I want my mommy (and my language) back

I just finished one of the most stressful weeks of my life. On Sunday, 22 June, everybody here at the Princeton in Beijing program went to an opening ceremony where we heard a very impressive speech given by the director of the program. After hearing his speech and being introduced to all the teachers, all of the students signed The Language Pledge. It is a promise to speak no language besides Mandarin Chinese for the remainder of the 8 week program, and a statement saying we understand that we'll be kicked out without a refund if we go back on this promise. Thus began what will probably be 8 weeks of very awkward verbal fumbling. So many of my thoughts go unexpressed because I lack the vocabulary to do so succinctly (or at all). And I'm in the 4th year level. Most students here are in the 2nd or 3rd year levels. I imagine it must be very difficult to stick to the language pledge with only 1 previous year of mandarin to draw upon. Even I find myself frequently tiring of describing things awkwardly in mandarin and just asking “'Thunder' zěnme shuō?” (How does one say 'thunder'?).

Besides the language pledge, which I am superficially but maybe half-heartedly trying to adhere to, I also have about 4 hours of class every day. 100 minutes of big class (dà bān kè) with 8 students, 100 minutes of small class (xiǎo bān kè) with 4 students, and 50 minutes of individual discussion (gèbié tánhuà). Every day in these classes we practice using the words and discuss the texts that we that we were supposed to have prepared the night before. This is the really stressful part. 4/5 days this week, we had to prepare for two lessons every day. Each lesson is based on a newspaper article from a chinese newspaper (eg the People's Daily). We need to read the article and learn all the words and sentence patterns (the Chinese equivalent of grammar) used therein. This takes a lot of time, and usually despite hours of trying to force these pages and pages of information into my brain, I am still pretty clueless in class when my teachers string together long sentences containing the words that I supposedly learned the night before. It takes so much more familiarity with a word to pick it out of the seemingly uninterrupted stream of sounds that is human speech than it does to read it when it shows up in a textbook.

Anyways, the weekend is here, I think I've gotten used to the structure of the program, and other things that were stressing me out will hopefully be resolved by next week, so I'm very hopeful the hardest week of the program is behind me. I have some free time today, and I plan to go find a great meal or two. Food has been the only thing keeping me going this week. Food is really good and cheap here, but I'll probably write another entry on food once I do some more “research” on that front.

Footnote: I imagine nobody really cares what the Chinese names for things are anyways, but this is for those of who do. I've decided to write them using the romanization system Hanyu Pinyin rather than in Chinese characters because I've become convinced after 3+ years of studying mandarin that Chinese characters (hànzì) are terrible and obsolete and should be replaced by an alphabet, and so I've decided to do my part.