July 20, 2000 Thursday
Greetings from Beijing! This is the first in a series of updates from Beijing Normal University. First of all, I'd like to introduce myself. I'm this year's Assistant Teachers for the Foreign Study Program; one of my responsibilities is to maintain the FSP website and keep parents and friends of the students updated. I'm sure you've already seen the many pictures are on this website which in themselves provide loved ones with insight into what life is like for the students. In addition, updates such as this should give a different perspective. So, without further delay, let's update!
We've now been in Beijing for over a month. Let me summarize important aspects of our first few weeks in Beijing.
HEALTH(parents, I know you're all concerned about this topic)
So far so good. We haven't had any serious illnesses (knock on wood). The first week one of the students had part of her tooth chipped. That wasn't too much to worry about because we took her a great international dental clinic where a dentist from New Zealand fitted a porcelain crown for her. Now she's doing just great. Another student, after a few days of class, discovered that she was having trouble seeing characters on the board. She said that she had to squint everytime she took notes. I was surprised because she said that her vision has always been fine. In any case, we took her to a large Chinese optical center and the optometrist found she was nearsighted. Now she's doing a lot better with her contacts.
Every year there is always at least a few people who get what foreigners call "Beijing Lung." The symptoms (phlegm, cough, shortness of breath) are due primarily to the horrid levels of pollution here. Unfortunately, this year has been no exception. So far, "Beijing Lung" has struck only 3 or 4 students, so on a whole we've been fortunate.
Now, aside from these problems there is the perennial worry: La Duzi (diarrhea). In the past there were a number of reasons why almost everyone in the group would get diarhhea at least once during the summer (usually in the first week). According to Professor Mowry (and from personal experience) the main reasons were eating improperly prepared food, and unsafe drinking water. However, in the past couple of years the government has shut down many unsafe street vendors that sell things like lamb kebabs and Sichuan noodles. Also, the students have had access to bottled water in their rooms. This combination of factors is what we attribute as the cause of a relatively healthy, La Duzi-free FSP thus far. Of course there have been isolated cases of diarrhea, but we have not witnessed widespread outbreaks as in years passed.
SCHOOL(as you can see parents, I've ordered the topics according to the level of importance)
Chinese language courses: students have been complaining lately that they have too many characters to memorize. This isn't out of the ordinary. This happens every year. There is a test every Friday that covers the entire week's lessons. Professor Mowry should have more to say about this in the "Director's Message."
Chinese culture course: the students took their first midterm about two weeks ago. Today they had to turn in a script/proposal for their final project, which will be filmed using a digital video camera and might even be posted on the web! Some examples of topics include Taichi, the one child policy, dating in China, and Feng Shui. I'm looking forward to assistant and seeing the final results. Again, Professor Mowry will have more details.
Students usually study quite a bit (~ 3 hours a day, and even more on Thursday nights). Overall, I've been impressed with the academically oriented nature of the majority of our group.
We've seen so much, and so have you! Most of what the students have experienced has been transmitted onto our picture galleries. However, since there is only one of me, and only one digital camera, we cannot upload scenes from every single outing. I will not spend too much time on this section because the pictures can speak for themselves.
Overall, I've sensed that all of the students are enjoying their time in China immensely. Of course they have had to deal with the language barrier, culture shock, La Duzi, and other hidden factors. But, I think that they've all taken these obstacles with stride.
Most of our students have Chinese buddies that are either BNU graduate students or are high school students from the 123 High School that is affiliated with BNU. Some of these relationships have blossomed into friendships that may last beyond the length of this trip. For instance, a couple of our students was invited to their buddy's birthday party. Experiences such as these are what make the FSP memorable.
Most of the FSPers' days are pretty full. After a morning of classes they usually have lunch in the foreign student cafeteria where they can get a cheap, quick bite to eat before heading out. In the afternoons some students have extracurricular courses such as taichi while others do their own thing (shop, explore, write letters, study, nap, meet more Chinese people). The evenings are when most of the studying is done, and my room has been dubbed "Grand Central Station", since there is always a steady stream of students in and out for various reasons. Some just come by to say hi to the "Tang Ba Ba", others have questions regarding their studies or even their social lives. Regardless of the reason, my doors is always open unless it's past 11pm (I have to sleep too!).
Weekends are when most of the fun happens. There hasn't been a weekend yet that we haven't had activities planned. Friday nights we usually start the weekend off with some dancing at clubs named "Banana", "Nightman", or "Orange." Then Saturday we take trips as a group to major tourist sites like the Fragrant Hill or Great Wall.
This weekend many students have plans to get out of town. Personally, I'm going with 8 other students to Shanghai. There are also student trips to Da Lian (coastal city) and Da Tong (where the majority of us went two weeks ago). The remaining students have the option of going on the official FSP sponsored outing to see the Marco Polo Bridge and Shi Hua Stalactite Caves, or they can just chill out in Beijing.
Hope this was useful! Next update in 7 days!