As a senior at Houston Academy for International Studies, I been studying Chinese for at least 4 years now and currently enrolled in AP Chinese, I found that traveling to China for an immersion program, which improved my Chinese speaking and understanding abilities. As an Asian-American, I thought that I wasn’t going to be approached for selfies and photos but I got a few, even compliments. Foreigners are often approached for photos, so if you go, know that you are likely to be approached. I lived in a dorm with a roommate from Houston who came with me, it felt like having a college experience. On the program, we went to many historical sites such as: The Great Wall, Art Zone 798, Summer Palace, etc. I’ll go more in depth later in the article.
I attended Chinese classes for two weeks, I traveled with 9 other students from Houston, 3 of which are from my high school. The ones from my high school are friends of mine, so it felt like I was going on a fun vacation with friends. I met new people from another high school in Houston, along with across the United States. We took a placement test to determine which classes we were to attend, I got placed a level higher than my friends in level 2 classes, which I was surprised cause all my friends are talented in Chinese. One other girl from my Houston group was in level 2 with me but other than that, we were the only ones from Houston; everyone else in the class were from Chicago or Connecticut with well-funded schools. I get stage fright easily and China helped me grow confident in speaking, just not in front of a crowd of people.
We went to many historical sites but one of my favorite places was The Great Wall. It was truly hell walking up over 1000 steps to get into the top. I could hear my heart beating every step I took, the pain that kept stabbing me with every movement. I was regretting not choosing to go by cable car to the top but that’s cheating and would not give the same gratification as climbing the stairs. I probably gained weight eating a lot of food so I think it was good to have a bit of exercise. Once you get to the top, it’s a like being in clear waters after going through some rough waters. The view was amazing; you could see above the trees surrounding The Great Wall and the how endless The Great Wall looks standing on it. Being the tourists that we are, my friends (Adeia, Netanya, and Jazmin) took jumping pictures after many failed attempts. The forts that were on the wall were very cool, after walking up in the sun and heat, it was like they had built in conditioner. There were a lot of tourist groups that flooded the wall but it only shows that it’s a definite requirement to visit the Great Wall when you come to China. Just make sure to carry light and have multiple water bottles with you.
Another favorite place of mine to visit is the Summer Palace. While it was hot and almost suffocating to walk around, the Summer Palace was truly beautiful. The structures of the Palace were constructed by wood without the use of nails but rather precise cutting to have the structure to fit like Legos. Each detail was well thought out and painted on, especially the world’s longest corridor which had multiple paintings telling a different story. I would highly suggest visiting it, especially if you do not like climbing stairs like The Great Wall but be wary, there’s a lot of tourist groups, so go early.
Art Zone 798 fulfilled the artist in me, it was like I was back in Houston walking around the museum district. There was graffiti everywhere but with more of Chinese writing, they used American pop-culture cartoons and had different international references. It looked awesome, the galleries all around the Art Zone were incredible with art from many locals in Beijing. There’s a blend of Chinese style and calligraphy, along with other traditional or modern styles. It gave an outlook of how diverse art styles can vary in China. One of the galleries was an artist who specializes in ink paintings that blended Chinese calligraphy with paintings of animals and creatures. It’s truly a place to visit in Beijing.
The Forbidden City is a well- talked about site, while it is not a city that happens to reside in Beijing. It’s a giant palace located in Beijing, due to the superiority complex of emperors at the time, the palace was constructed to show off wealth. Personally, not my favorite site to visit, especially midday and in the blazing sun. Since there is a lot of tourists’ groups, it’s easy to get lost in the sea of people but it views of it are spectacular. If you want better pictures of just yourself in an open space, then go early in the morning.
The Temple of Heaven is a beautiful place to visit, it’s a very big area of land to explore around with many things to do. Again, there are many things to do at the Temple of Heaven, such as exploring around, playing different sports, or even, the exercise park. The Temple of Heaven itself is as beautiful as the rest of the area, along with stunning views. A place to go to for beautiful structures and views.
Overall, the trip was a wonderful experience, I not only go to experience going out the country for the first time, went to school in a foreign country, applied my Chinese language skills, but I passed my HSK 3. It’s a test to determine how proficiency my Chinese was and improved during my trip. I enjoyed hanging out with my friends every day for two weeks and got closer to them. I’ll come back to use more of my Chinese and explore on my own.