It transpires that Kublai Khan, grandson of infamous Genghis Khan, established Beijing as the ‘Northern Capital’. Beijing, with its ‘amazingly mild winter this year!’ in which temperatures hovered around minus 5, and desert-like dryness such that it snowed slightly twice in the six weeks I was there remains China’s capital city. The supreme hardiness of the local people does, for me, hark back to ancient times when the world lacked thermal long-johns and central heating.
From mid-December ’14 to late January this year, I had an amazing time studying at Beijing Language and Culture University (BLCU). I learnt Mandarin from 8am to noon each day for five weeks, at the Intensive Winter Language Course.
With dawn just breaking each morning, I pulled on layers of clothing, including facemask and set off for the massive three floor dining hall to start the day with a takeaway steamed bun breakfast, and a warming cup of freshly blended mung beans. The food was amazing.
I had the luxury of my own room in the hotel on campus, which even included a TV. I tuned this constantly to the beautiful (if tragic) Imperial soaps; listening to Mandarin, even while glued to my desk, writing out reams and reams of new characters daily.
My class comprised mostly of lovely, friendly, sweet young South Koreans. I readily embraced the Asian tendency to ‘yi qi qu’ – let’s go together –enjoying many lunches and outings with classmates. We tackled the breathtakingly (literally) steep Great Wall and wandered for hours through the confronting Art Precinct. The Temple of Heaven – at a crisp minus 7, when the rash on my legs hinted I’d forgotten to don thermals beneath jeans – was another cultural highlight of my stay.
Ice skating with my friends
I felt like China had changed since the last time I was here, with the flood of advertisements for Western products all around me. But, as I manically photographed chubby-cheeked babies held aloft by proud parents ‘walking the babies’ in the subdued winter sunshine I realised China hasn’t changed much. The fleets of cleaners on the university grounds, expertly cycling ‘bike utes’ complete with brooms fashioned from tree branches. The shock to my friendly, country Australian system, of the famous Northern ‘lihai’ – formidable – public persona was that small talk was non-existent, along with eye contact which might have been interpreted as customer service.
You discover the humanity-affirming warmth and hospitality of Chinese people when you have established a relationship with them. I travelled to Tianjin on the high-speed train and met the family of my Chinese friend still studying back at USQ. As I hugged her beautiful, welcoming mum, I gave thanks for the priceless personal opportunity which Study Abroad had given me.
I was thrilled to be navigating the Beijing Subway on my own, attending 4 hours of lessons each day (taught in Chinese) and enjoying meals with classmates who didn’t speak any English at all.
I talked to students from North Korea, Djibouti, Benin and Kazakhstan. I coped with SWAT squads, sniffer dogs, an incredibly thorough airport pat-down…AND managed to not miss my flight from South Korea to Brisbane, despite chancing upon a Hello Kitty Café moments before boarding.
If you ever, ever get the chance to be a uni student overseas, my advice is, of course you should – surprise yourself! With the backing and assistance of USQ behind you, enrich your life by seeing how other people live! View your home through new eyes upon your return! It is an opportunity you simply cannot miss. Apply today. As the Chinese proverb reminds us “the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step!