The spring semester is over!!

The ending comes with a bittersweet feeling because most of my classmates and friends I made this semester are leaving ACC for good. They say that every semester is a different creature with its own qualities: every semester’s group of students brings forth a new set of dynamics and relationships that make our experience different from any other term held here. So, while I may be staying on for the summer semester, this point definitely marks the closing of a chapter.

The spring semester has been an incredible experience, and I am so glad I had the opportunity to see Beijing at this time of year, especially before the city fills to capacity during the summer months with legions of tourists. It is not to say that city life in Beijing moves at a slower pace than during the spring or is not as fun, but living here out of the real tourist season has afforded me the opportunity to really see life in this city. From experiencing Chinese New Year with a Chinese family to wandering the Hutongs (Beijing’s historic alleys), I have gotten a real sense of this place.

But, I do not have a reason to dwell on this spring since there is so much excitement to come in the following months! First, the semester IS over, and we have already received my semester grades, and I’m extremely pleased with the results: it definitely reassured me that I am obtaining a good command of Chinese, and despite my doubts sometimes I am doing really well.

Final exam crunch
Additionally, I can finally rest after the close of the semester. It’s certainly been a busy few weeks since I last reported about my trip to Guilin. I gave three major presentations, prepared three oral tests and a written final – it’s been a lot. I first gave my presentation over my independent project researching the emergence of lawyers in China, and that was definitely a stressful situation. I had to give a thirty-minute presentation in front of five teachers and a peer audience. The most nerve-wracking factor was the teachers: having five of them dissect your presentation for grammar and pronunciation was not fun, but overall it went well and I was happy to have that over with.

The other major presentation was an extra credit assignment that I chose to prepare, and it had to be a thirty-minute presentation of our choosing, so I chose to talk a little bit about the history and culture of Texas. There only had to be two teachers to evaluate your presentation, but I had about nine teachers show up to my presentation to hear about Texas. It was definitely an experience lecturing to my Chinese teachers in Chinese and teaching them something about my home – the Lone Star State.

As for the oral and written tests, they were not bad but just required lots of time preparing old content – nothing above the usual stress here at ACC.

ben_1128-sm.jpgTalent show
Along with the hustle and bustle with the close of the semester, we had a fun night here called “Chinese Night,” when we as ACC students team up and prepare skits and songs in Chinese and do a little talent night for our teachers and our Chinese host families. It was a fun experience, and some of the acts were pretty good! Four students have been in tai chi classes all semester so they did a presentation for us, and another two students took U.S. songs and put in Chinese words and new content that was ingenious.

The night of our graduation was also a lot of fun because the language pledge was finally over! We could speak English with our classmates and our teachers. It was awkward because we had been so used to speaking Chinese, and we developed habits such as saying “Ni hao” instead of “hey,” and we still had this nagging fear of speaking English and getting in trouble.

What was also awkward was speaking English with most of the teachers. While most of them have had lots of experience with our native language, most of the students ended up reverting to Chinese because we felt we could have better conversations with them in Chinese instead of in English. I think a major factor behind this is that as students studying Chinese in China, we have started to develop our own personalities using the language. Speaking a foreign language is not easy, and at first it is hard and awkward, and conveying the simplest thoughts can be a challenge. But now, we are used to it, and we are able to move past simple thoughts and now can convey our personalities and our quirks with another language. Besides a few teachers, I don’t think most of them have had the same experience with English that we are having with Chinese, so it made more sense to use their language to have more meaningful discussions.

Ben_1166-sm.jpgWide awake in Houhai
What was also great about our last night with the teachers was that we had a great Beijing duck dinner – Beijing’s most famous dish, and then we all headed out to Houhai for a great evening of relaxation and one last hurrah before everyone parted ways. Houhai is an amazing area in Central Beijing steps from the Forbidden City, and is a restaurant and bar district that sits on a large lake and a series of canals that connect that lake to others around it. All the buildings are in the historic Chinese style, and most venues have expansive balconies and rooftop terraces that overlook the lake and canals. It was especially crowded when we went because it was a national holiday (May Day weekend) and a Friday night, so we weaved our way through the crowds and managed to take over a rooftop terrace at a restaurant for the whole group. It was a beautiful evening and just a fun night with everyone.

One of the goals of that evening was to stay up to see the flag-raising ceremony at Tiananmen Square at 5 am. Luckily, Beijing does not close like Dallas does at 2, so it is easier to stay out later.

Fortunately, I had the energy and made it to the flag-raising. It happens every day, but I thought with the closing of the semester it would add to the celebration. Unfortunately the ceremony was anticlimactic, but I think I was expecting a little too much – it’s just a flag being pulled up a pole. What is really amazing about the experience is that there are thousands upon thousands of people that come every day to see this; usually they are Chinese tourists from smaller cities or the countryside who come in to see their great capital. Also, on all the rooftops of the buildings surrounding the square there are hundreds of red flags – it’s amazing to see.

After that I caught the first subway of the morning back to campus and spent the day sleeping off a 24-hour stint that included my final written exam, a graduation ceremony, a night out with the teachers and classmates, and the flag-raising at Tiananmen. What a way to finish off the semester!

Off to Australia
I’m really going to enjoy the next few weeks because I have nothing to do except explore Beijing on my own schedule: no classes, no homework, and no presentations to present. I will also get to meet up with my Chinese professor from SMU who is actually from Beijing; she is coming home for a bit and she promised to take me to her favorite Sichuan Hot-Pot restaurant in the city. Also, in late May I will head to Australia for three weeks and hit all the major points of interest: Sydney, Great Barrier Reef, Ayers Rock and Melbourne. It will be great because I am meeting up with my mom and one of our family friends, a former Mustang student leader who is also now living in Sydney, so that will be awesome.

Until next time!