Looking Back

During my last couple of days in Edinburgh, everything seemed to be more pleasant, more beautiful, more enjoyable. As I began to realize that every sight I saw, every black tea I drank or scone I devoured, would be my last one, I felt the great urgency to absorb every last feeling. The long and seemingly never-ending walk to campus didn’t seem to drag on as painfully, as I admired all the old houses and peaked into the many bakeries and cafes on my way home. Even the 24 mph winds that blew tears out of your eyes as you walked didn’t seem as miserable.

As I sit at my dining table now, with the windows and front door wide open and the sun filling the room, I am filled with an unsuspected feeling. After studying for finals that counted for 80% of my grade, and enduring the wind, rain, and daylight ending by 4pm, I dreamt about being able to go for a run outside in shorts and a t-shirt. But now that I can go for runs along the beach, and don’t have to time my days according to the 6 hours of daylight a day, I catch myself missing Edinburgh and all of its windswept charm.  Even more, it’s hard to believe that my study abroad experience has happened and is now something I reminiscence on rather than look forward to. Starting in high school, I always knew I wanted to take part in the study abroad experience—when I first heard that you could take a semester or year to study in another country anywhere around the world, I immediately knew I wanted in. It seemed like a no-brainer taking advantage of this opportunity.

Now, nearly 7 years later, I have spent a semester abroad and can say that it has lived up to my expectations. Actually, I don’t know if I can even say that, because I went to Edinburgh without any firm expectations (mainly, just a strong desire not to get run over by a car from walking on the wrong side of the road). I had no idea what the food would be like, the weather, the student housing, the transportation, etc. (granted you can easily find this stuff out before you go abroad). Edinburgh took me by surprise with its history and culture seeped into every building and alley, and its success in having delicious Indian curries. The contrast between Old Town and New Town left the city in a fine balance between preserving the past and building the future. And if you ventured outside of Edinburgh, you could find yourself in the artsy and upbeat city of Glasgow, or beneath the peacefully looming Highlands. And if you took the 35 Bus, you could be at the airport in 45 minutes, and find yourself getting on a plane to Amsterdam. When you study abroad it is natural to want to cram everything into the 12 weeks you are there. The 35 Bus to EDI may become your most familiar bus route and you will probably get very good at stuffing your backpack full and keeping your liquids under 4 oz.  However, amidst all the travelling, don’t forget to take the long route to class along the canals, or walk into a café whose cakes just smell too good. Some of your best memories will be right down the road.

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A Day in the ACC Life

ACC's host school Minzu University

ACC’s host school Minzu University

Here’s what the typical day at ACC looks like for the first couple weeks:

5:30am- First alarm goes off. Jump out of bed, quietly make your way to the restroom to get dressed without waking the roommate.

5:50- Now that you’re ready for the day, sit down at your desk, open Quizlet, and review the ~100 new vocab words for that day’s lesson. Continue reviewing until you get 100% correct.

7:15- You have extra time.  Reread the text from the lesson. Look over the grammar. Check facebook, if you can get your VPN to work.

7:45- Leave for class. Class starts at 8 and is in the building directly next to the dorm, but you want to look over the vocab for a few minutes before class starts.

Classroom at ACC

Classroom at ACC

8:00-Time for the 听写!This daily quiz tests your knowledge of the vocab for the day’s lesson. There are 6 questions. After the quiz, you have 大班课(big class) for 50 minutes. The teacher goes through a powerpoint and explains new vocab and grammar and cold calls on students to answer her questions. It’s pretty similar to Georgetown’s Chinese classes.

9:00- Switch classes for 小班课aka small class. This class has a couple less students and is basically the same structure as big class, except there’s more individual attention. You’re getting pretty sleepy in this class and try to plan a scenario in which you have time to go by the vending machine in the dorm.

10:00-Time for 讨论课/ discussion class! This class is you with one or two other students and a teacher. The 50 minutes is spent discussing a topic that you prepared on a worksheet the night before. It’s a good opportunity to have a meaningful discussion with your peers about the material covered in class. You’re pretty stressed out because the other girl in your class was a summer student and has been at ACC for a couple months already. She knows how to play this game and you’re a little anxious about engaging with this讨论课 veteran.

