Hello everyone, I'm Yanfei from CIEE Nanjing. Throughout this semester, I will be posting some student writings about the program, the city and Chinese culture. Hope through the blogs, you will have a glimpse of the student's life in Nanjing! Engjoy the ride!
欢迎光临南京！Welcome to Nanjing!
by Maddie Zimmerman
你们好！Wow. Okay. How do I even start this blog post off? There’s so much that has happened within this past week since I’ve arrived that I almost don’t even know where to start – although I guess it makes sense to start at the beginning. So I’m assuming that if you’re reading this blog, you’re aware that I’m studying abroad in Nanjing, China for this whole semester. If so, great! If not, where have you been?? (Just kidding.) This first post is also probably going to be quite long because there’s a lot to talk about, but stay with me! Also, apologies for not posting this sooner – when our program advisors told us this semester was going to be busy, they weren’t lying!
What a whirlwind this first week was. (Oh and yes, technically I have been here for close to two weeks now, but I’m only going to be talking my impressions of Nanjing from the first week in this blog post, so we’ll stick with that.) I left Chicago on February 13 (Wednesday) around midnight, taking a direct flight to Incheon Airport in South Korea. I flew on Asiana Airlines, which, FYI, has great food. They served bibimbap for dinner and the meals came with little instructions on how to prepare it. 真可爱！So cute! Also super tasty.
After a 14-hour flight, during which I basically alternated sleeping and watching Netflix, we landed around 5am on Friday (Feb 15), so I pretty much lost all of Thursday (Valentine’s Day lol). Such a weird feeling to jump so far ahead in time without even really feeling like I lost any time at all. Then I had about an 8-hour layover in the airport, which normally would have been enough time to get out of the airport and see a bit of Seoul, but since we landed so early, hardly anything was even open inside the airport, let alone outside. On top of that, it was snowing and still dark out, so I elected to stay in and wander around for a while. I was also joined by my airplane seatmate, who was on her way to Thailand but wasn’t leaving until the evening. It was so nice having someone to chat with and explore the airport with.
Finally, following a slight delay, my plane to Nanjing took off a little after 1pm. By this point I was so ready to be done with plane rides that I had a bit of a hard time relaxing, but since we still had a 2.5-hour flight ahead of us, I tried to settle in and read my book nonetheless (The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling, if you’re interested). There was another girl from the program on my flight, and we found each other by the baggage claim after going through security/customs. Speaking of security, I didn’t know that you had to get fingerprinted when you went through customs in China! So I guess the government has my prints on file now. The guard was also definitely suspicious of me and kept looking at my passport photo to confirm that it was actually me (I don’t know, I guess my hair looks different now or something?), and even asked for my admission papers from Nanjing University (which, fortunately, I had with me).
After all this, thankfully there were Chinese students from the program waiting at the airport to meet us and help us get to the dorm. We got in a taxi and then had about an hour-long ride to our dorm, during which I had the chance to just sit and absorb the fact that I was actually in China for the very first time! After so much planning and worrying and traveling, I was finally here. Exhausted and ready to sleep, but here. However, because it was only around 5 or 6pm when we arrived, I didn’t want to go to bed right away because I wanted my body to start adjusting to the time difference right away. Another girl from the program who had already been here for a week offered to go walk around the neighborhood with me so I could stretch my legs some and get a first glimpse of the city. It was chilly and drizzling (it’s been raining quite a bit here), but I didn’t mind because I was just so excited to be in Nanjing! It was cool to get to see some of the nightlife on the very first night and get a feel for the neighborhood. It’s definitely a very walkable city.
The organization that I’m studying abroad with is called CIEE, partnered with Nanjing University (one of China’s top universities), and our program is called Intensive Language and Culture in Nanjing. Because it’s really focused on increase our language ability, we signed a language contract on the first day of classes saying that we would aim to speak only Chinese from Sunday-Friday 8am-8pm. In our Chinese classes, we’re basically covering two semesters-worth of material in just one semester. If you choose to live in the dorms, you also get to room with a Chinese student, which I was definitely nervous about, but so far it’s been wonderful! My roommate’s name is 源苑 (Yuányuàn) and she’s a fourth-year majoring in teaching Chinese to speakers of other languages, with plans to go on to graduate school.
