Wednesday, 25 July 2012
I'm back from Chinese school, everyone! After surviving a month of hardly any English and a ton of suffering, I have returned!
Actually, I'll be honest here: I miss it a lot. The schedule was always packed (we had something like 45 minutes of free time a day) and we were all required to sign a "language pledge", which stated that we were not allowed to speak English unless the RAs or teachers allowed it. It was a tough promise to keep -- the temptation to speak English was always there and all-consuming -- but for those of us who didn't break it, the pledge was extremely beneficial to our learning experience. I'm certain that, had I not been required to speak Chinese at all times, I wouldn't. I wouldn't have even bothered to speak Chinese because of my undying fear of pronouncing things incorrectly or messing up grammar. However, being in an environment where everyone was in the same boat and everyone was a little bit nervous about messing up, speaking the target language became a bit easier. I found myself having an easier time than a good lot of my classmates.
Of course, I'll miss my camp friends and classmates, too. If it wasn't for them, I'd have probably gone insane by the end of the first week. Because I was placed in the level 4 group (4 out of 5, that is, and 4 and 5 was a split-level class), everyone in the class was learning, speaking, and writing at around the same level as I. And since communicating with the lower-level students was challenging (it required a lot of effort to explain things to them without using English), I was always hanging around my fellow level 4 and 5 students. I found that being around higher-level students was extremely beneficial to my language learning. My closest friends at camp were all in my class, and I found that we were able to communicate with each other much better as the weeks went by (maybe not so much because our Chinese was getting better and more that we were just getting better at figuring out gestures).
One of the greatest things about the program is how diverse the student population is. Most of my friends live on the east coast (New York, New Jersey, Florida), and a few of the students in my class are from Hong Kong. They all showed so much enthusiasm in learning Chinese, whatever their ethnic background, and motivated me to try my best to learn. I've been keeping in touch with some of them over Skype, and I'm definitely thinking about going back next year.
All in all, I had a great experience at MMLA. My Chinese has improved tremendously -- I can now speak some with my parents and grandparents. I'll be sure to keep in touch with all of the great people I met!