When I stepped out of Sydney Airport and was hit with a blazing hot summer breeze, I felt a sense of relief to be back home but at the same time, I yearned for the times I enjoyed in Beijing over my 2-week language and culture program with the Beijing Institute of Technology. I will cherish those moments of joy, trepidation, fear and disbelief for a long time.
Because I live off-campus while commuting to UTS, I never before experienced dorm life at university, so BIT was my first. The freedom I felt to be able to run to both classes and a nearby convenience store in a matter of minutes was far different to my usual hourly commute back home. The room was basic, the wifi worked only some of the time and I was always subject to the freezing night air entering through a hole in my balcony door. By pure coincidence, I was the only one assigned to a dorm room without a partner. But my friends stayed just next door and it was fun organising outings and dinner together within a minute’s notice instead of a week in advance. My involvement in the shopping process though was hindered by my limited Chinese, so I was stuck with saying 我要这个 (I want this) and pointing to the item in question. But it was good (Canteen 2 was my favourite) and goddamn cheap, even though I still overspent on fruit (also sold just next door) and milk tea.
I sympathised with our Chinese language teacher, Zhang老师, having to teach a class with students of varying levels of Chinese ability. The interactive parts during the class (racing to form Chinese characters from basic radicals, roleplaying a restaurant scenario) were fun and different from the standard affair, and her using Chinese in-class helped myself become more immersed, even though her English was also good. For my current level, the class felt just challenging enough, although I understood my friends who thought it was too easy.
Culture classes brought in guest teachers to introduce us different aspects of Chinese culture in a practical way. Zhai老师 graced us with a beautiful demonstration of a traditional Chinese tea ceremony and we tried it out ourselves, though for me it turned out messier than expected. Peng老师 taught us Chinese paper-cutting but it ended up with me torturing a Peppa Pig cut-out instead. Xiong老师’s lesson on calligraphy was also insightful, but my trembling hands kept my artwork from being the masterpieces that could have been.
The excursions were less like a guided tour and more like free-time, allowing us to traverse places such as the Forbidden City, the Summer Palace and the Temple of Heaven. I will always treasure my accomplishment for trekking through a full course of the Great Wall (to be honest, the uneven steps and descent down were the scariest part). While I believe that these sights would have been more scenic during spring or summer, winter gave us fewer tourists so taking photographs was much easier. However, my favourite excursion has to be the impromptu night trip to watch “Get Together In Beijing”, a dance performance by students from the Beijing Dance Academy with other BIT International Students. The theatre was stunning, the choreography was on point and the dancers themselves were very talented. It has given me the inspiration to try dancing more often for fun.
However, if you asked me what was the most memorable experience of my 2 weeks at BIT, it was not even the BIT program itself, but the other UTS students within the program. To be able to meet and become friends from different walks of life, all sharing an interest in China was new and refreshing. The classes, excursions, and sightseeing wouldn’t have been the same without them and playing cards until the late night of 10pm was filled with many laughs. I remember the long night walks, coming back together from touring, to listen to personal stories from my friends. All of them were older than me, and most were from different disciplines at UTS, but their stories of work, life, family and relationships were relatable, raw and very emotional. I was empathetic to the pain they experienced in the past but amazed in their emotional resilience and their growth from it. It also has given me the opportunity to self-reflect and gave me more confidence in being more proactive throughout university life so that one day, I would have a story worth telling others, (well at least ones not hours long). I know that that I wouldn’t have become friends with them in any other circumstance, and that I wouldn’t likely see them again, but I wish them good luck in all their future endeavours so that they would have more stories to tell.
I am grateful for BIT for supporting us throughout those 2 weeks, I am grateful to UTS for providing this opportunity to travel to China and I am grateful to BUILD Abroad for providing me a financial scholarship to allow me to fund my travel. I am grateful to the friends I made at BIT for the stories they shared. In return, I endeavour in continue practicing and learning Mandarin, whether through classes or self-studying, and perhaps pick up a new hobby to find a new way in expressing myself and make my own story to share with others.