Aahh, how sweet the taunting smell of summer! As exams are in full swing, I thought I'd procrastinate by sharing some of my adventures last summer with Princeton in Beijing (PIB).
My dad's side of the family is Chinese, but we didn't speak it around my house growing up. I started learning the language at my school in Hawaii, and in 2009 had an amazingly fun time trekking through China with my high school's summer trip.
When I heard of PIB at the start of my Princeton freshman year, I first anticipated something like my ninth grade experience in China: touristy wanderings, card games on buses, English-speaking tour guide, you know!
But is PIB this?
No no no.
PIB is Princeton in Beijing.
Learning the language
Given that by the end of one summer, PIBers complete two Princeton semesters of content, it shouldn't come as a surprise that there's a bit of work involved. Though class structures vary per experience (I was in the third-year level), to create a completely immersive experience, all PIB participants signed a language pledge promising to only let Chinese leave their mouth for the duration of the program.
The whole experience of a language pledge was surprisingly fun. I honed both my Chinese and charade abilities and knew I was really getting into it when my dreams started taking place in (pretty bad) Mandarin. A few of the best friends I made at PIB (while under language pledge) are here at Princeton. Whenever we talk now, we usually stick to Chinese since hearing English come from each other is bizarre.
Besides speaking Chinese in all interactions, there were other little things structured into PIB, like:
And with that, we did an entire school year of Chinese in eight weeks. It sounds pretty crazy, but that's what we were there for. Plus, in an environment as conducive to learning Chinese as um, China is, time goes by fairly quickly. The topics of the lessons were usually pretty engaging, and it was just kind of thrilling to think of how much I was learning.
If you think of the workload metaphorically, in something good like cake, it gets even sweeter. During the school year, you'd do two lessons per week of the textbook.
That's like getting to eat a double layer cake every week. Good stuff, right?
But during PIB, since everything's deliciously condensed, you get to learn about six lessons a week.
So much good.
Is there a danger of food comas, some may ask?
The possibility did lurk.
Yet while I did work fairly diligently, with pacing and support from teachers and other PIBers, I really enjoyed my time. The above picture (from PIB finals time) may make it look like I was murdered by work. But then consider that I took the picture myself by reaching my arm waaaay far away and trying to take the shot about seven times because I kept cropping my head out of the frame. Then you realize that I was going to be just fine.
Plus, so many aspects kept PIB engaging and just plain fun.
For example, our teachers were amazing.
Part of daily class' structure consisted of practicing vocabulary and grammar through discussions with the class and teacher. With a wide range of lesson topics and an enthusiastic teacher, learning was that much more natural.
Among students, PIB has a reputation of being fairly demanding; apparently among prospective teachers, PIB's intense reputation is just as well known. To put on a program that promises students as much as PIB does, the instructors have to work crazy hard, yet even with classes to prepare, students to teach, and tests to grade, the instructors were still adorable and friendly the whole way through.
Teachers frequently swapped classes, so all students interacted with all teachers and everybody became buddies.
Was there any way I wasn't going to talk about food?
The only structured meals during PIB were our semiweekly Chinese Tables, where you're paired up with a student from your year and were assigned to one of the teachers. Together, you find a place to eat, practice Chinese, and bond with each other, all over good food—what could be better?
Outside of Chinese Tables, students fended for themselves.
The university was surrounded by eating options, from street vendors to restaurants, little baozi shops to the student canteen. All sorts of adventures were just waiting to be had!
There were occasional McDonald's or American food splurges.
My take-close-up-pics-of-food habit began in Beijing.
For breakfast and snacks, most students usually raided the nearby convenience stores for bread and cookies and other such goodies. I LOVE bread and bakery kind of things (e.g., cake), so this was a source of great delight for the summer.
I flew to Beijing with all sorts of air quality horror stories under my belt, but it wasn't much of an issue for me over that summer. This was probably because our rooms had AC, I'm used to warmer climates and most days were fine.
But there was this one day:
And a few of these days:
But also a ton of these days:
So to me, overall everything was kind of evened out.
Fun friends, friends and fun
Through food, adventures, or studying struggles, I found myself knit more and more tightly into a group of some of the coolest friends I have ever met.
Bless, just looking through pictures made my heart all sore from missing these peeps!
While of course there was time dedicated to studying, I found time outside of class for fun times, whether through catching a meal after class or going on weekend adventures. Through all our studies and eating, I have ten thousand million pictures of us buddies going on adventures and eating together, but I will spare you from all of them and just share some snippets.
PIB organized several weekend field trips and covered admission costs, which was really sweet. I know it was out of our tuition, but I like to think it was just free bonus fun. We checked out the National Center for Performing Arts:
And of course, a trip to the Great Wall.
The excursion reminded me of younger Aliisa's China adventures many a year ago. It also reminded me why I didn't get very far along the Wall last time.
Besides PIB-organized trips, my friends and I had some adventures of our own.
For example, I saw a real live pandas for the first time during our trip to the Beijing zoo.
Also saw this:
Also sat on a wolf.
One weekend, we checked out the 789 art district and added to the visual culture.
We spent my birthday around Tianamen Square and Wudaokou.
We also spent that evening finding that the subways close down earlier than we thought, then standing on the side of a road trying and failing to hail down a taxi, anxiously waiting by a waning streetlight, then accepting a ride from a black van that was not officially a taxi, but that did take us back to the campus for a reasonable price. Hooray!
For our mid-term long weekend, a group of us headed over to Chengde for a change of scenery.
All these outings offered great bonding time, plus opportunities to make new friends.
All in all?
I highly recommend PIB! My Chinese definitely improved, I made some of the best friends I've ever had, tasted new foods, saw new sights...it's better than cake!