11:00-Here’s where it gets tricky. There are three periods for one-on-one class/单班课。The first is at 11, the second at 12, and the third at 1:40. Each week your assigned time changes. Today you have the first class. You’re very nervous about spending the next 50 minutes talking one-on-one with a teacher, especially since today is a teacher you’ve never had before! Fortunately, like all of the ACC teachers, this one is very nice and helpful, and together you spend the entire class discussing the lesson and practicing using grammar and vocab.

12:00pm- After class, you anxiously text all your friends to see who is available to eat lunch. You still don’t recognize everyone’s Chinese names, so looking at the schedule doesn’t really help. You find someone to eat with and head to the cafeteria. Last week you found a fried rice dish that wasn’t horrible and order that every day. Today is not an exception. While waiting for you food, you look around at your Chinese peers. They all seem to be staring at you. Am I really that white? You get your food after what seems like an eternity and sit down at one of the long tables with your friend to eat.

1:00- You should get started on studying. You look over the vocab but ultimately decide to have a nice afternoon break. You surf the web for a while before your 责任感 compels you to begin studying. You spend the rest of the day alternating between trying to learn the new vocab and checking Facebook.

6:00- You should probably eat dinner. Your friends and you briefly consider going to a Chinese restaurant, but it’s been a long day and you’re not prepared for the stress of trying to figure out what is edible. Ultimately, you all head to Tube Station, the pizza joint. It’s a little expensive, but pizza is just so good.

7:30- You arrive back in your room. You open Quizlet and resume studying the vocab. You decide maybe you’ll be more productive on B2, the ACC floor in the dorm. It has classrooms, a big study room, and, most importantly, WiFi. So many people are there studying! It’s a big ACC study party. After a few hours, you realize it’s getting late and you return to your room to sleep.

 

Dorm Room at ACC

Dorm Room at ACC

Now, here’s what a typical day at ACC looks like in the last couple weeks:

6:30am- First alarm goes off. You’re pretty tired and you don’t have that much to study, so you go back to sleep.

6:45- 2nd alarm. Ehh.

7:00- 3rd alarm goes off. You should probably get up now. You stay in bed and grab your laptop from your bedside table. You practice the grammar on Quizlet once. 55% accuracy. Not bad.

7:30- Get out of bed and get dressed.

7:50- Leave for class. Stop by vending machine to buy a 4 kuai coffee in a can or a 3.5 kuai sugary tea drink in a bottle.

8:00- 听写!It’s no big deal. You don’t remember a few words but that’s just life. Class starts and you immediately want to go back to sleep. You pop open your coffee and chug it down like your life depends on it. You don’t want to be sleepy; it just happens. The rest of the class is a struggle to be engaged and learning.

9:00- 小班课! You’re still tired, but you have to be on your A game in this class. For some reason the teacher always calls on your for the sentences you’re not sure how to answer, and doesn’t call on you for the easy questions everyone else keeps flubbing.

10:00-讨论课 time! Everyone is friends by now, so discussion class is pretty relaxed. What starts as an on-topic discussion about our lesson usually turns into a discussion with the teacher about China’s culture and politics.

11:00-Today you have the third one-on-one class. You go with your friends to the cafeteria to get a 6 kuai rice meal. You’re pretty sick of everything you’ve already tried at the cafeteria, so every day you ask the cafeteria worker for a suggestion. Today’s suggestion was not bad. You take your food to go and return to your dorm room. After eating and watching tv for a while in bed, you still have an hour before class. Nap time.

1:40pm- Time for class! Uh oh! You have the intense teacher. He prompts you to use 6 grammar patterns in a row and it takes 15 minutes to complete one sentence. After a while of intense grammar practice, the conversation turns more casual and you have an in-depth conversation about the differences between China and America. Today’s conversation turns to the impact of campaign contributions on American politics and how corruption in Chinese business makes it hard for American companies to make partners in China. After class you realize he’s actually you’re favorite teacher for danbanke.

2:30- Class is over. Should you go out into the city or watch TV in bed? Why not both? After watching a show on YouKu, you meet up with your friends to go to one of the few remaining tourist destinations you have yet to visit.

5:00- After spending a couple hours at your destination, it’s time to head back to campus. It’s already dark and it’s freezing outside. After arriving back at the National Library metro station, you and your friends walk back to campus and decide on a place for dinner.

