Calissa Halpern Peking University
San Francisco State University - Majoring in Liberal Studies
I had taken three years of Mandarin before studying in China, but after class I would spend the rest of my day speaking English. I realized that if I ever wanted to be fluent in Chinese, I would have to be fully immersed. I chose Beijing because the city, while rapidly changing, is still old in many ways and not many people speak English. While tough at times, my Chinese is improving day by day. Beijing is the perfect place to challenge yourself.
This is Wei Ming Hu, a large lake on campus. In the summer, it rains, but in the winter the lake freezes over and everyone ice-skates!
During our first week here, there was a whirlwind of things to do. On the first day, with the help of our resident director, we all searched for apartments. During that week, we also filed papers with the school, unpacked, bought things for our apartments, explored campus and most importantly, got to know one another. This is my CSU family. None of us expected it, but we are inseparable. This group is one of a kind, and I can't stress enough how important we are to one another. This picture was taken on our third day. Even though it was the middle of summer, we decided to go to a Hot Pot restaurant. The Chinese believe that a warm belly keeps your body healthy.
One of the first places we traveled was to the Great Wall. This section of the wall is called Mutianyu. The walk and the climb are tough, but the view is breathtaking. One of my favorite moments there was when our friend David walked in the opposite direction past us. He told us he was going to walk to the end and then walk back towards us. It was so hot that day and most of us were red in the face, out of breath and sweating, but he caught up with us (we had barely moved) 15 minutes later and just smiled and said, "Hey guys!"
October 1 is a national holiday, and our school gives students a week break. Our CSU group traveled to many places: Nanjing, Wuxi, Suzhou, Hangzhou and Shanghai. In Nanjing, a few friends and I had an epic boat race. We had to pedal with our legs, but the adrenaline prevented us from feeling a thing—until after the race. We had so much fun and we laughed so much that many people on the shore started taking pictures of us. Anna, Kyle and I won, so we decided to take a "Winners' Picture" by Xuanwu Lake.
In Suzhou, we went to one of the four most famous gardens in the city, Lion Grove Garden. Here, many limestone rocks were placed skillfully to make rocky labyrinths. It was hard to find our way out, but eventually, we found some "Exit" signs on some buildings. This garden was built in 1342, and the rocks used to look like lions in different poses but due to changes, weather and time, the rocks bear little or no resemblance to lions anymore.
Lu Zhi, located in Suzhou, is known as "the first water town in China." With a history of more than 1,400 years, the natural beauty of the town makes this place one of my favorite places in China. Many of the stone bridges were made in the Song, Yuan, Ming and Qing Dynasties, and the women here still wear distinctive cultural costumes.
This is another area in Suzhou. A few of us decided to explore the area at night, and we came across night markets, restaurants, outdoor activities and much more. This is one of my favorite shots from that night. It was still warm at night, so a friend and I lounged on the grass awhile and just looked at the view. I loved this place because it was the perfect blend of old and new.
The Bund is the landscape of Shanghai. As a result of many foreign and Chinese banks set up in the Bund, it has become a symbol for wealth and for honor. By taking a quick two-hour tour bus around parts of the city, you are able to see how modern and beautiful the buildings are. Shanghai is a must see because it reflects modern characteristics of Chinese urban lifestyle and hybrid Shanghai culture.
Unfortunately, one of our friends got sick and had to return home. For his goodbye party, we made dumplings, or jiaozi. Luckily, two of our group members are from China, so they taught us their ways. We probably made close to 100 of them, each with different kinds of stuffing such as corn and beef or pork and vegetables. It's very easy to make, but it makes a mess—there was flour everywhere! I can't wait to get back to the U.S. to make some for my family.
This picture was taken on Thanksgiving, which was also our friend Nick's birthday party. We all made a ton of food and for dessert we had a cake made at a French bakery. One of our friends is obsessed with Chinese checkers, so he had a bunch of us play. It's a good thing we didn't play for money because he never lost a round! During the holidays it's normal to miss home more than usual, but this group is my family and we all kept each other happy and sane.
Christmas is my favorite holiday so my roommate and I went all out! We bought a small Christmas tree and we, along with two of our good friends, decorated it with lights and ornaments. To add to the feel, we bought stockings for each other and then strung up lights along the archways of doors. One of my favorite things to do during Christmas is to fall asleep to the flickering of the tree lights, and every night, my roommate and I did just that. On Christmas Eve, we had everyone over. We listened to Christmas music, watched A Christmas Story, and played Secret Santa. This Christmas will be in my memory forever.
I love this picture for two reasons: It was the third snowfall in Beijing, and it shows an older part of the city. After our final, two friends and I went looking for a Muslim restaurant. The restaurant on the left is famous for their noodles so of course we had to try some. On a cold winter day, hot noodle soup was the best idea ever! China is a huge, ever-changing place. It is a great place to challenge yourself mentally, physically, culturally, linguistically, etc. Like me, you will be surprised at certain aspects of life, but I love this place for its differences. Good luck on your study-abroad adventure! Stay warm, learn from your surroundings and have fun!
Learn more about the study abroad program in China