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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