Monday, June 25, 2001
Hello from Beijing! We've now been here for two weeks! This is the first in a series of updates from Beijing to let the parents, family, and friends of the FSP participants how things are going. In these updates I'll try to go into more detail about our daily lives than the pictures on the website can show. I'll be discussing health, school, trips, and daily life.
Things have gone well so far in this regard. We've had a few minor stomach ailments and a sprained ankle, but nothing too serious asofyet. Generally, stomach problems are common during the first couple weeks of the trip, as it takes some time for students to adjust to the food. But this year's group has made the transition well, and we haven't had any major problems.
Another issue is coughing due to the high levels of pollution here, especially shortly after arrival. This generally involves the coughing up of phlegm like one would experience with a cold, but without any of the other cold symptoms. This has struck of few of us slightly (myself included), but isn't a major problem, and generally lessens after the first few days.
The students had their first weekly test in Chinese class on Friday. The general consensus is that it went pretty well. They have also been working on their first assignment for Professor Sehrt's class on economic and social change in China. The assignment involves interviewing a Chinese person (in Chinese) and then writing a brief history of their life (in English). The students interviewed Chinese friends, employees of our dorm, and people they met out and about. They definitely found the assignment challenging, but still doable.
The workload is heavy, with 3.5 hours of Chinese class a day and a two hour seminar on Tuesdays and Thursdays. The students are moving through a lesson each day in Chinese and there is also quite of bit of reading for their seminar. My impression is that people are still getting used to the workload, considering the number of activities they are doing outside of class (I will detail those later).
As you can see, we've taken some great trips as a group, going to the Temple of Heaven, Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City, and the Great Wall at Simatai. We also went to see a Chinese acrobatic troup, which was very entertaining. Some of us are heading to Shanghai this weekend, and the group is taking a trip to Pingyao in Shanxi Province the week after that. Keep coming back to the site as I will be posting pictures soon after we return from each trip.
Everbody seems to be enjoying themselves a good deal. Although the initial excitement and novelty have worn off, people still seem to be having a great time.
Most days are pretty full. In addition to academic classes, many students are taking Taiji on Monday and Wednesday mornings and calligraphy on Monday afternoons. Much of the down time on weekday afternoons and evenings is spent studying. Still we've found time to exercise, hang out with Chinese friends, and explore our immediate neighborhood and downtown Beijing. Some of us have become quite familiar with Beijing's bus routes.
This past Friday we had a banquet for Dartmouth-related people in Beijing, which was organized by a member of the class of 89. All of us students were in attendance, as were a number of alums, parents of alums, and current and former teachers. The banquet was a huge success; it was especially nice to meet and talk with alumni about their careers in China.
I hope this update is useful. Another one will be coming in a week; let me know if there's anything else you'd like to hear about.
Ben Steele, Assistant Teacher