6:00- Dinner time! Y’all make your way to the Korean place down the alley in 西门(儿)and all order bibimbap. After dinner, you go to the bing place to get jelly filled pastry things for 1 kuai. So tasty.

7:00- After getting food, you head back to the dorm. On the way, you pass CoCo and decide you need that milk tea. The warmth of your beverage makes the walk to the dorm slightly more bearable in the freezing cold. After you hit your floor button on the dorm elevator, you belatedly realize you should go up to the 6th floor to get your quiz from your cubby. Even though you spend way less time studying than at the beginning of the semester, you consistently get better grades.

8:30-It’s getting late and you realize you should probably start studying. You write down the vocab words a couple times, read through the lesson, do the discussion class homework, and call it a night. Recalling new words has become so much easier over the semester. Most characters are recognizable; you just need to learn what a combination of previously known characters mean put together.

10:00- You’re pretty much done studying so you spend a little while catching up on things back home before going to bed, a little sad that your ACC experience is so close to coming to an end.

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Lists

As I walk down Prince’s street for at least the 30th time, I once again pass by Red Squirrel, a homey-looking restaurant whose motto is “great beer & a bite to eat.” “Still got to go there!” I think to myself and pull out my American phone to add it to my ‘Places to eat in Edinburgh’ list. The list grows exponentially faster than I can cross off each item. With my departure date looming closer and closer, I feel the increasing pressure to eat my way through Edinburgh; every day conflicted between trying to save money to travel and making a dent in the abundance of restaurants in this city. In another note, I have a list for things to do in Edinburgh before I leave—including visiting the graveyard that inspired characters in Harry Potter and visiting the National Galleries, both of which I pass by almost every day. I am tempted to think that a semester is just not nearly enough time to eat at all the good restaurants and visit all the sites; however, when I think about it, I have eaten at more restaurants and seen more things these past 11 weeks than I have the past couple years back at home. The pressure to explore and discover really brings out the list-making side of me.

Today I had my last tutorial for one of my classes and received my first “best of luck back in America” from my tutorial leader; yet with nearly a month left of school, it felt like a bit of a pre-mature goodbye. As I walked away from New College, the Religion school’s building, it began to dawn on me that there is a good chance I will never see most of my classmates again. With its sprawling campus interspersed throughout the city and huge class sizes, it is easy to talk to someone in lecture and then not see them again for three weeks. With three weeks left, most of them being study days and finals, it is entirely possible that today’s tutorial was the last time I will see them. “I should’ve added them on Facebook!” I think to myself…Maybe they will want to study abroad at Georgetown their junior year. Today, the ephemeral nature of a study-abroad semester really revealed itself—making it more apparent the very unique situation that study abroad students are in. As semester study abroad students, our stay here has a definite start and end date that influences the things we do, how we do them, and who we do them with. Trying to travel throughout Europe, immerse ourselves in Scottish culture, and live the life of a Edinburgh student is nearly impossible— because what university student would just book a ticket on a whim and go to Amsterdam for the weekend? The temporariness of a semester abroad influences all aspects from not wanting to buy a toaster because we would have to abandon it after a semester, to not joining a club because the main project takes place next semester. So sadly, the end of semester good-bye season seems to have already begun. Only difference is, the goodbyes here consist of “let me know if you ever come to the US” rather than “see you next year”.

Things on the list:

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-Loch Lomond-

 

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-View from hike up to Arthur’s Seat-

 

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-Ruins of Holyrood Abbey-

 

 

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3 Weeks, 3 Cities

Paris and vespas and beer – oh my! So much has happened these last few weeks that, in order to keep this blog post as short and as sweet as possible, I’m only going to talk about the highlights (and there were many…)

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For starters, Paris, which was my first out of the country visit, is BEAUTIFUL! From the lock bridge to the Louvre, you really can’t beat the city’s upbeat atmosphere and regal architecture. I found that, while Florence is more rustic with strong ties to its historical past, Paris seems a bit more modern. Still, the city’s appreciation for the arts is apparent, a feature that Florence shares as well. Oh and attending the last leg of the Beyoncé and Jay-Z concert definitely didn’t hurt my impression on Paris either….

