These past two months have been a very eventful time, full of many big holidays and tests.
In December I celebrated my first Christmas away from home, and a very unconventional one to say the least. We had class in the morning, and in the afternoon there was a school wide performance. It was mandatory that all students in the audience wear our formal uniforms.
Below is a picture of me with Monghe and Nanle, my classmates from Mongolia and Thailand.
The acts in the show ranged from skits to performances to dances. It was exciting seeing my friends and classmates on stage, and getting to hear the amazing voices of some of my NSLI friends. Below is a picture of Jess and Kristian singing “O Night Divine.”
After school we were able to go off and celebrate with each other. A few of my friends and I went to eat at a place named “Elisa’s Italian Restaurant.” The food was delicious, and made me feel close to home knowing thousands of miles away, my entire family was together cooking Italian food for Christmas Eve dinner.
After dinner we walked through this area with super cool lights. Although completely different from any Christmas I’ve experienced, it was still a super fun and memorable one.
Later it was also very fun to celebrate New Years with my friends. For lunch I explored a Hutong (Hutongs are traditional Beijing alleyways lined with traditional courtyard residences, many that have been renovated). The Hutong we went to was full of cafes, restaurants, and little shops containing tea and flowers and jewelry and clothes. Below is a picture of our lunch at a Thai restaurant.
Later we met up with some more friends and had dinner at Houhai, a lake in Beijing that has stores and restaurants and food stalls surrounding the edges. Although it was New Years Eve, we still had to follow our strict 10 pm curfew. Thus around 8:45 we all had to go our separate ways for the one hour subway ride to make it back to our host family’s on time.
This was not only my first New Years away from home, but also the first time I wasn’t able to watch the ball drop, count down, and celebrate at midnight. I missed all the little things that make the day so special: talking in the living room with my family about our favorite memories of the year, celebrating at my house with my friends and family, and running through the streets of Brookline setting off sparklers and banging pots and pans. Its funny how at home, I didn’t realize how much I valued all of these simple traditions. But here, in such a different environment, I’m reminded how special these moments are and how they are a core part of who I am.
2019 started off with a bang, jumping headfirst into test preparations. January was a super busy month, because the HSK, Hànyǔ Shuǐpíng Kǎoshì — Chinese Proficiency Test, was drawing near. This is the test that we had been studying for since we arrived in China 5 months ago. Thus the first few weeks of the new year were nothing but a nonstop grind; learning an insane amount of vocabulary words, studying new grammar structures, all the while trying to review everything we have learned. Without a doubt, studying consumed our lives. Because it has been a very important personal goal of mine to pass the HSK, I made sure to do everything in my power to put myself in the best position to make this happen. I applied similar test study tips I used for the SAT at home to prepare for the HSK. I took many many practice tests, reviewed my answers, and was able to see what I got wrong and why. Below is a picture of us on our study grind.
So finally it was time – on the the morning of January 12th (HSK day!) my classmates and I met up early in the morning and rode the subway together to the testing site.
When we arrived, we showed our test ticket and passport and were led to our testing room. It all felt so similar, the routine of standardized testing that I know so well, but this time in China. My assigned seat was near Simon, a NSLI peer and good friend. Before the test began we kept exchanging glances of excitement. It was pretty surreal to take the test after preparing for it for so long. At 9:00 when the proctor told us to begin, Simon and I exchanged one final glance and a look that said, “Let’s do this.”
The test, pretty similar to the many practice ones we had taken in class, was over before I knew it. When I finished the final question, I felt as if a weight had been lifted off my shoulders. After it ended there was such a happy mood in the air, the realization that we had done it! It felt pretty monumental, to have accomplished something that we all devoted hours upon hours and so much energy preparing for. Below is a picture of the other class after they finished their HSK!
The week following the HSK was finals week. Most of our classes in school were 自习 (self-study) review time. All of our electives (gym, art, computer class, ping pong) have ended by this point, and were replaced with more 自习 periods. Below are some photos from our final art class.
When Thursday and Friday came around, it was time for our finals to begin. We had a speaking final Thursday and then four finals Friday back to back. The day was long, the tests were difficult, and by the end we all were pretty tired. Nonetheless we felt so happy – the first semester of school was officially over! After all these months of a non-stop grind, it was finally break and a time to be able to rest for a bit.
This was such a big mile marker in both our minds and in the structure of the program. This is due to the way our academic year is set up. The first semester of school is 5 months long – from September to January, then we have the month of February off, and the second semester of school is just three months – March through May.
I always thought of these past two months as the crux of the program. A crux is a term used in rock-climbing to describe the the most difficult section of a route. So the reason I believe December and January were the crux of my nine months here is due to the combination of 3 things: weather, holidays, and tests. The winter in Beijing so far has been very cold pretty much all the time, the days are kind of dreary (haven’t seen sun in a while?), and it’s somewhat miserable to be out unless you’re bundled in many many layers. Plus no snow!! 😦 Additionally, spending our first holidays away from home was also a challenge. I not only missed celebrating a traditional Christmas and New Years, but I also missed my family. Finally, anyone who has ever taken an important standardized test or finals of any sort, can understand the stress that exists in the weeks leading up to the big exam. Due to the nature of this program (all my time solely devoted to learning Chinese) I felt more pressure on myself to do well on the HSK test than I normally feel for tests. At home, there was never a point when one test consumed my life. Even when there was a super important one, whether it be the ACT or the AP Calc test, there were always other things going on, other classes to study for, and other things on my mind. I believe the unique situation that I’m in here allowed me to cultivate a passion and drive to pass this test, that at home I did not ever experience in this manner. Although this was very exciting to devote myself so fully to a goal, to push myself to new limits with my learning and studying, it was also exhausting. I spent all of my school and studying time and most of my free time devoted to working. An absolute grind.
As one could imagine, that’s why after the semester ended and the tests were all over, I felt a supreme sense of relief. Over the month of February I could finally have a chance to relax! I could now do the things that I had to put on hold for the past few months; including reading books, exploring the city, going new places, and watching movies. Not to mention my February is full of exciting plans – including celebrating Chinese New Year with my host family, traveling to Shanghai, and later to Xi’an! (Which is the city I spent 6 weeks living in two summers ago!)
So without a doubt, things are looking good. I can be proud of all the gains I’ve made in the past 5 months, and look forward to the second semester.
A quick story that is pretty fitting; my Chinese name is 吉吉，jí jí, (pronounced similarly to Gigi) which in Chinese means lucky. Once I was shopping at an area called Pearl Market when I saw a storefront that had my name. I excitedly took a picture.
Reflecting on my past 5 months here, I feel like the meaning of my name is very fitting. I feel nothing but lucky for being here. For living here in Beijing, being able to truly learn and begin understanding Chinese culture, make incredible friendships, learn from others opinions and experiences, learn Chinese from great teachers, learn about the world, and learn about myself. It’s exciting to remember that from here on out, things will be easier. As I spend more time here, my Chinese improves, so in turn I’m able to better communicate with my host family, develop deeper relationships with people here, and feel more comfortable navigating the city. Also, spring is coming! Here comes the sun, and I say It’s all right.. ! 🙂