I think it’s fair to say the University of York is a place with loads of opportunities for students. Just think about the articles that we have in the Experience Section *wink wink*. Or the amount of emails that we get and the posters all around campus inviting you to get involved in a society, a volunteering project or advertising events and trips. These are proof that you can always find something new and interesting to do with your time. In this article, I want to tell you about my experience with such an opportunity, so make yourself comfortable, grab a cup of tea or coffee and let’s jump right into it.
Last summer, I spent two of the best weeks of my life in Beijing with this programme called International School Centre, ISC for short, offered by our university. What is this programme exactly, you might wonder? Basically, they offer short courses on different topics in other countries. Or, better said, on other continents. And, although you don’t get a degree after finishing one of these courses, you certainly come home with great memories, new friends and, at least in my case, a new perspective on life. So poetic, I know.
In terms of organisation, I think everything was put together well. Because we stayed in a student accommodation complex and not a hotel, we were able to experience a more authentic student life at Peking University, so I was really happy about that. The schedule was a balanced mix of classes, visiting and free time. Most days, we had classes in the morning, then we would visit iconic places in Beijing and in the evenings, we had free time. What I found particularly cool was that sometimes the topic of the lectures would go hand in hand with the place that we visited that day. For instance, one day we had a lecture on Chinese art and then we went to this massive art zone.
What was it like to be a student at Peking University? Well, for starters, they gave us loads of things. When we first arrived, we received a whole pack with a student ID, a map of the campus, a pin with Peking University and some other items. They even gave us a book for the Mandarin classes and, when we had the ocarina lesson, the teacher was waiting for us with cute ocarinas and small handbooks with musical scores. The teachers were very nice and most classes were interesting, although some could’ve been shorter. The Mandarin class, for instance, which was 4 hours long. Of course, we had breaks, but still. However, my favourite thing must’ve been the campus. Half of it was an actual park with lakes, trees and interesting buildings. It looked amazing.
Because I kept comparing their campus to ours, I was surprised to see the number of canteens they had. We had lunch there a couple of times and the food wasn’t the best, but it was really cheap, which is saying something considering everything in Beijing was cheap.
Now, allow me to share with you some of the first things I learned about the city. Number one: most people there don’t really speak English. When we went to restaurants, we used to bookmark the pages of the menu with chopsticks and then when the waiter came to take our order we would point at what we wanted to eat. Thank God most menus had pictures! Number two: in most restaurants, you actually have to use chopsticks to eat your food. That was a difficult task for me during the first days. Number three: umbrellas and raincoats don’t really work there. Luckily for us, it didn’t rain very often, but when it did, it was like taking a thousand showers all at once. So, if you ever plan on visiting Beijing, keep these in mind.
Although the article is going to be quite long, I feel like I cannot end it without mentioning some of the highlights from this trip.
- Our second group photo. As we eventually learned, Chinese people get really excited when they see foreigners, especially blonde and red-haired people. We first experienced this “excitement” at the Summer Palace when we stopped to take a group photo. While we were posing for our photographer, a crowd of people gathered around us to take pictures of our group. That was really memorable. This photo is from that exact moment:
- Mr Hao. He was our tour guide for most of the places that we visited. He was a really funny and energetic person. A bit eccentric as well, but in a good way. Here’s a picture of him talking about the Forbidden City.
- Peking Duck. If you ever find yourself in Beijing you definitely have to try this popular dish. It’s delicious! In restaurants, they usually bring the roasted duck to your table and carve it in front of you.
- The acrobatic show. This show was something really special but unfortunately too short. The acts were mind-blowing.
- The fun nights out. The first time we went out we tried this bar/club where you could play games like darts and beer pong. Another time we went to this cute and cosy bar with a small terrace. We had the chance to experience different sides of the nightlife that Beijing has to offer and the thing is, everywhere we went, we always had fun, which is the best part of this memory.
Of course, the entire trip can’t be encapsulated in only one article, no matter how long it would be, so I will stop here, hoping I covered all the main points. It was such an amazing experience so I would definitely recommend it to anyone. I know it may seem quite pricey to some, but I think it’s worthy. So, if my story raised your curiosity, you can find more information about what ISC has to offer here.