Last year. It was the first time that I ever traveled out of the country alone. I was prepared and excited because I was given the opportunity to study something I love in a place where I would be immersed in Chinese every day. When I arrived in China, I had no idea what to expect. After I had settled into the dorms, my roommate showed me around the area and took me to a baozi (steamed buns) restaurant. That restaurant is where I learned my first lesson: to be confident with my Chinese. While you are in Beijing or anywhere in China–not including Hong Kong–you need to use your Chinese.

I had been studying Chinese for about two years when I came to China in 2013. I was not confident speaking Chinese at all, yet I hadn’t considered it being a burden. Even though I begged my roommate to order food for me, when it was finally my turn to order, I spoke up and got exactly what I wanted. Although it was a pretty nerve-wracking experience, I was now semi-confident with my Chinese speaking.

After ordering food for myself a few times, I had learned my second lesson, which is also the key to learning languages: you need to speak. Many people believe that they can learn a language, with CD’s or online speaking to the computer or repeating after the audio, but it is most important to use your Chinese as much as you can.

I had never expected to learn any lessons in China, but I had already learned two. The third thing that I learned was about my studies. Every day I had four hours of intensive tutoring. Even though I never wanted to do the homework, I did anyways because it helped me learn so much more. So yes, there technically is “homework” during your summer, but it will really benefit your Chinese. The tutors at Next Step China are unlike the teachers at school. They don’t give you meaningless homework that doesn’t always benefit you. So, last summer was when I finally learned that homework can help and isn’t always a burden.

The first week that I got to China, I was a bit homesick because I was going to be “on my own” for five weeks. The longest I had ever left my parents was for a month when I was ten, but I hated it! So, I was afraid of being homesick the entire time. The first week I contacted my parents quite a few times, but after that I was fine. I never had the need to call my parents again simply because I didn’t need to; I was fine living with my roommate and fine with my daily routine. My parents would have to call the NSC administrators just to get in touch with me. That is how I learned the fourth thing: it is easy to adjust to China. Yes, there are many things that are different, but honestly, it’s still perfectly fine. If you go somewhere very rural and are a city person then it might be quite difficult. But, if you go to a city like Beijing or Shanghai, it will be very similar.

The last thing that I learned about China is silly, but also very true. The Chinese food here is much different than it is back in the United States. They still have “Chinese” food, but because the chefs are trying to appeal to American taste, it is very different. When I went back home to New York, one thing that I had difficulty doing was eating Chinese food. I came back in the middle of August and didn’t eat Chinese food until early January and only had it about four times until I returned. In reality, I was probably being overly dramatic, but the food just tasted so different. I have to say that China was a life-changing experience for me. Beijing helped me overcome my homesickness and convinced me that I should move there. I think that every high school student can learn something while they are in China, similar to the way I did. Maybe, they will also have five awesome things they can learn in China, too.

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