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2 posts categorized "Resident Staff Diaries"


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.


Fall 2013, Issue I

Beijing Newsletter

Back to Beida: the fall semester begins!

CIEE in Beijing welcomed a new group of students, all of whom were excited though a bit jetlagged!

CIEE Beijing - Making new friends at the Airport

Students get acquainted with their new classmates while waiting for the shuttle bus to campus.

Peking University and PKU, Beijing Daxue and Beida--the full and short names for our host insitution  in both English and Chinese. Though students were still jetlagged, and confused, we dove right in with orientations and activities during the first few weeks!

Around Beijing and on campus, we have been keeping busy through many different activities, including visits to sites around Beijing like Tiananmen Square, the Summer Palace, places off the beaten path, like a blind school or autism institute, and CIEE activities like small group themed meals, that between classes and adjusting to a new way of life, students find themselves with packed schedules!

CIEE Beijing - Peking University Alumni Bridge

As always, here is our group picture on the Peking University Alumni Bridge (校友桥), which is a tradition at the beginning of the semester for all CIEE programs held at PKU!

CIEE Language Commitment Week in Beijing

One such CIEE-centric activity we have every semester is "Language Commitment Week". All CIEE language-based programs in greater China all have a Community Language Commitment. This is an agreement amongst everyone to speak Chinese in certain situations. What this isn't is "speak English and you're on the next plane home, buddy!" By creating a welcoming environment, students feel comfortable speaking Chinese, not scared.

We have many ways to remind students to speak Chinese. One of them is we display CIEE Language Commitment posters that pose different (often humorous) situations where it would be helpful or necessary to know Chinese. Additionally, we have a Language Commitment Lottery that has drawings every day! However, to enter the lottery, students must come and talk to the CIEE teachers about something in Chinese. The turnout this semester was outstanding as students got even more excited to speak Chinese than they already were. Prizes this semester included CIEE-branded pens, passport covers, a CIEE backpack, specially made CIEE Beijing Language Commitment T-shirts, and the grand prize of a 300 RMB (50 USD) dinner at a Chinese restaurant of the student's choice to share with friends! McDonald's doesn't count! :)


CIEE Beijing - CIEE Language Commitment Week

Student Services Coordinator, John Urban, poses in a Beijing CIEE Language Commitment sweatshirt.

Mid-Autumn Excursions

In mid-September, after being in Beijing for not even three weeks, thirty six students and five teachers went on an excursion to Qüfu and Tai'an in central Shandong province. The theme of the trip was "Chinese National Imagination, and Personal Pilgrimage". Both of these sites have long been key destinations for ritual visits by scholars, officials, and even emperors, and today these sites have become highly popular sites for pilgrimage of people from across China (particularly Han Chinese).  Both of these sites loom very large in both historical and modern Chinese imagination, Qüfu as the origin of a hugely influential indigenous Chinese philosophy (Confucianism/儒家学说), and Mt. Tai as a richly imagined symbol on the landscape, virtually marking the region as not only being “Chinese,” but at the same time through Mt. Tai’s historical importance, creating an imagined connection to an ancient Chinese past, and thus reaffirming a sense of deep historical antiquity for the Chinese people.  For many Chinese nationals today, visiting this kind of site (each site with its intricate and multiple meanings and symbolisms), is part of a complex process of exploring and affirming Chinese identity. Thus our visiting these sites with the Chinese public (sometimes in the midst of very large crowds!) was a kind of participation in this ritual pilgrimage of identity.

One highlight was a day spent in a village in groups in homes, being hosted, interacting with families, and engaging in farm labor, as well as a taking a short hike and visiting a unique local temple.  Just this one village visit took significant effort to set up, including two personal trips by Beijing CIEE staff to the village in the weeks before our visit, but the satisfaction felt by students, staff, and village hosts made it all worthwhile!  And the food was no less than "Yum!"

CIEE Beijing - Students walk into Confucius Temple

Students enter the Confucius Temple (孔庙), in Qüfu, Shandong Province.

CIEE Beijing - Resting in the Confucius Temple

Students and CIEE Beijing Center Director Patrick Lucas smile for the camera!

CIEE Beijing - Qufu Tai'an Ready to Pick Corn

After seeing Julia's clothing was not suitable for the hard work that goes into harvesting corn, her host mother for the day, Ms. Lei, unprompted and without a word, jumped into action and gave Julia an apron more suitable for harvesting. Their faces say it all.

CIEE Beijing - Qufu Tai'an Corn!Harvested corn dries in the courtyard of a village home.

National Holiday Excursions

During the national holiday break, which spanned nine days from September 28 to October 6, some students elected to travel around China on their own or with classmates, visiting such places as Jiuzhaigou, Chengdu (and the Pandas), Inner Mongolia, and Shanghai. 

For us, a highlight of the break was the two CIEE-led excursions to the port city of Dalian, and to the countryside of Shanxi and Hebei provinces, of which students could select one.... and students were once again enthusiastic about both of the trips to urban and rural settings.

