Annathea Cook Peking University
Humboldt State University - Majoring in International Studies
I was born and raised in Northern California and am the oldest of eight children. People often ask me, "Why Chinese?" I knew I had a talent for languages and I wanted a challenge, so I started studying Chinese at Humboldt State in 2007. Then, in 2009, I went to China for the first time and lived with a host family in Xi'an as part of a study abroad program. My passion for China and learning Chinese was solidified within weeks, and within months I knew I had to come back.
I was elated at the opportunity to take part in this program. Not only was it for a full year, which I felt was a necessary time investment in learning a language, it was at the highest-rated university in China and located in its capital. I also found that this program was very well structured, taking a group with a familiar background and giving it a qualified director whose sole purpose is to help each student with anything and everything he or she needs.
It's important to be on top of your paperwork before you come to China, and even more so once you arrive. If you live on campus, most of the resident paperwork is absorbed by the school. But if you choose to live off-campus, more will be required of you. It's important to be flexible and mindful of deadlines!
It's also important to remember before you go to bring enough of your medicine. Not just prescription medications, but the every-now-and-then stuff you're used to taking when you get a headache, can't sleep, have a sore throat (cough drops are devilishly hard to find here), or any of those normal things that are bound to happen over the year. It's really nice to have what you know works when you need it.
Living abroad is a growing experience, especially for your taste buds. You can find foods from all over the world and even decent hamburgers and pizza, as well as authentic Chinese food from regions all across the country. Wash everything you can (especially your hands), but be adventurous!
Finding housing was one of the first, hardest, and most important decisions that I had to make here in Beijing. The prices in Beijing for apartments were much higher than I expected. More so than even back home, but with the limited options and low quality on campus I decided very quickly to live in this building with a friend.
It's important to have enough money when you come to China and to know how to access your funds once you arrive. You will need to pay several months' rent upfront, plus a deposit, almost immediately upon arrival. My rental agreement ended up being three months at a time paid a month in advance. Luckily utilities are very cheap.
If you attend Beijing University, you will undoubtedly come to know Wudaokou. It's a popular student hangout with many Western restaurants, karaoke (better known here as KTV), shopping centers and much more. It's also much more affordable entertainment than other parts of the city closer to the tourist districts.
I found that the classes at Beijing University were all rather small, consisting of less than 30 students. All the teachers seemed to enjoy their jobs, they relied heavily on e-mail for communication, and they were very understanding. I've enjoyed all my classes in different ways, but my advice would be to rely on your well-designed (and cheap!) books and make some Chinese friends.
The campus is undeniably beautiful. It's also very large. Being rather directionally challenged myself, I recommend getting a map and learning the cardinal directions of north, south, east and west (in Chinese!), as they are commonly used when giving directions in China.
Every program organizes a set of trips to travel around the area during breaks or weekends based on the program's budget. Luckily, China is a rather inexpensive, easy and safe country to travel in, and there is a lot to see. I've been lucky enough to travel around Sichuan Province, see the kung fu performances at the Shaolin Temple, chat up monks in Xi'an, and ride in a open top bus all around Shanghai, where I am in this picture.
The weather varies in Beijing a lot over the course of the year. Bring shorts for the warm weather when you arrive and be prepared to wear thermals and a good jacket during the cold, cold winter. The air is very dry, so love your lotion and know ahead of time that the air quality is very poor and may wear on you.
But don't forget that you're in the capital of the one of most interesting countries in the world. There's so much to see in Beijing. Along with the famous tourist attractions and the remnants of the 2008 Olympics, Beijing is ancient city with much to offer to anyone willing to take the time and not afraid to get lost. And even if you do, just grab a cab and tell him to take you back to the university.
Learn more about the study abroad program in China