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Week 4: Nanjing

On the second to last day of the program, we took a post STAMP test to measure our progress. As I was taking it I literally thought this to myself: Wow, I actually know stuff!

Now, don't get me wrong. I had taken Mandarin for two years before this, but my confidence in my skill was nonexistent. Without realizing it, one month passed and  I not only learned and improved my mandarin speaking, listening, reading, and writing skills, but also greatly improved my confidence. In my opinion, confidence is one of the most important factors toward learning a language because 1) often when I’m trying to decide how to say or write something on the spot I have to go with my gut and 2) if you don’t speak confidently people are less likely to take you seriously, especially in China it seems.

Within those four categories I think my speaking improved the most, because my teacher (杨老师)made us talk a ton in class, and everyday our homework would be to interview our host family on some topic (therefore talking), summarize it in our own words (Mandarin, of course) and then orally present in class.

I didn’t expect myself to improve as much as I did. I knew I would definitely get better, but I didn’t expect my speaking skills to improve so much. My writing and reading skills progressed as I expected though. Going forward I’m a bit worried that I won’t have opportunities to practice speaking, and end up forgetting everything. But I do have a pretty great Mandarin teacher at school, so I’m not too worried!

Oh! Also, like I said a few posts ago, language is not a barrier. For example, when I first met my host family, even the limited Mandarin I knew brought us together. Along with my progress throughout the program, I was able to grow even closer to them because of the skills I learned! I talked to them using new vocab and sentence structures (and thoroughly impressed them, might I add) but also made some pretty embarrassing mistakes (which they laughed at me for but kindly corrected me which brought us even closer!!).

The main difference between learning mando in the states and in China is the experience. In China, I was literally learning through every single experience there, whether at my host fam’s house or on the bus ride to school. In the states, I didn’t get the context of what I was learning. It was like, okay, more mando, more words to speak a language that isn’t spoken in commonplace in California. In China, there’s more practicality to what you’re learning (also props to the CIEE curriculum and values which emphasize on usefulness)!!

My favorite experience would be… well, there’s too many, but one I vividly remember is shopping at a huge two floor grocery store with my host sister. I bought so many yummy asian snacks for my family! But, the problem was that my host sister and I had to walk with alllllll of them all the way back to our apartment. In ninety degree humid weather. Phewf.  That was a workout.

Lastly, one of the most vital pieces of the program was the Into the Community section, which I briefly talked about a few blog posts ago. Honestly, I was scared to ask a random citizen some questions with my poor Mandarin skills, but because I was doing it with the rest of my class I was less nervous and became more confident. Actually, out of my classmates I was the one pushing them to ask people questions, which also made me more confident because I would sometimes set the example and it would push me to do my best and not waste the opportunity! In the end, I not only gained confidence (a theme in this post, it seems) but also I got to observe and experience first hand how the Chinese people in Nanjing act when in the public area. It was different than in America because most people (at least where I live) would not even give me a second glance and take time out of their busy day to talk to a kid who barely knows the language. For the Nanjing locals, they stopped to talk to us, or at least most of them did. I won’t lie and say it went smoothly every time. I said “uhhhhhh” a LOT and nervously laughed a TON but most of them were pretty forgiving and my friends were there to back me up. Oh, also our program leader was supervising from a distance in case anything went wrong. Though nerve wracking, the experience was a golden one.

-Sarah H.

'Global Navigator Voices' is a collection of blog articles and pictures by our very own high school study abroad participants. Follow their adventures before, during, and after their experiences abroad!

Week 4: Seoul

Hello, it's me again!

I've been back in the states for 2 weeks now but I wish I was still in Seoul. My friend who was doing a 4 week program got back recently and I'm SO jealous that she got a whole week more than I did, 3 weeks felt so short. It's definitely nice to be home but I miss so many things from the trip: the food, the people, the culture, pretty much everything (especially the lack of political drama). I've been going through all my pictures lately to try and keep the trip vivid in my mind (not that I'll ever forget it) and there are a few pictures that I both love and hate for all the nostalgia they bring . I'll include my 3 favorites here so you can enjoy them too.


This is a picture of one of the side streets in sinchon, the neighborhood of Yonsei University. I think this specific photo was taken on the way to a spicy chicken restaurant. This picture really reminds me of the vividness of the trip. Seoul was VERY different from the small town (one square mile, I kid you not) I live in but it was also different from SF, which is also a huge city. Because of this difference the trip felt very real to me, because I always knew I wasn't anywhere near home. We did so much walking around Seoul, and saw many different areas, but the street in this photo looks just like so many of the small streets we walked down. I saw streets like this every day, and because they are so unlike streets where I'm from in the states, they became a symbol to remind me that I really was in korea. Seeing this picture reminds of what it was like to be there: seeing all the well dressed, umbrella-toting people; hearing kpop songs and Shape of You fighting to be the loudest song playing from the stores I was passing (for whatever reason, Koreans seem to LOVE Shape of You, I didn't go a day without hearing it), the oppressive warmth and wetness of the weather, and the constant noise of the multitude of conversations, the ones in english that I could understand and the ones in korean that I couldn't.


