. While it is impossible for any foreign policy course to cover all the details and complexities of history, my professor chose to focus on explaining the decision-making processes that lead up to the Korean War instead of the major events during the war. So for two and a half months, he explained China's involvement through a use of stories, narratives, telegrams, and conference minutes. Not only did he uncover the complexities and underlying currents that create history, he also restored color and animation to the “意识形态” or the ideas, beliefs, and aspirations of that era. For the first time in my entire college career, I felt like I was living history, breathing in the traumas of the age and finally thinking in the shoes of the Chinese people.

With a better understanding of the China's psychology, I started to reexamine and reinterpret the Korean War. While the United States believed that it was against China's interests to intervene in Korea, my professor illustrated that from the Chinese perspective, intervention was perfectly rational. As the United States carried out its policy of containment, it unknowingly made itself a direct threat to China's borders. By providing aid to Southeast Asia, Northeast Asia, and the Taiwan Strait, the United States had surrounded China from three different directions and was rapidly increasing its influence in these areas.

He continued telling us that in addition, the United States also lacked a general understanding of the thoughts, beliefs, and ideologies that characterized China at that time. For example, the United States underestimated China's resolve to intervene and ignored China's warning about not crossing the 38th parallel. What the United States did realize was that this was a direct insult to the Chinese people. Despite being destroyed by decades of political unrest, consecutive wars, and social instability, China was tired of being victimized and humiliated. The United States' actions as a result, motivated the entire Chinese society to go to war. A closer and deeper understanding of the Chinese psychology or 意识形态 (ideology) has enlightened me in the events of history as well as China's view of the world. And while a psyche of an era, a society, and a generation of people is the hardest thing to recreate in a classroom, I think it is by far the most important thing to take away. Historic events will pass, generations will move on, but the psychology of a nation will be inherited and continue to play a role in the course of history.

Though I still face challenges and find myself comparing US and Chinese education systems, only by stepping into the shoes of the Chinese and examining their perspective, could I gain a more complete and genuine understanding of the world. As an International Relations major, this is absolutely crucial to understand different points of view. By having my professor paint a literal tapestry of Chinese history, one that I can compare to the one I have painted in my US education, I have gained knowledge that perhaps may not show up on a midterm grade, but that will stay with me for the rest of my life.