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Traveling to the beautiful wine county of Chianti, we decided to embrace the Italian lifestyle and ride a Vespa for the day, which, luckily, I did not crash! Vespas are one of the main forms of transportation in Italy and everyone, from little kids to grandmothers, are riding these things in style – helmets and all. At first, I did not know what to expect. Was it like a bike? How about a motorcycle? Could I even ride this thing by myself? Although I needed a couple practice loops around a parking lot, I eventually got the hang of it. What I found the trickiest was that there were no pedals. If you wanted to go, you simply grasped the handle bar and turned your hand towards you. If you wanted to stop, you pulled the break, which looked the same as a bicycle break. Once I finally wrapped my head around the fact that a vespa was the perfect crossbreed of a motorcycle and a bicycle, I was ready to hit the road and explore the beautiful hills of Chianti. We rode passed various castles, ate a few grapes still ripening on the vine, and got to enjoy a few glasses of it at a beautiful, fully loaded lunch nestled perfectly in the Chianti hills.

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Oktoberfest in Munich, Germany was the next stop on my list and was also my last stop for the month of September. It’s crazy how fast abroad goes by. Time really does fly when you’re having fun and eating the best pasta carbonara and blueberry steaks on the planet (more on that to come later…). As for Oktoberfest? Well, I wouldn’t want to spoil any of it for soon to be abroadees but I’ll just say this: despite the 5:45 a.m. wake-up call,  it is a bucket list experience that could have been one of the best times of my life – and not to mention the BEST bratwurst I’ve ever had! Bratwurst is basically sausage and it is a huge delicacy in Germany (right up there with schnitzel). Outside of the Oktoberfest tents, there were lots and lots of delicious food stands and I may or may not have gotten my little sausage fix multiple times in one day. Don’t believe me? You’re just going to have to travel to Munich next year to see for yourself! Also a little advice – those decorated gingerbread cookies that everyone wears around their neck? Apparently you are NOT supposed to eat those…

That’s all for now! Stay tuned for some more of my adventures around Italy in the next coming weeks!

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Some Characters

Living alone in a foreign city is great but it can get lonely. That’s why it’s important to have people that are part of your daily routine, people who don’t necessarily know your name but who know that you take your coffee with cream and sugar, and that you like your ribeye medium-rare, so that by the time you sit down and order a drink it’s already simmering on the grill. That way, you can spend time to yourself without feeling too disconnected from the world.

One of these people is Fanta, the waitress at a brasserie not far from my place. She is a normal looking girl. You wouldn’t stop and stare if you saw her passing in the street, but that’s only because you wouldn’t have seen her smile. She has one of those remarkable smiles that you can’t really describe. I usually come by about twenty minutes before the end of her shift, so after I’ve finished eating she will sit down for a bit and talk over a cigarette.

There’s a sweet couple from outside Shanghai that own the sushi restaurant in the first floor of my apartment building. When I take a seat at the table by the window, the wife will ask if I want the usual, and if it’s a slow day she will bring me a glass of rosé and ask me about America.

There’s also an ornery Iranian man with a pita shop nearby school. His kids have grown up and moved away and he calls me “my boy” in Farsi. When I was sick, he made me mint tea with lemon and honey.

But by far my favorite is the owner of the bookstore on Rue Monsieur-le-Prince, off of the boulevard St. Germain. His store is no bigger than a walk-in closet and the selection is quite small, which I like because it forces me to read things I wouldn’t ordinarily pick up. He buys back used books, so once I’ve finished reading something I can sell it back to him for half price and he’ll recommend something new. I don’t really like his taste in writers but I like that he cares enough to make suggestions. He’s a truly odd character. The first time I ever spoke to him, I asked him how long he’s owned the bookstore.

“I don’t own it,” he said.

“You don’t?”

“Nope. It owns me.”

It took some time for us to get comfortable with one another. He speaks almost hilariously accented French for someone who has been living here for seventeen years and he’ll criticize you if he doesn’t like the author you’ve chosen. Every week he says he will sell the bookstore, but he never does.

There is also the cat who lives in the basement of the Sciences Po building on Rue de l’Universite. If you make a kissing sound he’ll come sit on your lap while you read.