The dorm we’re staying in is Nanjing University’s international students’ dorm, so it’s been really cool to see all of the other foreign students here and hear a number of different languages being spoken in the elevators and hallways. The CIEE offices and classrooms are also in this building, so going to class in the mornings is incredibly convenient. (I’ve definitely almost been late to class a few times because I don’t have to leave the building, so I’ve cut it pretty close with leaving my room, taking the elevator, and getting to class with about a minute to spare.) I had originally been thinking about doing a homestay, which is the other housing option offered with this program, but ultimately I decided that I wanted to have a bit more freedom in making spontaneous plans and to be able to live more like a real Nanjing University student (体验学生的生活 – learn through the experience of living like a student). Most of the homestays are also about 30-40 minutes away by train or bus, and I was definitely worried about being late for class in the mornings. The trains and buses don’t run 24/7 either so I wouldn’t be able to stay out late with friends if I wanted to be able to get home without paying a lot of money for a taxi. Homecooked meals and getting to experience Chinese family life would be nice, but I do love the convenience of our dorm and its proximity to lots of great restaurants, as well as getting to hang out with my friends from the program whenever I want. Our dorm rooms are definitely pretty bare, but we do have our own private bathrooms! We’re also on the 10th floor, so the view ain’t half bad.
On Saturday at 9am, the day after we arrived, we started orientation, where we got to learn about Nanjing, Nanjing University, and our program. We also had the chance to go downtown, to get our metro cards and new SIM cards, and to get to know each other a little better. There are 14 of us American students in the program, mostly all from different colleges and different states. Then on Sunday, our roommates moved in! I didn’t know who my roommate was going to be until she moved in, so like I said before, I was definitely nervous, but also like I said before, 源苑 is so great. She’s very easygoing and funny, and even though we’re both busy students, we still get meals together a lot and love to chat about random things! We’ve already had some great conversations about the differences between Chinese and American schooling, culture, etc.
Here are some of my favorite things about being here so far:
The convenience store that’s literally right around the corner from our dorm
It’s the perfect place for school supplies, snacks, and basic school supplies or bathroom items, and I probably go there about once a day to pick up a snack or a notebook or something.
Learning more conversational/colloquial words and phrases
In school, we always learned the formal ways of saying things, and while these are all technically correct, they’re not how most people talk in normal conversation!
For example, I grew up learning that 对不起 (duìbuqǐ) was the best way to say “I’m sorry.” While 对不起 is correct, my roommate told me that this is actually a very formal way of saying sorry, so most Chinese say 不好意思 (bù hǎoyìsi), which is more casual. (The appropriate response, then, is 没事 – meí shì, “it’s nothing.”)
How helpful the Chinese professors and roommates are
I’m going to talk more about classes in another post, but my professors are fantastic and I’ve already learned so much. 源苑 is also so good at explaining things to me, from words or phrases that I don’t understand to items on a menu. Everyone in this program is just so willing to help us out with our Chinese!
The food, obviously!!
I’ve had a number of people ask me about all the dishes I’ve eaten, and honestly I can’t even tell you the names of everything I’ve eaten so far, but I can tell you that I’ve enjoyed every bit of it. I’ve never been a picky eater and I’ve always been somewhat adventurous when it comes to food, so I’ve pretty much been trying everything people give me.
How many trees there are everywhere!
I honestly did not expect a big Chinese city like Nanjing to be so full of trees and plants and other greenery! I’m definitely excited for it to start getting warmer out so that plants will be able to start blooming again because right now most are pretty bare. But it’s so cool to see trees basically everywhere you look, even lining the main streets.
Here are some of my not-so-favorite things:
Waiting forever for my VPN to connect so I can use the internet
I use Express VPN pretty much all the time now and overall it’s great! So far I’ve mostly been connecting to US locations (although Hong Kong works great for Netflix) and it’s nice to be able to use social media to keep up-to-date with things happening back home. But at certain times during the day, especially in the evening, I have a hard time getting a quick connection, and then websites take a long time to load. I also sometimes have a problem where my VPN is working fine on my computer but not at all on my phone, or vice versa. And then sometimes the servers just won’t connect at all.
Not having a kitchen!!
I love making my own food, and last semester I went down to a very small meal plan so I could make a lot of my own food. Senior year I’m also planning on going off meal plan completely. Here though, I either have to go out for every meal or make instant food in the microwave/with hot water. This can be hard when it’s cold out, or when I’m busy with homework, or when I don’t feel like spending another 30-40元 on a meal. Fortunately, the cafeteria is now open (even though it’s about a 20-minute walk away), and supposedly it’s pretty cheap, so that’ll definitely help.
Not being able to use an American credit card at most stores and restaurants
This one has been quite surprising. I got a travel credit card before I came here for the perk of not having transaction fees, and I assumed that I’d probably be able to use it at most stores and restaurants. However, every place that I’ve been to so far (from Walmart to the convenience store) has only taken Chinese cards. I’m going to delve into this issue in a later post, but it’s for sure not the most convenient to use cash everywhere I go.
However, while these things are inconvenient, I’ve always been one to go with the flow, so I’m making adjustments in my expectations/normal ways of living in accordance with these (mostly) minor hassles. This whole trip is supposed to be a learning experience after all!
In my next post, I’ll go into more detail about my weekly schedule and what my classes are like, and I’ll talk more about what it’s like to have to speak Chinese nearly all the time, so stay tuned!