By Trey Carlisle, Spring 2019
Studying abroad in Nanjing, China through CIEE Nanjing’s Intensive Language and Culture Immersion program was one of the greatest decisions I could have ever made! Not only was Nanjing the perfect location to strengthen my understanding of Chinese language and culture, but CIEE Nanjing was the perfect program because it provided three key elements:
- A deep level of IMMERSION AND EXPOSURE to the Chinese language, culture, and daily life
- A MULTITUDE OF OPPORTUNITIES to travel, connect with people, and engage in cross-cultural exchanges.
- Ongoing SUPPORT AND A SENSE OF COMMUNITY among the CIEE Nanjing staff, teachers, and students.
IMMERSION AND EXPOSURE
One of my favorite parts of studying abroad through CIEE Nanjing was being deeply immersed in the Chinese language and culture. From the time students first arrived, a language commitment is formed with CIEE staff to solely (or to the best of our ability) speak Chinese six days a week, from 8 am to 8 pm each day.
It was rare to find someone who spoke English in Nanjing. As a result, my level of Chinese improved immensely! Every Monday through Thursday, I took four hours of Chinese classes, which involved a quiz each day and an oral and written test each week.
I cherished my one-on-one Chinese tutoring, occurring three times a week, where I practiced reading, writing, and speaking, and discussed contemporary issues with my tutor in Chinese. Although I was shocked by the intense workload the first few weeks, I quickly adjusted to it. I do not believe my Chinese would have improved as immensely as it did had it not been for this academic routine.
More importantly, I deeply enjoyed the everyday moments when I spoke Chinese with my friends and those I encountered in daily life. For example, when I purchased meals or went shopping, I formed friendships through engaging conversations with street vendors, restaurant owners, and shop clerks. In one instance, I became such good friends with the owner of a hat shop (who was also a professional photographer), that he took professional photos of me free of charge. Furthermore, I will never forget the moments when I bought milk tea, saw movies, ate dinner, played card games, and had late night conversations with my roommate and Chinese tutors! In short, the opportunities I had to be immersed in the Chinese language and culture developed my level of Chinese tenfold!
MULTITUDE OF OPPORTUNITIES
Another favorite part of CIEE Nanjing was the Friday excursions to historic, popular, and cultural sites. Whether it was walking along the Ming City Wall, singing at a karaoke bar, learning how to make a Chinese cuisine, or hiking in the Purple Mountains, I cherished the opportunities to travel to a new place every weekend and be exposed to key aspects of Chinese culture.
Aside from the Friday excursions, we were given two week-long breaks to travel outside of Nanjing, where I had the privilege of visiting Beijing and Xian, China. I walked along the Great Wall of China, saw the Terra-cotta Warriors, biked along the Xian city wall, and explored the Forbidden City in Beijing and the Muslim Quarters in Xian. When I read about these famous sites and their historic significance, I never imagined that I would someday physically be there. It was amazing!
CIEE students and staff also went on a week-long trip to the Guangxi province in Southern China, as a means of experiencing the lives of many ethnic minorities and those who live in the rural countryside of China. It was magical to hike the mountains and raft the rivers of Guilin, swim in the oceans of Wei Zhou Island, and live with the Zhuang minorities in the ancient villages on top of the famous “Dragon Spine” rice terrace. However, my favorite part of the trip was meeting and talking with the people from the local villages.
Aside from traveling, CIEE provided diverse opportunities for cross-cultural communication. For example, every Thursday, all CIEE students took a class on the history of US-China relations. Understanding the history of U.S.-China relations allowed me to put in perspective all of the current policies and issues regarding U.S. and China. Because of this class, I understood the importance of learning Mandarin, as well as understanding the history and culture of China.
Every other Wednesday, CIEE students volunteered at a local elementary school, which primarily served migrant children. We taught English to a group a 40 students, where we would prepare PowerPoints, videos, dances, and skits to teach concepts, including the days of the week, how to tell time, American cuisines, and the weather. It was such a joy to share with children key staples in American childhood, from games like the Hokey Pokey, to songs like “Apples and Bananas”, to even TV shows like “Sesame Street.” More importantly, it felt so good to give back and bring joy to the children at the school. As a result, every Sunday I was inspired to serve as an English tutor for a Chinese family.