Of course I have friends who I will meet up with on the weekends or after class, but on the long days when I’m alone and walking around, these are the people that make Paris worth it. I wonder if I am as much a part of their daily routines as they are a part of mine.

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Who knows?

In French universities, the primary mode of evaluation is the exposé, a ten- to thirty-minute presentation on a topic relating to the course. While American social science and humanities courses are writing intensive, grading students based on the quality of their essays and research papers, French courses are almost exclusively oral. The professor’s lecture is often squeezed into the time left over after a student’s exposé.

Exposés are difficult to get the hang of at first. American students will be tempted to advance a thesis and to defend it logic and careful research. But nothing will alienate a French professor more than this argumentative approach. The exposé begins with a short introduction before presenting the problematique—the central paradox or question at hand. It then follows a very strict formula of yes, no, maybe. That is, part one will make the case for one answer to or understanding of the question, and part two will invariably take the opposing view. Finally, there will be a conclusion, which is almost always something to the effect of: “One the one hand this, on the other hand that, but, really, who knows?” Students follow this formula like scripture.

My first week I was given the following question: is war natural? If I were in the US, I would have begun with a thesis (yes, indeed, war is natural) before making three points to back up my assertion (first, we are evolutionarily hard-wired for conflict, second…etc.). But, for the French, certainty is anathema to a good exposé. Instead, I began by defining war and then moved on to what it means for something to be natural. After a good deal of wrangling (Are we talking about man in the state of nature? Or simply what humans are predisposed to in the modern age?) I moved to part one, where I argued the affirmative, bouncing like a pinball from contract theory to evolutionary biology to history to literature. In the second part, I argued the negative, tossing around this writer and that. Naturally, no consensus emerged. I ended with no clearer an answer than when I had begun. I was forced to conclude that it was impossible to answer the question definitively, and that it really depended on your definitions and how you felt about Hobbes and Rousseau and this and that. Is war natural? Who knows?

The professor seemed satisfied with this response.

I can think of two explanations for this unfamiliar way of approaching the course material. The first is that, unlike the American system, the French system emphasizes ambiguity. Relishes it. In the real world, after all, there are no easy answers, and what seems obvious to one person may strike another as misguided. This kind of philosophy—that truth itself is dynamic and subjective—is distinctly un-American. In the US, the worlds of academia and policy-making both rest on the assumption that there is an optimal answer, that the truth is knowable, and that we should strive toward it, even if we know we will fall short. French educators, on the other hand, would likely identify with F. Scott Fitzgerald’s quip that “the sign of a first rate intellect is the ability to hold two opposing ideas in mind and retain the ability to function.”

The second explanation for the French aversion to argumentation was voiced by my fourteen year-old host brother at the dinner table. “Professors,” he said, “think you’re too young and naïve to have an opinion.”

Who knows?

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Can I Borrow Your Crayon? – Making New Friends in Rural China

fulbright yongfeng

During our ACC sponsored 5 day field trip to Xi’an, we spent a day at a rural elementary school named Yongfeng Primary School. Prior to our visit, we were all assigned buddies and wrote them a letter introducing ourselves. My buddy’s English name was Abe, but that was as much as I knew about him before actually meeting. We all brought little gifts for our buddies. Without much instruction on what kind of gift to bring and with my little understanding of elementary age boys, I ended up buying Abe a “poker” set. I think it was just a set of cards.

On the day of our visit, we rode the bus an hour outside of the city to a rural town. We walked to the school while many townspeople looked on. We were quickly ushered to the side of the road to witness what can only be described as a memorable cultural event. Truck after truck filled with townspeople dressed in traditional garb and beating on drums drove by, followed a group of dancing ladies, and rounded off by people on horses wearing extremely interesting costumes and face paint. I am still not completely sure of the parade purpose, but from what I could gather, every month a party goes to the temple on the side of the mountain to pray to the gods. The people on the horses represented the gods. I really enjoyed watching this parade.

