Sorry to anyone who visited the blog yesterday and only found the picture I posted…apparently I forgot to paste the according article.  I’ve fixed the problem, so I guess that means today is a two for one!

Five Tips on Studying Abroad in China

1.  Read about the Chinese Concept of Face, or Mianzi, before you go.

Western culture and that of China are literally half a world apart, and customs of civility differ more than you can imagine.  Just yesterday I mistakenly offended my teacher over a small misunderstanding.  My intentions were of course not to offend her, or for that matter offend anyone.  The school has agreed to wave my boarding fees if I teach a group of teachers heading to the US about American culture and customs, and in one of my classes we were going over school related vocabulary and the term “tuition fees” came up.  My teacher used my instance as an example, saying that my tuition fees were being waved, which was of course not the case.  I said something about this being incorrect to one of my classmates, with a little bit of a smirk I suppose, and saw my teacher with the most horrified look on her face.  I didn’t intend to insult her, or for that matter insult anyone, but because I had made fun of her misunderstanding—or perhaps mistranslation—, I had thus caused her to loose face.

2.  Find a school that has taught Westerners before, but does not have a lot of English speaking students.

The Chinese education system is, well, shitty.  Education is geared towards testing and often times strays away from practical use, and while this might work for a subject like math, learning a language in this way is dull, monotonous, and damn near impossible.  This is why despite the fact that all Chinese students must take English, very few of them can actually speak it.  A more Western approach to education, in which the class engages in more discussion, and the eventual outcome is more loosely defined, is far more beneficial to learning a language, and a school that has had some experience in this category will always be the better choice.

However, this can be a double edged sword.  Go to a school in Beijing or Shanghai and you’re far more likely to spend all your down time speaking English with your fellow native speakers.  My Korean roommates are a perfect example of this.  Outside of the few Chinese friends I have introduced them to, they spend pretty much all their free time with eachother, speaking Korean, and missing out on the opportunity to improve their oral skills.

3.  Bring your own flash cards.

Chinese characters are hard to learn.  Damn hard.  As far as I can tell there is no system for remembering what character corresponds to what syllable, save just sitting down and committing them to memory.  I was rather shocked to find that no where in this entire country can you buy index cards, and was forced to buy sheets of thick paper and make my own, an easy enough fix, but I still wish that I had brought my own.

4.  Get out There and Start Talking for Crying out Loud

For the most part, Chinese people are incredibl curious and warm towards foreigners studying Mandarin.  The vast majority of Westerners in China put no effort into learning the language, and showing off even the slightest amount of Mandarin will portray a deep respect for the culture, and most likely lead to the formation of a new friendship, as well as an amazing opportunity to practice the language.  Indeed, most of my learning goes on outside of the classroom.

5.  Commit

As time rolls on here in China it has become increasingly apparent that my language skills will still be less than perfect by the time I leave China, and I regret not having the opportunity to spend a whole year here.  Yes, Chinese is a difficult language, especially for native English speakers.  Spend a couple months in France and you may just come out a fluent speaker, but that’s just not the case with Chinese.  Fear not though, there are literally thousands of opportunities for Westerners to live and work in China post graduation, something I myself plan on taking full advantage of.