This is another picture that brings back vivid memories for me. This is a photo of the palace of the drama filming set we visited on our excursion. For the last blog post I picked the drama set as my favorite experience of the whole trip so it makes sense that this photo would make it into my top three. Looking at this picture I remember the walk up to the set: smelling the wet earth and seeing the fog roll down the mountains to settle in the river, and the eerie, muted silence of a deserted village, and the otherworldly emptiness of the insides of the building what we had found with an ajar door. This filming set, to me, was symbolic of all the history and culture we had been learning about in class and as we explored Seoul. Walking around in a historically accurate village really made the things we had learned about real. The segregation of the sexes’ sleeping areas, the heating system and it's variances based on class, the specifics of who was allowed to paint their house which color, all of it became real and visual in that village.


This is a picture of me and my American friends with with some of the Korean high school students on the night of our food bye picnic at the Han River. Of the whole trip one of my favorite things was making friends with GaYoung and the other students. It was a really interesting experience to meet kids my age that had been raised in a totally different culture. GaYoung told us about how Korean students have academy after school (making the school day 13 hours long) and laughed at us when we admitted we were scared by North Korea (not 1 Korean is scared by North Korea, the government can't even get them to practice drills). We learned so much from each other and despite our differences, spending time with GaYoung is the thing I miss the most out of the entire trip. We have been trying to stay in touch but the time difference makes it really hard and kind of sad because none of our conversations are real time. This picture reminds me of all the connections I made in Korea. Not only did I befriend some AMAZING korean students but I also became closer with Peeps AND made some wonderful friends I am hoping to meet up with again. I made many connections around the world on that trip and I hope I can keep making more as I keep exploring.

If had to use one word to describe my trip it would be novel. Not like a book but like a new and unusual experience. I wasn't expecting Korea to be very different from America (I thought how different can two big cities be?) but Korea surprised me with its differences. There wasn't one specific thing that really stood out as different to me but the combination of small oddities of Seoul and the lack of things I am used to in America added up to make Seoul a very unique experience. I learned, ate, heard, and did things in Seoul that I had never in the States. Being halfway around the world in a big city that doesn't speak your language is a very new and very visceral experience that I am very grateful for and one I hope to have again. After my trip with CIEE I have definitely grown in ways I never could if I had stayed in the US. I have a better understanding and acceptance of cultures being different than my own, and how to experience them. Korea has a very different culture than the US and there were definitely parts I didn't agree with but now I understand that it's not my place to have opinions on other people's culture. My job is to experience and try to understand the culture I am visiting and to spread tolerance of other cultures once I get back home. My time in korea changed me and exposed me to many new things and I loved every second of it. I am very grateful to CIEE for giving me this experience and I would love nothing more than to do it again, if the opportunity arises. I hope you enjoyed this blog post and I will see you all again for the final post in a month or so!

Thank you for reading!

-Isabelle B.

'Global Navigator Voices' is a collection of blog articles and pictures by our very own high school study abroad participants. Follow their adventures before, during, and after their experiences abroad!

Week 4: Shanghai

After four great unforgettable weeks, I’m on the plane back to the Bay Area. I can’t believe how fast these past four weeks have gone and I wasn’t ready for it to end at all. Compared to the start of the program I feel that my language skills have definitely improved, especially in speaking and reading.

Looking back, this trip exceeded my expectations. I did not expect to create such close bonds with such amazing people and to have this much fun. Studying Mandarin in China compared to the US is so different because with being in China, it allows you to actually use the language and use it in real world situations while back in the US, you would only use it in the classroom. Back in the US we would mainly just do worksheets and practice activities but being immersed forces you to speak to the locals which can really improve one’s speaking ability. One of the activities that I thought helped was the “into the community” activities. This activity mainly consisted of interviewing the locals which can really help ones speaking skills because this forces you to talk with people in mandarin, which can be super nerve-racking at times. We would have to approach a local, ask them if it was ok if we interviewed them, then interviewed them on topics that were based on what we learned earlier that day. It really surprised me on how many people were ok and agreed to be interviewed because back in the US, a lot of people would be spectacle about it and not feel comfortable being interviewed by a stranger.

One of my favorite CIEE exercises was doing the culture activities because they were super fun and relaxed while at the same time being super learn-full. Some of our cultural activities were cooking classes, visiting museums, playing games, and dancing. It was a nice change from sitting in a classroom all morning. This unforgettable month-long journey has definitely been a journey that’ll last forever.


-Benjamin L.