One of the "gods" from the parade

One of the “gods” from the parade (photo by ACC classmate Andrew Castillo)

After the parade, we went back to the elementary school to have a question and answer session with the foreign teachers at the school. The school has a fellowship for which foreign teachers can come teach English and start enrichment programs with the rural school.  I appreciated hearing more about opportunities for foreigners in China. After the Q&A session, we attended class. I attended 4th grade art class. One of the foreigner teachers teaches the class, and focuses each lesson a different country’s art style. Today’s lesson was on mosaics from Spain. Another Georgetown student, Enrique Granados, used this opportunity to become “Gao Laoshi” and teach the children some Spanish to go along with the lesson. The students used the mosaic style to make the Chinese flag. The kids insisted we help them, and I spent part of the class drawing stars for kids to cut out. The students were so exact with their folding and cutting, no one was even close to finishing their flag by the end of the class.

Our next class was physical education. PE was never really my forte, so I was a little wary, especially when they said the first activity was jogging. Fortunately they just meant relay races across the basketball court. A clique of girls chose me for their group, so there was a lot of pressure to perform. I don’t think I was the worst, so they kept me for the next activity: hackey sack. I was horrible at hackey sack and they eventually gave up to play a game where we intertwine legs and hop in a circle. Seeing how I didn’t understand their spoken instructions, I was quite surprised when they began hopping and I was being dragged along with them. After that activity, I really felt like one of the girls.

After PE, we met up with our buddies! Abe was really nice and conversational. I gave him his gift and he seemed really confused as to what it was (I did see him showing it off to his friends later). He had a worksheet of questions to ask me. We talked about my hometown in Florida, what kind of food I liked, and what I thought about China. He was very patient with the language barrier, and after completing the worksheet, we had a nice conversation our shared interests. I learned that he wanted to be a police officer when he grows up, just like his father. He also seemed to love movies, telling me all about the different American films he has seen. It seemed like he had seen even more than me! He also taught me how to perform “the cup song” popularized by the American movie Pitch Perfect. Of all the ACC-Yongfen pengyou pairs, we ended up talking the longest.

At the end of the day, I was sad to leave my new friends. I really enjoyed witnessing life outside the city and meeting the children. This activity brought diversity to my experiences in China and enlightened me to some of the differences and difficulties in rural life compared to urban life. Many of these students come from migrant families whose parents live in other cities to work. The students live with extended families, family friends, or in group homes for migrant children. In addition to their difficult family situations, they also face the adversity of rural life. While visiting the school, I learned that China has a serious education inequality problem. Lack of funding and qualified teachers has created an imbalance between education standards in rural and urban schools. Despite these disadvantages, these kids seem just like any other kids. They love to play and learn. It was refreshing to see kids so enthusiastic to play outdoors while witnessing the growing trend of American kids only playing with technology. Hopefully with the additional funding and dedication from the teaching fellows, these kids will grow up with all the opportunities offered to  their peers in the city.

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Selfie with my Yongfeng Pengyou, Abe

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Xiangnian-ing Beijing

I am currently in the University of Edinburgh library, sitting next to a window overlooking Old Town’s beautiful myriad of chimneystacks and historic churches—or “kirks”, as they call them here—and although I find myself in this majestic European city for the fall semester, I cannot help but reminisce about my summer every once in a while. But why would I do that? Studying abroad at ACC in Beijing this past summer was unlike any other experience. Granted it was my first time abroad, this sprawling metropolis rarely felt unfamiliar or dull; in retrospective, I realize I had very little difficulty assimilating to the rhythm of Beijing, which is quite surprising, given that I had a bit more trouble than others in getting used to Georgetown during my first semester of college. Maybe the reason why I felt so comfortable was because I had already grown accustomed to being away from home, but like any other student planning on studying abroad, I expected to feel very homesick at some point. Although, for anyone, it is almost inevitable to miss home while abroad, I don’t think I ever felt the urge to leave Beijing and head back home. Why?

 

Upon arrival to this city of almost 12 million inhabitants, I confirmed the worst. Beijing’s infamous pollution blankets the city, impregnating the streets with a smell of burnt plastic and forcing some to wear their 口罩 (face masks) to avoid inhaling what many consider a deadly combination of chemicals. Despite the government’s enormous effort to rid the city of its traffic problem, Beijing’s highways and streets are often congested at any hour of the day. Some people say Beijing actually doesn’t have a 上下班时间—or “rush hour”—because no time of the day is immune to this headache-inducing problem. The sweltering heat of the summer is unbearable to some, and paired with some questionable street smells, it makes for quite a unique experience while exploring the city on foot. On top of that, the academic rigor of ACC is unparalleled, as the daily number of new vocabulary words for third-year students ranges from 60 to 130—and yes, you are expected to learn all of them in order to prepare for the next day’s 听写 (dictation). Then, why do I miss Beijing so much?

