Immersion works and there is no place better for learning Mandarin fast than the Qing dynasty’s old summer capital: Chengde. However, a complete language immersion experience is also a big cultural and linguistic challenge.
While at LTL Beijing we have a very fun student community at our school, in Chengde we separate students on purpose to make sure they aren’t tempted to speak English with each other. Most people in Chengde will have never met a foreigner before and there is very little western cultural influence here. That is why – unless you are already familiar with China and its culture – studying in Chengde can be quite a challenge and for a new arrival in China a bit too much. For this reason with the Mandarin Immersion Program you will spend the first half of your program in Beijing. Here our language school is located in the heart of Beijing’s Central Business District. We have a very fun international student community, it is easy to make friends with other students, we do regular school trips, eat lunch together and you can choose to study in a small group or individually. This will allow you to settle into China, improve your Mandarin and get familiar with the culture in more “protected” environment before moving on to complete Chinese language immersion in Chengde.
Chengde (not Chengdu)
Chengde (承德) is located in the mountains North East of Beijing.
The 150km drive takes only about two hours, but the city could not be more different to China’s energetic capital. Since the Kangxi emperor built his summer palace – called避暑山庄literally mearning “Heat Avoidance Villa” – in Chengde to enjoy the cooler summer temperatures there, the city has been the second home of the Qing court.
It was here that the Qing built the famous Putuo Temple, the world’s largest wooden Buddha statue and the enormous imperial gardens in which the emperors were rumored to tend to a small vegetable plot by themselves.
When the Xiangfeng emperor had to leave Beijing during the Opium Wars he fled to Chengde and ultimately died. It was there where power passed to Empress Dowager Cixi, leading to the demise of the Qing dynasty and with it a glorious period in the history of the city.
After the fall of Qing dynasty the Manchus and Chengde lost their political cloud.
It last rose to prominence in 1952 when the accent spoken in Chengde was chosen as the basis of standard mandarin Chinese, but since then has a sleepy regional city that regularly gets confused with Chengdu, one of China’s largest cities and home of the Pandas.
Today Chengde is little known outside of China and the pace of life is markedly slower than in Beijing or Shanghai. Located in the mountains, the city offers a very high quality of life though with fresh air, great food and a very relaxed life style.
Yet the sights and history in Chengde are astounding and the city today is recognized as a UNESCO world heritage site. Just exploring the old summer palace and its gardens can take days. The city is built inside the mountains along the Rehe (热河 or “hot river”) river and is divided into the old town, containing the summer palace, eight outer temples and most of the other sights and the modern part including the new university town.
The city has no expat community, and nobody speaks English, but the Mandarin spoken is considered the most standard in all of China.
Life in Chengde
You will be completely immersed into Chinese culture and the language environment, studying Mandarin individually with no contact to other English speakers.
Life in Chengde mainly revolves around food, hanging out with friends, sports, drinking beer and discussing how foolish the people living in a big city like Beijing are.
Before you will go there we will have a pre-Chengde meeting with you where you will tell us about your hobbies and interests.
Based on this we will put you in touch with local Chinese clubs or groups of friends to go hiking, play football, learn Chinese square dancing or anything else that interests you. The city actually has surprisingly much to offer in activities, especially with regards to sports and arts.
However, Chengde is a complete Chinese immersion experience.
This means you will need to be open to a very different culture and life style that is might be completely different to what you are used to. You also need to be willing to make friends and hang out with local Chinese, as there is no foreign community.
If you are looking for a more international life style and studying environment please do not choose this program. Have a look at our courses in Beijing or Shanghai instead.