WrittenChinese.Com has teamed up with the Chinese Language Institute (CLI) to bring you a great offer! CLI provides a whole host of Chinese language courses, including study abroad programmes at their home base in Guilin, China.
Written by Anias Stambolis-D’Agostino
A few years ago, I went on a journey to one of the most incredible places on Earth. Guilin, an enchanting river-town in China’s Guangxi Autonomous Region, is essentially the image that comes to mind when one thinks about the mystical landscapes of the Middle Kingdom. First, envision a viridescent jungle terrain, exuding lush farmlands for miles into the horizon. Next, picture a bustling modern city of several million that has bloomed unhurriedly along the Li River for over two thousand years. Fuse both these images together in your mind, add a few hundred limestone karst mountains, and boom, you’ve arrived in Guilin, an otherworldly yet refreshingly laid-back corner of southern China—a special place where I was lucky enough to spend my summer vacation.
Although I’d been studying Mandarin for a few years in the US, I’d always had a hunch that my language potential wouldn’t truly take off until I set foot in China. One day, after making up my mind that I simply had to find a way there, I was scouring the internet for live-in language schools when I stumbled upon the Chinese Language Institute, a.k.a CLI. CLI, an immersion school for language and culture with a mission of building bridges between China and the rest of the world, would be the ultimate catalyst for perpetuating my love of Mandarin. Over the course of just a few months at CLI, my Chinese improved several HSK levels, I traveled to distant, dreamy places, and most importantly, I felt that I had set down real roots within the local community. Family, friends and university peers considering making an entrance onto the Chinese language scene have since asked about my experience in Guilin, and how I was able to succeed with the language so quickly. During these conversations, I’d find myself re-imagining my everyday life at CLI—the little routines I had, the places I frequented and the special people I got to know.
Home during those months was my cozy room at the CLI Center, complete with a private bathroom, a surprisingly soft bed and well-lit windows that peered onto a salient limestone mountain. Every morning, I’d sit down at my desk, which quickly became my personal Mandarin workshop, sip some 绿茶 (lǜ chá, green tea) and crack open a textbook to preview the day’s lesson. Then, I’d head downstairs and out into the surrounding neighborhoods for some breakfast, which was usually fresh 包子 (bāo zi, steamed buns) from the bakery up the road. Some days when I woke up early enough I’d even join a sunrise Taiji class with Kolok, a Chinese teacher who regularly practices the ancient martial art with students on the spacious CLI rooftop.
As a student enrolled in CLI’s intensive Immersion Program, I received four hours of one-on-one Chinese class every weekday, which, as you might imagine, lifted my language skills by leaps and bounds. I was assigned three wonderful teachers who focused on reading/writing, listening/speaking, and total comprehension respectively in two-hour class blocks. Thanks to CLI’s plethora of textbooks and study resources, not only did I reach my desired HSK level, but I also gained experience reading newspapers, conducting mock job interviews, and otherwise rounding-out my practical skill set. I simply loved how flexible and dynamic the classes were, and how committed the teachers were to helping me reach my goals.
After my morning class, I’d head up to the kitchen on CLI’s second floor for a homemade, family-style lunch with other students, instructors and 朋友们 (péng yǒu mén, friends). On days I felt especially confident, I’d hunker down at one of the ‘Mandarin Only’ tables and do my best to keep up with the native-speaking interns as they chatted away with students and teachers. Lunchtime was one of the best parts about each day—not only was the food always abundant and 好吃 (hǎo chī, tasty), but it was a time when I really felt part of a community, contributing to a vision bigger than myself.
The Spanish siesta doesn’t hold a candle to naptime in Guilin. From 1-2 PM, the whole city, including all of us at CLI, would grab a pillow and get some rejuvenating shut-eye, hoping to return freshly charged for the afternoon’s work. Usually, I would use the time to catch up on some vocabulary or grab a 奶茶 (nǎi chá, milk tea) with friends at one of the many trendy coffee shops in the Seven Star District where CLI is located. Once the hallways resumed their normal buzz, I’d then head into the second two-hour chunk of my daily class routine, either moving onto a new lesson, correcting an essay I’d written, or taking the opportunity to review under the guidance of my knowledgeable teacher.
In the afternoons, I’d also spend a few hours curled up in one of CLI’s many study nooks, surrounded by textbooks and flash cards, reinforcing my grasp on the material covered in class. My goal each day was to take the new information I learned, whether it be tricky vocabulary words, a useful grammar structure or even a historical 成语 (chéng yǔ, idiom-like phrases with a set structure) and apply it to real life interactions with the world around me. Setting and attaining these daily goals helped to ensure I wasn’t just studying, but actually learning Chinese.
Fortunately, there were always plenty of opportunities to engage with the city, especially once the school day ended and the sun drifted west, glowing a soft orange against the sawtooth mountains. Each night was unique and there was always something exciting happening, from pick-up badminton games to live music next to the pagodas downtown. My favorite activities included hiking through one of the city’s many urban parks, enjoying a traditional Chinese massage (50-100 RMB gets you one hour of full-on pampering), or snacking on some 烧烤 (shāo kǎo, barbecue) from a street-side vendor. On the weekends, when hours of daylight were at our disposal, I’d ride a shared bicycle along the Li River or join a weekly CLI excursion—the famous resort town of Yangshuo, the ribbon-like rice terraces of Longsheng and preserved ancient villages set between bamboo forests were just a few frequented destinations.
Most of our outings were accompanied by CLI’s enthusiastic interns and amiable teachers who found a special excitement in introducing us 老外 (lǎo wài, foreigners) to those hidden, hole-in-the-wall spots known only by locals, thus exposing us to a side of Guilin that most tourists never see. I remember evenings strolling down the 步行街 (bù xíng jiē, pedestrian street) with a group of Chinese friends and fellow students from around the world, belly full of rice noodles, feeling an incredible sensation of being completely at home while simultaneously on the adventure of a lifetime.
Each day spent in Guilin was filled with learning of all shapes and styles. Formal study combined with my love of Chinese culture to create what I can honestly call the best months of my life. Though I still have a long way to go before being anywhere near 完美 (wán měi, perfect), the insight I received at CLI helped me to grasp the depths of the language in a profound and holistic way. For anyone looking to take their Chinese skills and cultural knowledge to the next level, I highly recommend studying at CLI in Guilin. Not only is the natural scenery some of the world’s most stunning, but the close-knit community and opportunities for language immersion are also simply the best.
After finishing my studies, I applied to a job opening at CLI and am now a proud team member. I am thrilled to call this incredible city “home” and look forward to meeting you in Guilin!