Rise and Grind

It’s crazy that this is the second-to-last week of the first session! I feel like I’ve been here for forever and no time at all, simultaneously. By this point, the routine of homework, class, and free time has really solidified. I’ve also started my culture class, which is calligraphy. We meet for an hour every Monday afternoon, and I really look forward to it. It’s a great chance to relax and focus on something completely different. The food here is also incredible—every time I think I’ve found “the thing,” I find something to one-up it.

It’s easy to spot the one my 老师 wrote—it’s the good one.

The reality of a language “intensive” has really set in these past two weeks. Chinese classes at Madison are fast paced to begin with. Here, we’re condensing an entire six-credit class into five weeks and combining it with supplementary learning activities like caifeng (field research) and fudao shijian (one-on-one tutor time.) However, it’s only in the past week that I’ve really noticed the improvement in my Chinese. I feel much more confident speaking casually with my teachers and other students, and I’m more comfortable initiating basic conversations with native speakers. The second-year Chinese textbooks are structured slightly differently than the first-year set, and these changes allow for a richer and more useful vocabulary. At random points throughout the day, I’ll catch myself thinking about how I would express my thoughts in Chinese.

However, it hasn’t been nearly as hard to keep up with everything happening stateside as I had imagined. I was prepared to miss out on updates from family, friends, and pop culture in general. But I haven’t had too much trouble communicating with my parents or friends. We saw Incredibles 2 just a few days ago, and, as Madison students, felt personally attacked. About a week ago I had (extremely) authentic Italian food in what used to be the Italian concession in the early 1900s.

This past Saturday, I took a day trip to Beijing with some other students. It was an early morning, but being so close to Beijing allowed us to save money on hotel fees. We tackled around half of the Summer Palace, which was absolutely beautiful. I would highly recommend going if you’re ever in Beijing, and I personally felt like I could have spent the better part of the day there. After a late lunch, we decided to walk around Tiananmen Square before heading back to Beijing. Since it was late afternoon, there weren’t many people, which made it a pleasant walk. Tiananmen Square itself is a very historical place, and it’s also surrounded by extremely important buildings—the Mao Mausoleum, the Forbidden City, the National Museum, and the Great Hall of the People (the most important governmental building.) It also houses the massive Monument to the People’s Heroes.

Our first view of 颐和园!
I went full Chinese mom and carried my umbrella the entire day. I don’t think it helped with the temperature much, but it definitely kept me from getting burned.

Another group of students went the exact opposite direction and headed to the Pacific and spent the day relaxing at the beach. There are certainly plenty of opportunities to travel on the weekends. Our week-long break is also fast approaching, which will be a more than welcome break from class and another excellent opportunity to explore different areas of China or nearby countries. Again, after talking with fellow students, it seems like there are people going pretty much everywhere: Hong Kong, Shanghai, Guilin, Seoul (Korea), Xi’an (where I plan on spending about half the break and the place I’m most excited for!), and lots of other cities/provinces. However, this also means that the students who are only here for one session will be leaving soon—and this is their last weekend! So I’m sure this weekend will be jam-packed as we all prepare for finals and the end of our “semester.”