When it came time to choose where I wanted to spend my time studying in China, it seemed like lots of things pointed to Dalian.
One of the first ways I was able to pick out Dalian was through a process of elimination. The Chinese department at Edinburgh University give students five choices for where they can go for their year abroad – Beijing, Shanghai, Hangzhou, Dalian and Taiwan. I was able to get rid of a few options immediately. My personal tutor had told me that if I went to Shanghai I’d probably end up speaking more French than Chinese. He might have been joking but I still felt like Shanghai wasn’t for me and for some reason I didn’t really fancy Hangzhou either, probably because I’d heard that it’s a fairly expensive city. I ruled out Taiwan because they use traditional characters there, also know as complex characters, and I had a feeling that this was going to be hard enough so why make it more difficult for myself?
So then there were two. Beijing appealed to me because of the university. Peking University is one of the best in the world and the more I heard about the classes, the more I knew it would be intense and challenging – just what I wanted. I also began to hear what electives are available – think calligraphy, tai chi and the sort. Beijing is also the capital city and so in some ways could be seen as the heart or centre of the country and it was very tempting to become part of that and to make it my home.
On the other side there was Dalian. A completely different city from Beijing, on the coast, with a population of ‘only’ 6.7 million people compared to Beijing’s 21.5 million. There were some little things that drew me to Dalian over Beijing, one being that its a lesser known place and I’m always drawn to the more off the beaten track options. Living in Dalian seemed like an opportunity that might not present itself to me again in the same way that Beijing might in the future. I also learned from a 4th year Chinese student who had just gotten back from studying in Dalian that most of the other international students come from Japan, Russian and South Korea. This means that a lot of communication, even outside of the classroom, is done in Chinese as that is the language that everyone shares.
When it comes down to it though, the main reason I chose Dalian, the reason that swung everything to its favour and the reason that Beijing never really stood a chance was this – in Dalian you can live with a host family. While its definitely not everyone’s cup of tea, its most definitely mine.
I lived with a host family while I was in Honduras and got so much out of it. It was obviously a massive help when it came to improving my Spanish and was probably the main reason I came away fluent. Being forced to communicate in Spanish at all times, whether I needed something or was just chatting, was exhausting but also gave me more than just new vocab. It opened my mind to the thinking going on behind the language and revealed parts of the culture to me that would otherwise have been hidden.
These are all reasons that I wanted to live with a host family again while living in China. I know that its the best way to force myself into complete immersion in Chinese, which to be honest is exactly what I need. It’s also nice to know that I will have the support and guidance of the family behind me.
At the end of the day my choice came down to wanting to get the absolute most out of this experience that I can. I haven’t been learning Chinese for very long so this is the ideal opportunity to improve my ability level and I felt Dalian was the place I could best do that.