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Viewpoint: All Chinese ... including classroom culture

Olivia Alberts will be a senior at Rosemount High School this fall. She is writing periodic columns during her six weeks in Xi’an, China.

好久不见! Or, if you'd want to translate this Chinese phrase word for word, as Americans did in the late 1800s, long time no see!

Olivia AlbertsMy first week in China has been absolutely incredible, I still haven't even begun to fathom the incredible history behind Xi'an. Every day there's a new sight to see; a different emperor's quarters to tour, a different historical tower to visit. Just last Friday we took a trip to Cheng Qiang, the Xi'an City Wall. Beforehand, we learned in our culture class that it was built more than 700 years ago in the Ming Dynasty. It's characteristic rigid design gave Xi'an soldiers of the time space to shoot arrows out from between the protection of the peaks on top of the wall, and its smaller holes directly beneath made it easy for soldiers of Xi'an to control who was allowed to put a ladder up the wall, and whose ladder was pushed down.

Over the last week, I've grown incredibly in my knowledge of not only the rich Chinese culture and history, but also the language itself. I'll never forget my very first morning waking up in my host family's house; my host sister woke me up in Chinese, we talked at the breakfast table in Chinese, everything was in Chinese, and although I had known logically that that's just what they do in China, it hadn't truly hit me what a truly unique experience this was until then.

Unique it is, but it is also very rigorous. Every day, from 8 in the morning until noon, we have language classes. Here, we learn vocabulary, grammar and literature comprehension, as well as overarching topics such as tonal fluctuation and speaking. My favorite of these is grammar, because it's a topic that relies not only on memorization but you can incorporate it with ease into any conversation you have with your host family later that night. The most difficult class for me is literature, where we dissect a story in Chinese. I find that it's difficulty mainly lies in the fact that the stories we read introduce loads of new vocabulary a day, so it's incredibly fast paced. Every day, we are introduced to around 25 words. It can quickly get overwhelming, so keeping a well organized journal is a must.

Regardless, I absolutely love class so far.

Classroom culture is rather different than what I've experienced in the U.S. For example, their schedule is very different from ours. In the morning, we have class, then we eat lunch from noon until 1 p.m., and then we have culture class from one until 2. Afterwards is self-study time, a block of up to three and a half hours where you can finish your homework, ask questions or study. This time is be a great opportunity to finish your homework and practice any new vocabulary.

We also have weekly character writing tests where we're expected to memorize the prior week's characters and write them on command. The learning style, though quite different from my experience in the U.S., has been eye-opening.

My first week in Xi'an has been absolutely incredible, and I can't wait to further explore the rich culture and history of the city for the next five weeks!