I am excited to announce that in Summer 2017 I will be spending nine weeks in Kunming, China studying Mandarin with CET Academic Programs at Yunnan University. This trip has been in the works for the past two years and it feels unreal that it is approaching so quickly. I did not anticipate how much effort would go into planning this study abroad trip and it has been one of the most stressful experiences of my life. Studying abroad, like most things that seem fun and stress-free, involves a lot of planning on the front end so that your time spent in another country goes smoothly. Although the list of things to do before my plane takes off is lengthy, I know that because of all the work I am putting in now I will be able to focus on my studies and adventures when I’m in China instead of worrying about things like catching a mosquito-borne illness. I am making a series of posts to discuss the challenges a student considering study abroad might encounter and how to address them.
Deciding which program in China to attend.
This has been the hardest part of the entire study abroad process. There are probably hundreds of options to study in China for the summer and trying to distinguish the best from all the others is a daunting task. My advice is to be open during your search process and to prioritize what is most important for you to get out of the experience. The program I am signed up for is completely different than the plan I had been set on for the past one and a half years. I thought I would go on OU’s Journey to China for four weeks and then study at a Chinese university for another four weeks via a Confucius Institute program. This plan would allow me to visit at least six different cities with OU and then work on my Mandarin through the Confucius Institute. I had even completed all of the required paperwork and missed the deadline for opening any new applications when I decided to change plans. This change of heart was due to several reasons including but not limited to the fact that there would be a full month between the two programs where I would have to travel alone and I would not know which Chinese university CI would send me to until I was already in China thereby creating a logistical nightmare. As I came closer to the middle of the Spring semester I realized that, while some people may thrive on extended solo travel and pulling trips together at the last minute, I do not. This realization prompted me to look into other Summer programs in China that would provide much-needed safety and structure. I started out by looking into the city of Kunming because my boyfriend has family there. If I was in Kunming I could finally meet his extended family and have a safety net of people to help me if anything bad should happen. Kunming was also attractive due to its reputation as having spring-like weather year round and no air pollution. Luckily I found a company called CET Academic Programs that provides a nine-week highly immersive language learning program in Kunming. I was able to sign up just a few days before the application window closed and work with the OU Education Abroad office to extend the deadline to register a program with them. I am very happy with my decision and love that the program provides structure in the form of classes five days a week but leaves your weekends open to explore the country, with the exception of a few planned outings.
Find what is important to you and look for a program that fits those priorities. In my case, those were structure, safety, total immersion, and some flexibility to explore on my own time. Maybe you have traveled extensively and know that you like spontaneity and are comfortable with making itinerary up as you go. Maybe you have never left your hometown before but know that you prefer knowing your plans for any given weekend far in advance. Read about other people’s study abroad experiences and decide what seems more or less appealing to you. Finding a program is a daunting challenge when there are thousands of options and the wrong choice could mean you are miserable for several months, but with the proper research and an honest appraisal of your own limits, you are sure to find one that fits you.