 

Simply put, Beijing is amazing. Like any other large city, Beijing may have its drawbacks and idiosyncrasies, but it certainly exceeded my expectations. After all, studying abroad is about placing yourself in a strange environment where opportunities to learn from others and their culture abound. Its vibrant cultural scene will never disappoint when you’re not studying and looking for something to do. Its food—from the upscale to the lower stratifications of the culinary world—is mouthwatering and sure to leave you wanting more every time. Home to the imposing CCTV Tower and the enigmatic Forbidden City, its cityscape holds some of the world’s most impressive architectural wonders, old and new alike. Its people, Beijingers, may be shy, but they are some of the friendliest, liveliest, and most hard-working people I have ever met. And although getting used to both the intensive pace and the language pledge of the ACC program is no easy feat, to say this two-month language immersion is rewarding is an understatement.

 

What do I miss? The people, the spirit and energy of the city, the restaurants on Minzu University’s西门, Beijing roast duck, my new friends, the ACC老师, the Sanlitun 夜店, spending the day studying with my new 朋友 at 新巴克, strolling on hutongs, etc. The list goes on and on. Beijing and its people have so much to offer, so much that you don’t have time nor energy to feel desolated. The teachers at ACC, despite their high expectations, understand that as a student abroad you may face some difficulties in adapting to ACC and Beijing; they are enthusiastic, engaging, and more than anything, supportive. The people you meet at ACC suddenly become some of your closest friends because, with them, you not only endure the rigor of the program, but also share meals, go out on the weekends, explore Beijing, and travel. Your host family also makes sure you feel at ease, as they invite you to cook in their kitchen and eat dinner together, visit museums, or just have some tea and chat. Lastly, Beijing embraces you, offering an infinite number of things to see, visit, eat, explore, and enjoy.

 

Now that I am here, in Edinburgh, I look back and wish I could’ve stayed in Beijing a little longer. What are often considered “cons” to living Beijing are compensated with an even longer list of “pros”. Maybe it was a combination of these that allowed me to enjoy my study abroad experience so much that I didn’t look forward to leaving, but who knows exactly? What I know for certain, however, is that I couldn’t have chosen a better place to spend my summer. 北京,我爱你。

 

Javier Gonzalez is a junior the School of Foreign Service, pursuing a major in International Politics with a concentration on Foreign Policy and Policy Processes. Born and raised on the Texas border with Mexico, Javier is passionate about U.S.-Mexico relations and, of course, all things Mexican, specifically, food. He is also interested, however, in U.S.-China relations, and for this reason, has been studying Mandarin Chinese since his freshman year. He spent last summer studying at ACC, Hamilton College’s intensive Chinese program in Beijing, where he ate an excessive amount of dumplings and inhaled too much pollution. Javier is currently studying abroad at the University of Edinburgh for the fall semester.

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Hillwalking in the Highlands

“Hillwalking”- a leisurely stroll through grassy slopes? Nope. Despite its relaxed name that conjures up images of hilltop picnics, hillwalking is no joke. It’s the word for hiking here, and the Edinburgh University Hillwalking Club makes sure to squash any misinterpretations you might have had. We took a 3-hour van ride up to Kinlochleven, a village in the Scottish Highlands to our hostel, which was completely booked by the Hillwalking Club. Unlike my other hostel experiences, this one was clean, cozy and cottage-y. The picturesque highlands loomed over the hostel and as night rolled in we all gathered in the dining room to listen to the hike leaders “pitch” their hikes.

