willow zheng mandarin
Adam in class

Adam and his classmates at Di Qiu Cun (Global Village)

Adam with host family

Adam with host family and friends

Winter in Beijing

Winter in Beijing

Forbidden City

Forbidden City

Students in China - Adam in Beijing

In early January of 2009, finding myself with much time, I decided I needed to practice and hone a skill or learn something new. Because of the economy, much of the building in the United States, and Portland especially it seemed, had stopped, so I had been out of regular day-to-day work for some time, but had managed to find freelancing work here and there. Despite the US’s faltering, China was still building, and building a lot. So, I decided that I should use my time to start learning this language so that when I do find a job, perhaps an opportunity to work on a project in China will present itself. In retrospect, perhaps the idea was a bit of a reach, but very much worth it in the end.

After 10 months of Wednesday classes with Willow and completing the first book, I really wanted to accelerate my learning. I had heard a number of times that, Ron, Tom and another of Willow’s students, Bruce had gone over to China to continue their learning. I asked Willow about how to do something similar. As it turned out, Bruce was coming back to Portland from Beijing and the same host family was able to take me. I immediately jumped at the opportunity. Three weeks of planning, buying a ticket, a visa and sorting out other odds and ends, I was in Beijing. But, I should say that Willow and following the others before me was very helpful in getting me there!

The host family was very inviting and definitely helped soften the culture shock. Despite not speaking English, their patience with me was comforting. I’m generally a quiet person, but having a talkative host is a great way to practice during those everyday moments. Having my host’s mother also poke fun at me also made it entertaining. And of course, providing me breakfast and dinner also eased my mind as I had not yet gotten to the lesson about ordering food!

My total stay in Beijing lasted just over 7 weeks. I studied at 地球村学校 (Diqiucun Language School) in the 五道口 (Wudaokou district). The school was a great way to continue and expand my abilities. I managed, with my host, to arrange to test out a few classes before I found two that fit me. At first, the classes were a bit overwhelming as there were no breaks for English translation. Each class was 1.5 hours, but because I had arranged them in the morning, I had the afternoon to study or explore the massive city and practice getting around with some practical Mandarin. Despite the initial shock of complete immersion, the classes were very welcoming, and the teachers were very engaging and willing to slow down for a moment if I had problems on a particular subject ... only in Mandarin of course!

Though the school caters to Koreans, I met students from all over the world: Italy, Russia, Australia, Belgium and the Czech Republic, to name a few. (I even met a Korean mother and daughter in my classes who’s uncle helps run the school). All of whom were very friendly. The first day I was invited to join a few for lunch. It was great to be able to have lunch and go out to see a bit of the city with others that have similar struggles in the language as me, and learn from one another. I also went to the Great Wall with a few of them.

As I continue to study this language and look for what is next, it was an amazing opportunity to be able to visit a place like Beijing and experience the language through its immense culture. Through this experience I met many welcoming people. And, because of this opportunity I now have the chance to go back with the help of some familiar faces to explore the possibility of relocating and not just studying for a brief time.

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