'Global Navigator Voices' is a collection of blog articles and pictures by our very own high school study abroad participants. Follow their adventures before, during, and after their experiences abroad!

Week 4: Rennes

As our four-week session in Rennes comes to a close, I think it’s safe to say that we’ve all been doing a lot of reflecting on the progress we’ve made and the experiences we’ve had here in France. Speaking personally, I’ve definitely been feeling more confident with the French language in the last leg of the trip. Part of it may just be the fact that now I really feel like on some level, I do speak French, and I know from my time here that I can get by in French without relying on translators all the time. For the most part, and in the things that most matter, the locals can understand me and I can understand them. This marks a serious amount of growth for me personally, as I know that my weakest area starting the program was in my listening skills. My oral comprehension has grown remarkably, likely because it’s the skill we use most. Logically, that makes sense: in a classroom setting and in simple conversations with the family, I’m listening more than I’m speaking, reading, or writing.


Thinking back to before the program had started, I think I expected a lot more of a focus on reading/writing, since that’s what I’d had experience with in a language class at school. Now that I’ve gone through the course, I’m not really surprised that the focus was set on speaking and listening, since those are the skills that have the best opportunity for development through interactions with locals and our host families. Activities like discussion circles and daily Q&A’s with the teacher helped reinforce these particular skills. At my school back in the States, I was lucky enough to have a teacher who placed emphasis on interpersonal speaking skills in class, but I know lots of students have never had that kind of experience before, at least not to the extent that we’ve been working with here in Rennes. Another cool thing we’ve been doing as part of the program is presentation speaking, since we present a project via Google Slides once a week. In the U.S., weekly presentations just aren’t feasible. Reading novels and writing essays makes more sense when you don’t have access to a city (or country) full of native speakers.

Throughout the program, a large part of the way I’ve been marking my progress with French has been through interaction with my host family. An easy marker of language acquisition for me is is how many puns I can pick up on in any particular day -- no joke. Maybe it’s my natural partialness to plays on words, but being able to get language-centered jokes in French feels like a little victory. The same feeling comes from successfully holding conversation with locals, particularly through our weekly “Into the Community” activities, which usually require asking three to five strangers a few questions. As someone who’s pretty uncomfortable talking to strangers even in English, these activities have proven difficult for me, but I can still see the value in having spontaneous, natural interactions with native speakers. These activities have probably helped me the most with my listening skills here.

One of my favorite exercises in the class on this trip has been the project from this week. We’ve been working on discussing the things we’ve done, and the things we plan to do before we leave Rennes, before the end of summer, and beyond. It’s an easy way to practice language skills like the future tense and the subjunctive, while also brainstorming the things we want to get done before we leave. It’s become more and more real that our time here is coming to a close, and this culminating project is starting to feel like closure.

My next blog post will (sadly) be my last. We return to our normal lives this Saturday -- wish us luck!

-Sarah T.

'Global Navigator Voices' is a collection of blog articles and pictures by our very own high school study abroad participants. Follow their adventures before, during, and after their experiences abroad!

Week 4: Guanajuato

I believe that after finishing my program I have more confidence in the target language as well as a different perspective on Mexico. I honestly feel that I have made most progress in speaking throughout the course of the program.


I believe that my progress is accurate to what I expected it would be in the final weeks. I now have an easier time understanding as well as speaking spanish back in the United States. As I became more confident with the language, I also became more confident in speaking to my host family.

One thing that I really liked about the program is that I could practice my spanish in real situations. I don’t really have this opportunity back in the United States during school because we mainly do worksheets which isn’t the same as speaking with the locals in Guanajuato.

My favorite exercise was “into the community” because it gave us the chance to speak the target language with the locals of Guanajuato. It really felt like we became a part of the community because we were able to interact with the amiable people of GTO. I gained a lot of practice experience from this activity.


-Roberto M.

'Global Navigator Voices' is a collection of blog articles and pictures by our very own high school study abroad participants. Follow their adventures before, during, and after their experiences abroad!

Week 4: Rennes

After four incredible and indescribable weeks abroad, this past Saturday I sorrowfully returned to my hometown in New Jersey. As my normal life continues, now is the perfect time to reflect on the wonderful journey I just experienced in Rennes and the lasting effect my studies will have on the rest of my academic career.


One of my favorite aspects of the program with CIEE was living with my host mom.  In my opinion, living with my host mom Isabelle was both a great way to practice and take risks with my French as well as create a new lifelong relationship that I will cherish for years to come. It was very hard to say goodbye to Isabelle this past weekend, but I am truly grateful for my time with her and her help in improving my French.

I believe that my French has vastly improved since the beginning of the program, especially with regards to my listening and reading skills. Being surrounded by the French language 24/7 really helped me hone in on my comprehension abilities. It was certainly difficult to understand some of the faster French citizens, but by the end of the month I found it a lot easier to comprehend even the speediest speaker.