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Hiking up to Stop Baan

“We are going to climb two munros, 1,000 meter ascent…gets a bit scrambly along the ridge.” The pitches were great, except that I had no idea what a munro was, what a 1,000 meter ascent would feel like, and what they meant by “scrambly”. Scrambled eggs? Finally after 3 leaders pitched I asked what a munro was and what they meant by scrambly. A munro is a mountain in Scotland that is taller than 3,000 feet and according to Wikipedia there are 282 of them. Although, the number seems to change quite frequently as the classification standards change. Climbing all 282 munros is also a popular goal for avid hikers (or hillwalkers) in Scotland. They pitched in order from easiest to hardest hike and after the hikes started to reach the 10-12 hour range I started zoning out. I picked a nice 7-8 hour hike that apparently had an “enchanted forest,” as the hike leader put it. It also had the latest departure time the next morning, which was a great bonus.10404374_10152799234676779_8632725485189689686_n

The next morning around 5am the succession of alarm clocks began as everyone woke up to get ready for the various hikes. Around 8am I woke up and started to layer up. It was an hour drive to get to the base of the munro that we were climbing, Stop Baan. As a guy in our group put it, “we experienced all 4 seasons in our hike.” It started out cold and crisp at the base of the mountain, but after 15 minutes of walking uphill we were all stripping off our layers. There was barely any blue sky and it was forecasted to rain. We trudged through muddy grass that was spongy from various creeks that trickled down the mountain, and then climbed over rocks—trying not to sprain our ankles. After probably 3 hours of hiking we reached the top of the munro where the wind quickly cooled us down. In fact, the wind cooled us down to the point that everyone was shivering. At that point the clouds were moving fast; the scenery would change right before our eyes every couple of minutes. We took a picture of a group of hikers at the top and in the time it took us to switch positions to have our picture taken, the mountainous landscape was covered completely by clouds.

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Mamores Ridge

We walked along the ridge where it was just a little bit “scrambly” in some parts—meaning that it was very rocky and uneven and we had to use our hands at times. Trekking a long the Mamores ridge I had the urge to belt out ‘Climb Every Mountain.’ We walked along the ridge for probably another 2-3 hours before we descended down and into the much hyped-up “enchanted forest.”

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Path to “Enchanted Forest”

“Yea, I just said that there was an enchanted forest to make my hike sound more appealing,” our hike leader said. The forest wasn’t all that enchanted and I didn’t see any gnomes, but it was still a nice stroll and change of scenery. We reached the car shortly after and like the ending of any activity in Scotland; we drove straight to the pub.

 

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Freshmen Orientation: China Style

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In America, the first month of college is full of school spirit and social events. That awkward eagerness to meet as many other freshmen as possible and to establish yourself in the social ranks is a quintessential part of starting college. My first week at Georgetown was spent at NSO events, singing school spirit songs and attending Plurality in Action to learn about tolerance and diversity. Overall it was a fun and easy transition into college life.

 

Here in China, freshmen have quite a different experience. The first few weeks of school are dedicated to “junxun” aka military training. Instead of participating in ice breakers, Chinese freshmen spend all day every day on the field learning how to march in unison. Instead of frats, it’s the communist party leading the freshmen hazing. Waking up the first week of class to find hundreds of students dressed in combat uniform standing on the field outside my dorm window was somewhat alarming. My teachers reassured me that it was merely the annual military training for freshmen. One would think such an interesting and unique system would be more widely known, but none of my classmates had ever heard of junxun.

 

According to our teachers, junxun was established after the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989. The government wanted to instill discipline and nationalism in college students to prevent any future protests. Every year, every college freshman in China must participate. Some schools conduct junxun on campus while others send their students to actual military training sites. From my dorm room and our classrooms, I have a great view of the athletic fields on which junxun training occurs. The first week, all they seemed to do was stand in formation and occasionally march. To be honest, it seemed pretty awful. The second week seemed to get a little better with some added martial arts training. The military trainers also seemed to relax a little. One day I was watching junxun out my window and a trainer noticed me. He then made all the girls in his unit turn around and wave to me from the field.

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Off the field, the freshmen seemed to be settling in alright. I saw some female students around campus linking arms, and sat next to a group of uniformed freshmen in the dining hall. One night during the last week of junxun, I was looking out on the field and a few groups were taking a break from training to have a mini talent show. I got to see one of the military trainers show off his break dancing skills, and a female student performed a traditional dance. Although in a very different context than American students, Chinese students do go through a similar orientation period of college. Through junxun, they’re united by their common experience and develop a sense of comradery with their fellow students. Despite the differences in activities between American and Chinese new student orientation, we share the same experiences of making new friends and new memories.  Maybe junxun does share some characteristics with American NSO traditions after all.

 

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