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Richard Lloyd: 36 week Chinese Gap Year Course

I cannot recommend the school in Beijing highly enough. I have been here for nearly seven months now and I am in no doubt that coming to Beijing was probably one of the best decisions I have ever made! So much do that I have now agreed to work in Beijing for the foreseeable future! Below you will find my thoughts and feelings on my language course and any helpful information I can give to students interested in a similar course.

The Language school is located in the Imperial Gardens of the Forbidden City and is in fact in the Ancestral Temple. It is quite a setting! During the winter months the school is somewhat quieter with about twelve of fifteen students studying at the school. In the summer there is a rapid increase in the number of students with around thirty-five to forty studying here. Students come from all around the globe with big intakes from Russia, Germany but also Sweden, the UK, Canada, Italy, the US, South America, Sri Lanka, the Netherlands, France and even New Caledonia! All students were able to speak English!

In the winter class sizes tend to be around three or four and in the summer months they tend to be around six or eight. Ability levels vary and the school are good at assessing students’ ability levels and fitting them into one of their classes when they come to Beijing.

The ages of the students vary and so do their reasons for coming to Beijing to study Mandarin. Some come for a short course during a gap year trip to see if they would like to study the language further at a later date, others take a brief language course before either going off to one of the Universities or before starting work in China. Others do it because they need to improve their Chinese skills for professional reasons while others want to spend a year trying to master the language from the beginning.

In the six months or so that I have been here I have gone from knowing no Chinese at all to being of an intermediate level. My reading, writing and speaking abilities have improved dramatically and I am further along the road than I expected to be at this stage. It is said in Beijing that it is possible to reach a very advanced level of Mandarin with hard work in two years.

Books and other materials can be bought from the Foreign Languages Book Store in Wangfujing although I would recommend taking a good Grammar book from home to China.

The staff are superb at sorting out any problems that you might have and are very friendly and approachable. The atmosphere is also warm and friendly with all students socialising at coffee breaks, lunch and in the evenings together.

All in all my experience at the school has been an extremely positive one and I can’t recommend it, its teachers or its staff highly enough.

I was fortunate to be put in an international 3 star Hotel that hasexcellent facilities, friendly staff and comfortable accommodation. The Hotel has a good breakfast that includes Coffee, Tea, Toast, Croissants, Water Melon, Orange Juice and Cooked Breakfast. It is also possible to order other western foods just as Danish Pastries and Muesli from the Menu. In the Hotel they have a Western Restaurant where it is possible to order meals such as Spaghetti Bolognese or a Club Sandwich and Soup. They also have a Chinese Restaurant and have a bar area with table football, television and DVD player for guests to use. The Hotel also has laundry facilities so you can wash and dry your own clothes cheaply.

The rooms are kept very clean and have all the things that you could wish – Television, tea and coffee making facilities, wardrobe, desk, double bed, storage space and an ensuite bathroom with power shower. Bed sheets and towels are cleaned daily. I was also fortunate to be placed on the top floor of the Hotel so I had views of the Forbidden City and Tiannamen Square!

The Staff can also speak English, which is a great help when you first arrive, as most people don’t speak any English in Beijing.

Unlike other Hotels that you might stay in Beijing most of the people staying inthis Hotel tend to be internationaleither in China doing a language course, travelling or here on business.

There is also an information office and gift shop in the Hotel where it is possible to book flights, tours, taxis and buy postcards or drinks.

From the Hotel it takes about ten to fifteen minutes on foot to get to the school. It is also located about five minutes walk away from Wangfujing Street where you can find supermarkets, chemists, restaurants, cinemas and department stores.

Many people comment on howthe Hotelis one of the best three star Hotels that they have stayed in anywhere in the World. I would highly recommend it.

Eating in Beijing is never a problem and can be done extremely cheaply. There are all kinds of restaurants and snack bars that serve Chinese and Western Food. As you would also expect Pizza Hut, KFC, Hard Rock Cafe, Outback Steakhouse and MacDonald’s are situated all over Beijing. A meal normally costs around 20 – 35 RMBwith two-course meal being around 60 RM in a good restaurant.

Drinks in Beijiing can be bought cheaply. A large bottle of Beer is about 3 RMB and a Coke about 4 RMB. In a Bar you can buy a Beer for between 10 and 30 RMB depending on where you go while a glass of wine can be a little more expensive at 50 RMB. There are a huge variety of bars and clubs in Beijing to satisfy all tastes.

Shopping in Beijing can be extremely good fun. Haggling for goods at one of Beijings Markets is a must. The three most famous Markets are the Silk Market and Yonganli, Ya Show at Sanlitun and the Hong Qiao or Pearl Market. All buildings of around four or five floors sell brand named clothing and goods as well and cashmere, pearls and gifts. In one of these stores it is possible to buy, a presumably fake, Ralph Lauren Polo Shirt for 30 RMB, a pair of Levis Jeans for 60 RMB, a Cartier Watch for 90 RMB along with Hand Bags, Wallets and Shoes amongst other things of remarkable quality at great prices. You can also get tailor made suits ready in two days for around 1200 – 1600 RMB depending on the quality of the material. You can also buy new films of DVD and music for around 10 RMB.

Visiting all the famous sites is also a must and can be arranged with relative ease. Visiting the Summer Palace, the Great Wall, the Lama Temple and Bei Hai Park should be done by everyone. It is also possible to visit other cities around China and you can get a flight down to Hong Kong or Shanghai for around 1300 RMB. For going to Hong Kong getting an extra VISA entry can be done with relative ease.