Learning through immersion in France is a lot different from just sitting in a classroom here in the United States and learning with a textbook. I really liked how as part of the program the other participants and I took part in activities to get us integrated into the French culture. These activities varied from going on local tours to taking dance classes to even rafting. Other activities included “Into the Community’s”, which as I’ve mentioned before involved going up to locals and asking them questions in order to practice the language. In all honesty, these activities were quite nerve-wracking but I feel that I gained a lot personally by being part of them. For example, I think now I am more outgoing than I was before participating in the program.


As I say goodbye to my life in Rennes, I cannot help but feel excited for how my experiences will impact the rest of my life. Au revoir for now, my friends!  

Shout-out to my friends Hannah, Rene, and Anastasia, who wanted to be featured on the blog! 😊

-Elena M.

'Global Navigator Voices' is a collection of blog articles and pictures by our very own high school study abroad participants. Follow their adventures before, during, and after their experiences abroad!

Week 3: Berlin

Mauer Park was my favorite excursion of all because I loved the atmosphere of Berlin on a Sunday afternoon. Mauer Park holds a flea market and karaoke every Sunday afternoon if the weather is well. The flea market was enormous and I had never seen a flea market like it. There were many stands filled with jewelry, bags, vintage items, food, etc. The karaoke had gathered about 300 or 400 people watching and it was so interesting to see them because you knew you were watching Berlin at its finest right then. People sang karaoke to all sorts of different songs and reasons. I met someone who sang “Valkyrie” to honor the 6th year since her sister passed away. Others sang because they were leaving Berlin and they had always wanted to sing there. I think that part of why I loved this day was because I was no longer meeting new people but just spending time with friends and that felt really nice.


-Ellie M.

'Global Navigator Voices' is a collection of blog articles and pictures by our very own high school study abroad participants. Follow their adventures before, during, and after their experiences abroad!


My favorite excursion from the entire trip, and I feel like everyone can agree with me on this, was when we stayed at Caño Hondo for three days. It was such an amazing experience, and we all had a blast while we were there. 


Caño Hondo was basically a hotel built in nature; our hotel rooms were LITERALLY spaces carved inside a mountain. We got to enjoy the natural pools, great food, and wonderful music. It was a way to disconnect from devices and spend quality time with each other. A true bonding experience.


We departed from Caño Hondo on Saturday morning to take a beautiful boat ride in which we got a glimpse of the mangroves. We spent over an hour taking in the view of the mountains, and afterwards we arrived at Cayo Levantado. We spent the rest of the day there, where we enjoyed a beach with clear waters and sand that felt nice to the touch. 


On Sunday, all of us opted to take an almost 2 hour long hike across a mountain.  There was a lot of slippery terrain which caused a bunch of us to fall into mud. It was a difficult hike, but so incredibly fun. By the end we met the boat crew and took a tour of the mangroves and caves.


The whole adventure was so different than anything I have ever experienced in the US. It was super calming and almost therapeutic to be surrounded by so much nature at all times. By the end we all felt tired but somewhat rejuvenated! Our trip to Caño Hondo was surely one to remember, and definitely my favorite excursion.

-Ayan R.

'Global Navigator Voices' is a collection of blog articles and pictures by our very own high school study abroad participants. Follow their adventures before, during, and after their experiences abroad!


Sadly, the day to say goodbye has finally come. This morning, the students gave their insightful and thought-provoking final presentations. We appreciated the hard work that each and every student put into their project! 

After the work was done, it was time to party! Our fiesta de despedida (goodbye party), a bittersweet event, was full of delicious food, great conversation, impromptu limbo competitions, audacious dance moves, and many photos. We are so proud of our students and wish them all the best! Safe travels and keep in touch!


Some of the group and host siblings


Janette giving her final presentation




A final selfie

Final Days at Casita Linda

We've done lots of work over the past couple of days. Yesterday, we assisted in the construction of a storage shed, weeded a playground, and watered the trees that we planted two days ago. Today, we went either individually or in pairs to help a community member start their own garden--including plants like cilantro, celery, two kinds of lettuce, and parsley. Then, we got to know the community even better by dividing up into teams and battling it out on the soccer field! Finally, we shared lunch and had a dance party. We will miss our friends from Casita Linda!

In order to get an idea of some of the reflection that our students are doing, Marcus has graciously offered to share the following about his experience on the program so far:

"This experience has been truly eye-opening. There is so much to learn about. From the community and the culture to the problems that we've seen these communities working on, it really displays the joys and hardships that they go through on a daily basis. And because of this, I know that I've seen changes in myself. I'm more open-minded, devoted, and motivated to reach my goals and to do many other things in the future. This is something I will never forget, along with meeting great friends along the way."


A finished garden


Some of the soccer players


Learning how to dance Cumbia!


What the final mural looks like!



BONUS FEATURE: Students and dogs