Study Abroad Reflections: Beijing

Peter Carr


In the fall of 2012 I took part in Dickinson’s study abroad program in Beijing, China to gain better proficiency in Chinese language and develop a better understanding of Chinese culture. As is offered, I took advantage of the homestay option and took classes with the rest of Dickinson Students on the prestigious Beijing University campus. Upon reflection, my Chinese professors (all of which are specialized in teaching Chinese to English speakers) are well organized and structured in their approach to teaching Chinese language, although their methods do somewhat vary. For instance, my written Chinese class tended to stick more closely to the textbook readings and exercises, whereas my spoken Chinese class, in addition to the textbook material, incorporated speeches and movie making. Just as in the American system, exams occur 3 to 4 times a semester and are derived from class materials. By the intermediate level, professors speak entirely in Chinese and expect you to do the same. As was my experience, the compilation of all of these characteristics tied together with the enthusiasm of my professors, improved my proficiency and confidence in Chinese immensely in an enjoyable, and effective way.

The opportunities outside of the classroom not only added to my language capabilities, but also immersed me into the culture in unforgettable ways. My host family initially introduced me to family culture beginning with small aspects such as table manners and phrases. Over the coarse of the semester, this understanding of family culture expanded to aspects such as family dynamics at family gatherings and family-society dynamics within the spectrum of greater Chinese society. On a larger level, Dickinson program excursions every week (and on vacations) to historical sites with onsite Chinese Dickinson staff introduced and educated us on the origins of Chinese culture. On these excursions we utilized the Chinese we had acquired to learn about Daoism, Confucianism, Chinese Government, art, food, entertainment and more. The last and possibly most fun part of the Dickinson in Beijing program, are the friends (classmates) from all around the world who join you in the pursuit of learning Chinese language and culture. Most all students share a common goal of discovery and improvement that allows students to learn, not just from their own experiences, but from others' experiences as well. It is because of these friends and really all of these experiences outside of the classroom, that I was able to peak into the crevices of Chinese society to witness the smaller and more obscure aspects of Chinese culture that many people will never see.