Study Abroad Corner: Akiko Tomita in Harbin, China (Spring 2010)
"There is not much to do, but if you really want to improve your Chinese, you go to Harbin CET Program in China".
Nihao! My name is Akiko Tomita, and I am part of Undergraduate class of 2011. Right now, I am almost done with my program at Harbin, China, and am getting ready to head back to United States.
Throughout my freshmen and sophomore years, Study Abroad was something that I was looking forward to, that kept me going with a hard busy life at Soka University of America (SUA). However, it was very difficult for me to pick a program because there were too many options out there. Although I knew I will definitely have fun in Nanjing or in Beijing, I wanted my Study Abroad to be something special and meaningful. Not just another semester that I can waste by having fun and not learning much. I actually wanted to learn the language and see the local side of China.
Knowing that Harbin has the most authentic Chinese accent, and hearing how CET Harbin is one of the best and hard programs SUA offers, I decided to stick with Harbin, though people told me the place was simply just boring and freezing cold.
Arriving by train from Beijing with 24 other CET students, Harbin was different from all the other countries and cities I have travelled to. And yes, I have travelled around throughout my life. The city was pristine, covered in white, and the temperature outside was beyond my imagination. It was -28 Celsius (-18.4 Fahrenheit)!!
As soon as we got to Harbin, the first thing we did was to see the Ice Festival! The place was gigantic and the temperature was so cold, it was impossible to walk around outside for more than 10 minutes, even with layers of clothes looking like a snowman, because my legs were in pain and it started to get numb. Experiencing this deadly coldness, while appreciating the beauty of ice monuments, is definitely one of unforgettable memories in my life.
I was also able to experience Chinese New Years with my Chinese roommate, Yanyan, and we ate ice-creams while walking around! The funny thing was, because outside was so cold, I actually didn't have to worry about ice-cream getting melted and when I touched the ice-cream, it felt warm. Besides personal activities, every Saturday we have some group activities with our Chinese roommates that are provided by CET, which allows us to be familiar with Harbin. Some Saturdays we went hiking, saw Sofia Church (Harbin is heavily influenced by Russia and you can eat really good and cheap Russian chocolates! Yummy), went to Dongbei Hulinyuan (Siberian Tiger Park where we fed one living goat...), or went scavenger hunting around Harbin city, while other times went laser tagging or ate delicious Chinese food.
It is true; we have to study hard from Monday through Friday and do not have a lot of opportunities to see other cities in China, but Harbin is a place where you can get attached to and feel at home. It is filled with historical sites, such as 731 (Japanese Germ Center during World War II) and Lao Dao Wai (preserved block by the river side where you can enjoy the antique buildings and stores), with a unique multicultural ambiance. People are friendly and a studying environment is perfect. Moreover, just like in any other cities, if you are open for something new and exciting, you can never get bored in Harbin.
Towards the end of the Program, we had an opportunity to go to Dandong, a border city of China and North Korea. Seeing the contrast between quickly developing China and vacant city of North Korea, it made everyone silent and ponders about still existing conflicts. At Dandong we climbed some Great Wall, cruised around the river that separated two countries, stayed one night at countryside, and went to a museum.
I believe Study Abroad is all about being open minded and being willing to face anything and everything. As long as you have this mindset, one semester can turn into something unforgettable. I am really glad SUA offers such a great opportunity for all the students because it allows us to not only see other countries and get exposed to different cultures, but also helps discover new self and be more experienced and prepared for future.