Eager students with a desire to live in China, learn the Chinese language and explore the Chinese culture often make the mistake of choosing Beijing or Shanghai for their experience – ‘the big city’ experience. What they don’t realise is that these cities are bursting at the seams with English speaking foreigners. Even the local street food vendors will converse with you in English.
Fact is, I know people who have lived in Shanghai for over 5 years having learnt only the bare minimum of Chinese. This is where the Chinese Language Institute (CLI) in Guilin comes in. It is a study-abroad school creating the perfect China experience. I was lucky enough to be part of this school during my summer break last year.
These are some of my thoughts on why CLI is the perfect learning environment.
Firstly, its geographical situation in China (and this is critical to developing a holistic learning environment) is the city of Guilin. From my experiences travelling in China, Guilin is the most beautiful. It is both scenic and historic, boasting natural beauty in the form of lime Karst Mountains jutting up randomly throughout the city. The Li River, night-lights, warm temperatures and accessibility to the ever-popular Yangshuo and the Dragon Rice Terraces – The Zhuang Autonomous Region, ensure there are endless things to do and see. Guilin has long been renowned for scenery that has inspired artists and poets throughout history. The city is gentle and welcoming, offering you countless daily experiences to speak Chinese with the locals.
The CLI School is situated at the base of one of the (smaller) lime Karst Mountains in the city. Close by to a serene Buddhist temple and around the corner from a popular night-street barbeque, where you can go and sit and drink beer with the locals and eat 烧烤 (barbeque). There are Soccer fields where you will find CLI students meeting with local teams for friendly matches that flag the right hand side of the school. My favourite start to the day was to run the 5km loop down a country track, past the temple and around Seven Star Park, when street vendors were setting up and the market stalls had their freshest produce up for grabs. Seven Star Park is a stones throw away from the school.
To go at dusk and climb the mountains to watch the sun set over the city, or take photos of the locals as they would come together for moonlit tai chi or ballroom dancing. This was a spectacular ending to any day in Guilin.
The CLI building is a 5-story building. The top two floors house student accommodation, of which, I can attest are large spacious rooms with air conditioning and ensuites. The lower floors are where the ‘magic’ happens. The classrooms and common areas bustle with teachers and students conversing in Chinese. I enjoyed sitting around the dining room sharing the delicious lunches cooked on site at CLI. The dishes were Chinese and all mouthwateringly delicious. My favourite day being Vegetarian Wednesday! This area was also the hub for students to meet and check out the activity board to sign up for an exciting event or a weekend getaway.
The most unique aspect of CLI is their one-on-one curriculum delivery. With 4 hours of class a day, broken up between 3 of your own private tutors who focus on different areas. This could be speaking, reading or writing, depending on the need of the individual student. If you want – yes, they have excellent textbooks you can follow, but you are encouraged to speak with your teachers and personalise your program so it is tailored to your needs. Having studied elsewhere in China, this mode of delivery is unique. Most schools and teachers in China are rigid and will not deviate from the textbook. Here, they use it as a guideline. Some chapters were perfect for me, others I needed more (or less!) – so my teachers planned accordingly. It was the perfect student-centered, learning environment that I needed to grow in.
This atmosphere of collaboration branches out of the classroom, into the hallways of the school and outside into the streets of Guilin. You will spend your days conversing with teachers, both in and out of class. I was invited to attend outings, meeting friends of my teachers. I remember one of the teacher’s, Molin (莫琳) who accompanied me when I needed help to purchase an item outside school.
Another teacher, Kolok (钟志军) took me on a mammoth bike ride up to the Peak of Yao Mountain early one morning, before class commenced. These un-scheduled learning experiences are common among CLI students and add to the richness of the curriculum offered. One morning you are in class, learning a new grammar structure – that night could find you hearing it in a conversation over a beer and 烧烤. Experiences like this made me feel confident and proud of using my newly developed skills in the Chinese language. It became addictive and day-by-day my confidence grew.
The CLI website says ‘fast track your way to fluency’ and this unique environment does just that. Brad, one of the Directors of CLI started out in Guilin like the rest of us – eager to learn about China and speak Chinese. Brad came to China not speaking a word of the language and is now fluent. He knows the difficulties of learning Chinese and has put his 7 years of experience in China into building the perfect environment for developing fluency and understanding. I was in safe hands, with role models such as Brad to look up to and inspire me to study harder and accept every random opportunity that came my way.
I began as a lone student, slightly nervous of my ability but with the right attitude, I left with a handful of new friends and a freshly found confidence in my ability to converse in Chinese. I now live and work in Shanghai at an international school. I am constantly hearing students who are studying at the big universities here, commenting that their Chinese is not improving as fast as they had hoped.
There are no ‘big city’ western escapisms in Guilin, just pure Chinese indulgence, coupled with a tremendously warm and inviting school willing to bend and flex its curriculum to suit your needs.
What more do you need than a ‘tailor made’, ‘fast track to fluency’ course set in beautiful Guilin. I am their number one fan.
The AO Team
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