Without question, my favorite avenue for cross-cultural exchange was leading hip hop dance workshops for people in the Nanjing community, as well as joining local music and dance gatherings! These workshops were a result of my passion to use music and dance to promote cross-cultural understanding. With the assistance of CIEE Nanjing and local Zumba groups, I taught weekly hip-hop dance workshops at Nanjing University, as well as at local parks and places like Xuanwu lake. It was the most amazing experience to see people from all backgrounds—-children, elders, university students, community members, Nanjing locals, and foreigners—-all together in one space, communing and connecting with each other through dance!!!
In addition to these workshops, I found opportunities to use dance for cultural exchange EVERYWHERE! For example, I joined a group of older women square dancing in Xian, and I learned the three step waltz from a group of elders at Xuanwu Lake. In exchange for their hospitality, I taught them some hip hop dance moves. But to my amazement, I was ecstatic to discover a professional hip hop and street dance studio in Nanjing. It was not only a joy to witness hip hop in China, but I was fascinated by how the Chinese street dance instructors appreciated hip hop culture and taught moves more authentic than those taught today in parts of the United States!
I will never forget being invited by a group of musicians (with whom I casually jammed with) to perform with them before a live audience, under the moonlight at Xuanwu Lake! It was one of the coolest experiences, to sing, play cajon, and perform two rap songs (including an original song I wrote)!
In short, all of the above experiences, from teaching hip hop to performing at Xuanwu Lake, confirmed to me the power music and dance can have in facilitating cross-cultural communication!
SUPPORT AND COMMUNITY
The third component of CIEE Nanjing which I deeply treasured was the family atmosphere and the level of support that I received from the CIEE staff, teachers, and students. Unlike larger study abroad programs, CIEE was small in size, yet intimate and warm in energy. I became very close with everyone at the program. For example, CIEE Nanjing Director Fu Yanfei was like a mother to us, organizing and overseeing every aspect of our trip, from our living conditions (e.g. buying a phone SIM card, opening a bank account, using Chinese apps) to weekly our excursions. In addition, she often checked in on us to ensure our experience was going well.
Ms. Sheng (event coordinator) served like an older sister, traveling with us to all cultural excursions, and helping us become familiar with using the public transportation system. Director Fu and Ms. Sheng developed a close bond with each CIEE student, supporting us as a group and also as individuals.
For example, when Director Fu learned about my passion to use dance to promote cross-cultural communication, it was her idea for me to collaborate with the local Zumba dance groups at Nanjing University. She brought me to the university track field, told the Zumba instructors about my passion, and asked them if I could teach some hip hop dance to the community. From then on, she would come to every workshop of mine that she could, dancing and showing her support!
The level of support that I received from my Chinese professors was incredible. My professors would meet with us during their office hours and provide valuable feedback about our assignments. They often used games and activities that enabled us to use our Mandarin in an engaging manner. Furthermore, they, especially my spoken Chinese professor, brought an energy of encouragement, joy, and patience that encouraged me to use and improve my Chinese speaking skills (regardless of how insecure I felt).
The support that I received from my Chinese tutor was invaluable! Every tutoring session was filled with laughs and fun as we reviewed the topic of my homework, discussed current events, or just talked about ourselves, in Mandarin. The ongoing patience and encouragement that my tutor showed me as I would fumble over characters when reading my textbook passage, helped me to develop a strong foundation in my language skills.
Lastly, the Chinese roommates we were assigned were an instrumental part of the entire study abroad experience, and I felt that I got the best one possible. My roommate was definitely “the G.O.A.T” (Greatest Of All Time)! We ate out together, saw movies, played table tennis, went on excursions, and just shared fond memories. Furthermore, he never hesitated to help me with my Mandarin, or adapt to challenges living in China. In short, everyone at CIEE Nanjing (e.g. staff, teachers, tutors, classmates, roommates, and locals) definitely served as a family away from home!
In conclusion, out of all of the study abroad programs I could have participated in, there is no program that I would have preferred over CIEE Nanjing! The deep immersion and exposure to Chinese culture enabled me to strengthen my Chinese to an unprecedented level. The multitude of opportunities to learn about Chinese culture and engage in cross-cultural exchange made my experience in China one of the most meaningful experiences of my life. Furthermore, the level of support I received from everyone at CIEE Nanjing made everyone feel like a family. It was a true gift to study abroad with CIEE Nanjing, and I would highly recommend their program to anyone seeking to study abroad in China!