Dalian and the Dream of Modernity

Below are some notable pictures from the trip to Dalian. Led by Dr. KuoRay Mao, students went to Dalian and saw a city steeped in a rich history, which in its role as a major port of trade sees the influence of different cultures not only on its culture, but also the physical landscape with architecture and cuisine from Korea, Japan, and Russia - neighbors of China whom with trade through Dalian was and still is significant.

CIEE Beijing - Dalian Excursion I

CIEE Beijing - Dalian Excursion II

Changing Landscapes of China's countryside

As the theme of this trip is "Environment and Rural Governance in China", going to the countryside, students were able to encounter firsthand one of the issues facing rural Chinese currently. As we have in the past, we arranged a village stay where we spend one day one night living in village homes being hosted by local families. The homes which are made of pressed mud are incredibly energy efficient. The thick mud walls act as superb insulation, which reduces heating and cooling needs by staying cool in the summer and warm in the winter. A home can be heated for an entire day using the kindling needed to cook for the family. However, not only are they susceptible to crumbling from heavy rainstorms, but also the Chinese government sees these dwellings as being outdated or stuck in the past. Thus, in a nearby village, when that village experienced a heavy rainstorm two months back and many homes' roofs collapsed, instead of helping the villagers rebuild, they leveled the village with bulldozers and broke ground on modern brick homes for the villagers. Sadly, these rows of new structures feel more prison-like than a home. In the meantime, the villagers have been living in government-provided emergency tents.

The nearby village who had hosted us before was excited for us to come back, but they knew emergency tents were not suitable for hosting. So the village secretary was able to coordinate with the village on the other side of the mountain - a village that had never hosted guests foreign or Chinese - to host us and our students. And what a fine job they did!

When we arrived, students and teachers split up into groups of three to four to a family. After eating lunch in their homes, we all went to the family's field and helped with the potato harvest. That evening, after a dinner (which in many households included freshly dug potatoes!) the villagers had a potato roast in a bonfire and nearby, hired a local movie cart that projected 《泰山功夫》/"Mt. Tai Kung Fu", a 2009 Chinese film for villagers and students to watch together. Having just been to Mt. Tai, the choice was oddly appropriate!

The last two days of the trip, we went hiking through the mountains, visited a Catholic church as well as a damaged Buddhist temple (seen below).

CIEE Beijing - Loading Potatoes

Villagers and students hoist bags of freshly harvested potatoes onto the donkey card.

CIEE Beijing - Rural Excursion Host Sister and Student make Lunch

On some activities, students from multiple programs participate. In this shot, Ms. Wang and Morgan make lunch together. Morgan is from the CIEE Environmental, Cultural, and Economic Sustainability program at Minzu University. 

CIEE Beijing - Watching a Move in the Village Villagers and students watch the movie 《泰山功夫》/"Mt. Tai Kung Fu", a 2009 film of Kung Fu and love. The movie was brought in on a cart and viewed under a brilliant starry sky, as others roast potatoes in the background.

CIEE Beijing - Rebuilding a Village

The village where we had stayed in some previous visits to the area, alive with construction of new homes as part of a government project.

CIEE Beijing - Exploring a Rundown Temple

Some students explore the damaged Buddhist temple, while others sit quietly. The temple, which was destroyed during the cultural revolution is slowly being rebuilt and repaired by local volunteers


CIEE Volunteers


A Trip back to the Autism Institute

Continuing our multi-year relationship with Hongyuan Qizhi Children's Autism Recovery Center, once again, we brought students from all Beijing CIEE programs to the autism institute in southeastern Beijing. CIEE students interacted with the school's students in organized activities that morning and ate lunch with students in the cafeteria. In the afternoon, CIEE students and their young, new friends had fun free time outside the on the school's playground.

CIEE Beijing - Autism Institute I

A young boy from the institute, Shufeng, checks out some new music with his new CIEE friend, Joey.

CIEE Beijing - Autism Institute II

A student, Bocheng, at the institute does some art with his new CIEE friend, Veronica.

Beijing School for the Blind

CIEE Beijing - Beijing School for the Blind Stone

Also continuing the relationship started last spring, on September 12, we visited the Beijing School for the Blind. We went for two reasons: to see the school and interact with students, and to introduce students who were interested in volunteering as English teacher volunteers. This semester, ten students commited to volunteer teach a few hours weekly all semester. Last semester, only three students volunteered, so you can imagine how excited everyone at CIEE Beijing and the blind school were to have our volunteer numbers triple! As of  late October 2013, The students have been volunteering for over a month, and are learning new teaching styles, communication methods and are adapting well to this unique learning environment.

CIEE Beijing - Beijing School for the Blind Students Observe a Class

Students at the Beijing School for the Blind attend class while CIEE students observe.

Anyone can volunteer!

This opportunity to volunteer is open to any CIEE Beijing program participant. Though this volunteer experience requires a weekly commitment for the duration of the semester, students have found this to be one of their most gratifying experiences. It truly is a unique and special way to give back to the Beijing community.


This CIEE Study Abroad Newsletter, "Fall 2013, Issue I", was prepared by CIEE Beijing Study Center Staff.

We invite you to read our other blog posts and leave a note below if you have a question or comment.

Finally, tune in this November to read blogs from our students about selected experiences with CIEE in Beijing!