3 Months In China

Somehow two more months have gone by in the blink of an eye and I’ve been in China for 3 months! The past two months have involved a trip to Beijing, midterms, hanging out with friends and starting to think about the approaching winter holidays. There certainly is a lot to reflect on recently…

I feel like I’ve really settled into using Chinese in the past two months. I feel a lot more comfortable in using it in both my day to day interactions and also when talking to friends, teachers or my host family. I’ve been pushing myself to go beyond the bare minimum level of language that I could easily get by with, to go past that and use full sentences, put what I learn in class into action and to just go for it, without worrying about it being perfect.

As you can imagine, my general comprehension has continued to improve. Another thing that has improved a lot recently has been my language ‘reflexes’. I don’t know what else to call it but by that I mean the speed and ease with which I am able to respond when someone speaks to me. This is especially useful when someone speaks to you randomly or without context. It’s one of the little things that makes it feel like I’m actually making progress. Real life progress, not just ‘I just memorised 50 new characters for a test’ kind of progress.

My classmates!

Now, a struggle recently has been the weather! It has gotten so much colder in the past few months but it never stays that way for long. Apparently it’s a feature of Dalian weather that it will be cold for a while and then warm again. I don’t if that’s because of its position on the coast at the end of a peninsula? I don’t know, geography has never been my thing. What I do know is that getting dressed every morning is a struggle and I often get it wrong. But it’s hard when its 15° one day and 3° the next!

Another thing that I have found difficult over the last few weeks is keeping up with the outside world. I’m sure everybody is aware by now that we have an election coming up (and I’m sure everyone is registered to vote too…). I have been doing my best to stay informed with what’s been going on at home and the rest of the world in the time that I’ve been here, even though it can be difficult at times. I think it is important to be politically engaged and it’s something that I enjoy too but it’s been very frustrating being so far away from everything that is going on but still feeling so invested. I have registered to vote by proxy in the election so if I’m able to do it from China, please everyone make sure you go out on 12th December and VOTE!!!

I feel like recently I have really gotten into more of a routine in my life. Balancing getting all my work done, seeing friends, studying, actually getting out and seeing Dalian, and normal activities like going to the gym or seeing a film in the cinema. I don’t ever like feeling like my whole life is consumed by university and studying, whether that’s here or back in Edinburgh, so I like how I’ve managed to find that work-life balance, even though this year is literally all about learning Chinese.

High points from the past two months have to include week I spent in Beijing – you can read all about that in these two blog posts but within that my favourite part was the day that I spent exploring the grounds of the summer palace. Other high points were spending time with the other Edinburgh students that are in Beijing, visiting the Temple of Heaven and also catching up with a friend from school who is studying in nearby Tianjin!

I also have to give a shout out to my midterm exam grades which I was thrilled with! I worked hard for them but even so I was still pleasantly surprised with how good they were. Bring on the next set!

I was going to follow up my high points with any low points but once again, I haven’t really had any in the past few months. Just like last time, there are always days when I might be in a bad mood or missing home a bit more than usual but they never last more than a day. I know all I need to do is go for a swim, wrap myself up in my dressing gown (yes, I got my mum to post my dressing gown to me and it was hands down the best decision I’ve made this year!) and get a good night’s sleep.

The biggest thing I’m looking forward to is the massive winter holidays that follow our end of term exams in January. Basically exams finish 10th January and registration for next semester isn’t until the end of February, which leaves a whole lot of time for exploring more of China! My plan is to head to the south as there are lots of amazing places down there that would be hard to cover in a weekend trip from Dalian. However, before all that, I’m going to start by going north, up to the city of Harbin where there is a fantastic snow and ice festival.

Following up on my goals from my 1 month in blog, I think I achieved them. I’ve already written about how I feel like I’ve settled in to the language more and improved my oral Chinese which was a big thing.

My other goal was to find some clubs to join. I would say I both have and haven’t achieved that goal. I’ve written in a previous blog that I found a badminton club and a language society and went to a session each. I’ve really enjoyed them both but have actually yet to go back, for various reasons. With the badminton, the 9am start time on a Saturday morning just doesn’t really agree with me – after getting up at 6am every weekday I don’t think a lie in on Saturday is too much to ask! I do play badminton with friends about once a week though. As far as the language society goes, the sessions are once every two week and I have unfortunately not been able to make to the two most recent ones though I promised the host, who has become one of my really good friends, that I’ll definitely be at the next one!

The next three months will include the time that I am travelling and I have taken that into account with my goals for the next three months. I want to put a big focus on tones for the foreseeable future. It is something the lecturers at Edinburgh have been stressing since day one and something that my teachers here have cracked down on a lot in the last few weeks. Tones are by far the hardest part of learning Chinese because there is absolutely nothing comparable to it in English, or any of the other languages I know.

To make sure I keep my hand in at all aspects of Chinese while I’m travelling, I also want aim to take the HSK 4 exam (the official Chinese proficiency test) at the start of next semester. One of my elective classes this semester was an HSK 4 exam skills class so I can put that to good use. It will also force me to continue learning the 1200(!) words that could come up! Something to keep me busy, its not like holidays are for relaxing, right?

And there you have it! The past two months in China, the good, the bad, and the ugly. Somehow I’ve been here for three months and somehow its almost December!

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