Martin does Beijing – Business Trip to China
In the Autumn of 2019 we were lucky enough to host Martin Reynolds from the UK for two weeks. He was a pleasure to have around the school and thoroughly enjoyed his albeit short time in Beijing.
He kindly offered to document his business trip to China for our blog, so let’s share his story below
Not my usual business trip… two weeks at LTL Beijing
Last year, on my third business trip to China, I promised myself I’d try and learn the language.
I was increasingly frustrated with myself not being able to even order a coffee or top up my Beijing travel card without relying on the barista’s or ticket agent’s English.
And whilst it isn’t essential for my work – as so many of my Chinese counterparts have amazing English – I also wanted to make an effort and be able to show respect to the Chinese folk that I get to meet when they come to the UK.
I started weekly Mandarin classes at home, making slow and steady progress.
To be honest, though, it felt like crawling up a mountain – only learning a few new words every week, getting nowhere fast, and work commitments often getting in the way of my class timetable.
So, whilst on my business trip to Beijing, I quickly researched language courses.
A few different companies came up online, and LTL happened to be one subway stop from the hotel I was staying in. I decided to go and meet them.
Business Trip to China – Preparation
I went to LTL’s school and met Alice.
She put me at ease straight away, explaining all the various options and reassuring me that my study would be tailored to my needs.
We talked about what I wanted to achieve – and she was confident I’d be able to improve my language level and speaking confidence, even on just a two-week working holiday.
She was also absolutely clear about diving in with both feet and choosing the Homestay option.
I’ll confess that this was the aspect I deliberated over the most… but after a few emails confirming dates and arrangements, I booked.
I’ve just returned from my two-week, 1-2-1 intensive course at LTL Beijing, so this short blog is about what happens when a 43-year old professional with very basic Mandarin signs up for language kindergarten and lives in the spare bedroom of a Beijing family!
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My 5 top concerns
1 – It’s just for gap year students, isn’t it?
One of my main concerns was being the only mature student. I needn’t have worried.
I opted for the 1-2-1 classes so I guess this wouldn’t matter too much anyway. However, when I arrived, I was surprised by the broad range of ages, nationalities and learning motivations.
The students definitely skewed younger, but there were other older students who were either studying for work or personal interest. And of course we all share the same interest in Chinese – which creates a supportive and positive learning environment.
If you have the same concern as I did, I think the best advice is choosing dates that avoid the big summer holidays, where LTL welcomes more school and university-level groups.
2 – Surely I’m too old to live with a homestay family?!
I have a couple of favourite hotels I stay in whilst in Beijing, so I took some persuading to go for the homestay option.
It’s the kind of thing you do on a French exchange programme back in middle school, right?
However, I quickly realised it was the right decision when I checked in to my hotel for a couple of nights prior to my course and homestay. I was speaking next to no Mandarin – which felt pretty pointless given my priority for the next two weeks was to practice and learn.
So, on the Sunday afternoon I went to join my host family.
I’d received a note a couple of weeks prior with their address and details – but I was nervous about meeting them, thinking about how I would get by with just a few words of Chinese and given the fact that I’m used to living in my own house, not being a lodger in someone else’s.
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I won’t lie, the first few hours were overwhelming – it was the most Mandarin I’d ever heard out of a lesson environment.
I could only pick up little words here and there, but soon I was unpacked and we were eating dinner. I felt much more relaxed.
I was matched with a lovely family – a couple roughly my age with a 10-year old son.
It did feel a little funny being their adoptive second child for a fortnight, with toddler-level Chinese, but they were so patient and welcoming.
It was a great insight in to Chinese daily life, and it was surprising how after two or three days of class I had more confidence to have simple conversations.
A routine was quickly established – I’d get up for breakfast, head out to school, nip to a local gym before being back in time for dinner and then spend a couple of hours working or reviewing my lessons before bedtime. The two weeks flew past, and I’d now highly recommend the homestay option.
3 – How will I get on with all those Chinese delicacies?!
The running joke amongst all my family and friends prior to my trip was how I’d get on with the food.
I like a lot of Chinese food, but I’ll confess that one of the first sentences I learnt in Mandarin was “I don’t eat chicken feet”.
I’d also been to quite a few work dinners where Chinese hosts enjoyed sharing – and watching us attempt to eat – unusual regional dishes and delicacies.
Happily, my host mum was an amazing cook.
Every night was simple, different, tasty, authentic – incredible dumplings, fish, pork, noodles or rice dishes. Meals were totally relaxed with the rest of the family around a small table, so I was relieved that my home-cooked Chinese meals were totally different to the excessive work dinners I’d been on!
4 – It’ll be hard to take a break from work
It wasn’t easy finding a two-week-plus gap in my work schedule to come to Beijing on a self-funded trip to go back to school.
Luckily, my employers were really supportive. I also found the time difference between China and Europe really and unexpectedly constructive.
My 9am-4pm school hours were the middle of the night (2am-9am) back home, so I wasn’t getting calls or emails. And if I wanted or needed to, the evenings at the homestay coincided with the working day back in the UK, so I could quickly jump online or join a call as necessary.
5 – I’ll barely scratch the surface in two weeks
This is where I really can’t recommend LTL highly enough.
I was hoping for increased confidence and more opportunities to speak Chinese. I left completely overwhelmed by just how much I was able to learn and achieve in two weeks.
I don’t really put this down to my knowledge or ability at all, but instead to the intensive focus and the quality of the teaching and the learning environment.
In the first day, I felt like I learned more than I would ordinarily achieve in two months of classes.
By the end of the first week, we were halfway through a textbook – and more importantly, I was able to comfortably order those coffees or buy those subway tickets, no bother!
Those everyday transactions out and about on my own, with no need for English, were really motivating.
I wasn’t too sure what to expect on the first day, but after quick introductions we got straight in, learning really useful and applicable topics.
I found the structured approach extremely productive. The textbooks are helpful for independent revision and review afterwards – but the 1-2-1 format meant we could also have wider or more flexible discussions.
I felt like the lessons were totally tailored to my needs. I had an assessment via Skype a couple of weeks beforehand, and was a bit surprised on arrival to be set at Level 2, rather than Absolute Beginners Level 1.
Flicking through the materials waiting for my teacher, they seemed way too difficult for me.
However, a couple of hours in to the lesson, the topics were brought to life and we were doing really useful and interesting exercises, role plays and listening tasks.
I found the format really beneficial, with a big focus on practical work, increasing vocabulary and essential grammar. Both my teachers were really warm, focused and encouraging.
The lessons were intense but really enjoyable and most of all, hugely productive.
Business trip to China – A Genuine Recommendation
I’ve only just arrived home from Beijing – and it’s hard to take in what’s just happened over the last few weeks.
I’m so pleased I made the decision to book a two-week intensive 1-2-1 course, including homestay.
I’ve always loved Beijing, but living there for a couple of weeks with a family, adopting a new daily routine and experiencing the city as a local was really special.
The LTL team were fantastic throughout – special thanks to Jacqueline, Serena, Sunny, Jane, Ruth, Katie and Alice!
My confidence and language level have definitely improved – and I feel totally surprised and really proud of what I was able to achieve in just two weeks with LTL.
I’ll seriously consider returning next year to give my language another big boost, and I can’t wait to put my Chinese to practice now that I’m home.
That’s some high praise! Thank you so much Martin for taking the time to write this wonderful piece for us! We hope you enjoyed it as much as we did, and maybe it inspired you to take the leap just like Martin.
Even if it’s just for two weeks, we can help give you so much! We look forward to your return Martin! 好好学习天天向上
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