Ben in China

Ben is a junior from Dallas majoring in history, with minors in Chinese and business, who is spending Spring 2008 in Beijing at the Capital University of Economics and Business.

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Summertime in Beijing

Classes at ACC are back in full swing, and we’re about to dive into our 3rd week of lessons.

Life as an “old student”
I have to say that I’m now used to the class format here, and it was a fairly smooth transition into the usual weekly routine. Granted, it still takes a lot of time and energy to get through a week here, but at least it is nothing new now. The teachers have a higher demand for returning students, so we “old students” had to work harder than I first expected.

Also, what was interesting starting this semester was watching the new students acclimate to life here: from the language pledge to the large amounts of homework, I saw how they struggled just as I did my first few weeks here. It really gave me a sense of how far I have come since January. Being at ACC is like riding a bike just after having the training wheels taken off: at first it’s awkward and difficult and you’re going to fall sometimes, but give it time and you’re off without any troubles and it becomes fun. I also feel that I have really developed my own personality with the Chinese language, and I am having much more fun with the language than I did first semester.

Breaking in new teachers
Additionally, ACC hired on a bunch of new teachers for the summer, and it is also funny to see them acclimate to teaching foreigners. As in most Chinese organizations and companies, there is a distinct hierarchy that divides the teachers into different status levels depending on their tenure here at ACC.

There is the administrative head staff that runs the program and can teach at any level anytime and help out when other teachers are out. Then there are the directors for each grade level; these teachers also teach the first and second drill classes of the day. Next are the newest teachers who handle the 2-on-1 and 1-on-1 classes.

So on the first day of class I was paired with a new teacher for my 1-on-1 class, and it was an experience for both of us to struggle through the recitation drills required of a 1-on-1 class here. It’s great getting to know the new teachers, and they’re really curious about foreigners. One thing in particular that caught my attention was how a few of them were anxious to hear our views on Tibet and Taiwan; I think four teachers have already approached me or in class asked me about these issues, which happen to be the most sensitive political issues here.

Making SMU and ACC connections
One thing that has been fun about Beijing is networking – coming from ACC and having connections through SMU, it has been easy and fun meeting people who have amazing jobs and connections in this city.

What’s also great is that foreigners who already live here are eager to meet students such as myself and really talk about my future in China and what I want to do. I have some idea, but as with most students embarking on their senior year of college, it is daunting to think that I have to make that decision in the coming months ahead.

I think that’s what is great about being in Beijing now is that I have time to look around and meet people. As of now I do not have one goal or company in mind, so I just meet as many people as I can and try to build a better picture for myself of this dynamic city and what it has to offer.

I really want to try to put a law career and China together, so we will see what I come up with in the years ahead. I’m so used to planning what will happen next and knowing what’s around the corner, but for now it feels like one big wild card – we’ll see what happens next.

Missing Mi Cocina
Another new experience I’m going through now is homesickness. Last semester I felt as though I did not look back and just focused on being in Beijing, and it was fun. That’s not to say Beijing has lost its luster; life here throws new challenges and excitements at you from every angle and it is still fun. However, I know in the back of my head that I only have about seven weeks left and I guess I’m preparing for going home.

I’m missing things like Mi Cocina’s Ernie’s Chicken plate and Sonny Bryan’s BBQ, especially fried okra! I know when I go home though that I will miss the amazing experiences that I have every day here; there is so much to this city and living in China’s capital – there’s no other place like it in the world.

I also think I have forged some great friendships with my classmates that will last a lifetime, especially with the kids who were here last semester with me. Going through ACC is a challenging experience, and to share that with some of my classmates really establishes a common bond.

Celebrating the 4th
An experience that we all went through this past week was celebrating the 4th of July abroad. We all made the most of it by going out to a restaurant here that had an Independence Day party. It was really fun, but of course it doesn’t make up for not being at home for that holiday. Our teachers asked us what we do to celebrate the 4th, and we all said watch fireworks, eat hamburgers, hot dogs, and hang out outside with family and friends. It seems basic, but the act of that celebration at home with family and friends is a big deal, and being here made me realize how special that tradition is to us as Americans. I don’t think that we can replicate that experience abroad, but we had fun with it in China.

American-Chinese exchanges
This past week the president for Williams College spoke at ACC about the U.S. higher education system and its relationship with Asia and China. Williams College is a part of a consortium of small East Coast liberal arts schools that contribute to the financial management of ACC.

He had some shocking facts to share with us, such as the number of Americans studying in China and the Chinese in the States. Currently, there are 68,000+ Chinese from the Mainland and Taiwan studying in the United States. As far as Americans studying in China, that figure is dismal at a mere 8,000.

As far as careers go, that’s good for those of us already here since our numbers are quite limited. But that goes to show how many more Chinese are studying our culture and becoming familiar with the West versus the smaller number of Americans learning and understanding the Chinese culture. This definitely puts us at an intellectual disadvantage in the long-term dialogue between our country and China since there are fewer Americans cognizant of their world.

Getting ready for the Olympics
Finally, the Olympics are around the corner!! We’re about 5 weeks out, and the city is putting on the final touches before the legions of athletes and tourists descend on Beijing. Most teams arrive around August 4th – I know that part or all of the US team will acclimate to the time zone and do some training in Singapore before coming into Beijing. The air quality here still leaves lots to be desired, and I think some of the national teams don’t want to take chances before they compete here.

There is still construction everywhere, and sometimes it is hard to differentiate what is construction for the Olympics and what is just China’s development boom in general. To some extent these go hand in hand, but some of these projects are being put on hold during the Olympics only to be finished after the Paralympics conclude in September.

In any case the city becomes more and more spectacular every day. For example, I was walking to grab come coffee last night near school, and I noticed on the new Beijing World Trade Center tower that the north face of the building was one big screen. The Beijing WTC looks similar in style and height to the one that was in New York City, but with a modern twist and probably about 20 stories shorter, and only one tower. So needless to say, it was pretty cool to see this huge screen on the side of a skyscraper.

Also, the $700m CCTV tower is putting on its last sections of glass, and probably will be done externally in time for the Olympics. They just erected what looks like a helicopter pad on its roof to lift off the cranes that have been there since I arrived.

Another point of interest is that they just installed security stations at each of Beijing’s subway stations in preparations for the Olympics. Beijing’s subway system is already massive and carries unfathomable amounts of people, so they don’t want to take any chances with security. Additionally, even after the Olympics are over, Beijing will continue construction on its subway system to extend the lines even farther out into the suburbs – as of now it is slated to become the largest subway system in the world in ten years.

The scaffolding is also coming off the last of the major sights in Beijing, and the Forbidden City, Summer Palace, and Temple of Heaven are restored to their former glory of centuries past. These restoration projects have taken years: when I was here in 2005 about a quarter of the Forbidden City was shut down and the Summer Palace was essentially shut down except for its outer gardens. The 798 art district is also putting the final touches on new displays and will open its most famous gallery after massive renovations and will have an amazing new exhibition just in time for the Olympics. Additionally, Adidas is opening up a new flagship store right near school that is five stories tall – kind of like a Niketown in the States.

It’s also getting harder and harder to haggle the prices I was getting in January for different things at the famous knock-off market near school; it’s summer and there are plenty of tourists who will pay whatever they’re told. Who knows what their prices will be in August? Fortunately I speak Chinese so they won’t be able to pull one over on me like they can to the others.

I’ll keep you updated with Olympic happenings as the opening ceremony comes closer, but if you want to get an idea for yourself of life in Beijing, check out these sites for some insider information:

www.thebeijinger.com
www.chinadaily.com.cn
http://blogs.reuters.com/china/

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