Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Studying for the HSK

I realize that I haven't written since the end of February, but I've actually got very good reason -- I've been studying my tail off for the official Chinese language test, the Hanyu Shuiping Kaoshi 汉语水平考试, better known as the HSK.  Although my time in China has been over for almost four months already, I don't want my year there to be for naught.  Considering I was more or less a beginner when I first arrived, you could argue that I know I can speak Chinese at a fairly decent level now.  However, it was a personal goal of mine to at least reach a solid intermediate level.  I even wrote what my goal was in this blog post.  My goal wasn't ever so concrete that I specifically said I wanted to take a test, but at the same time, it got me to constantly learn every day while not being in the country.

After leaving Shanghai, I kept saying to myself, "Sure, I'll sign up for the HSK," which is only offered here in Düsseldorf twice per year.  I handed in my registration the day before it closed, not wanting to wait until the fall to take it.  I had been a bit indecisive which level to take, either HSK3 or HSK4.  The main difference is the number of vocabulary words that appear (600 vs. 1200, cumulatively) and the grammatical concepts.  I decided to take level 3 because I figured I don't actually need the certificate for anything in particular, e.g. studying at a university or for a job.  I'm really glad I decided on level 3 because I soon realized there were a lot of gaps in my vocab and grammar that I needed to fill!  So here's how I spent the last few weeks studying.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Reflections on a Year Abroad...again.

It's been almost two months since I left China, but I haven't had time to sit down and really write anything meaningful. To sum up the last two months really quickly, Christian and I left China the day after Christmas because his visa expired on December 31. We flew to Hong Kong where we left all of our suitcases in his company's HK office, then went on vacation for three weeks in Australia. We went to Perth to visit my pen pal, then flew to Sydney (where it rained the whole time we were there), Port Douglas (where we saw the Great Barrier Reef and Daintree National Forest), and Melbourne (where we chilled). We then flew back to Hong Kong, picked up our luggage, and then flew back to Germany on January 20. Then I saw an incredibly cheap airfare home to New Jersey, so after two short weeks in Germany, I flew back home for Chinese New Year for ten days, and then came back to Düsseldorf. This means in the last eight weeks, I've flown over 20,000 miles, which is basically half of the circumference around the world. Whew.

All of the luggage we packed up and brought back to Germany from Shanghai

It's finally all sinking in that I've really left Shanghai and I've now had the last eight weeks to really think about life there. Being back in Germany isn't nearly as weird or as big of a struggle as when I left Berlin and moved back to Middlebury, Vermont. For one thing, I admire the fact that Düsseldorf is so empty compared to Shanghai and it's just so quiet. I don't have to worry about getting run over when crossing the street (not like in China, anyway). People don't shout as much. The subway is so quaint -- the new U-bahn line finally opened this weekend after several years under construction and there's a whopping five new stations that opened this past weekend. Admittedly, I laughed about this because Shanghai opened 22 new stations and a few new lines in one weekend, and that wasn't even the only new station and line openings I experienced in the 15 months I was there. I do realize labor is way cheaper in China, plus the government can basically do whatever it wants there.

It's funny reading my reflections on a year abroad after my year in Berlin. Back then, I said I learned a lot about myself, like that I was more independent than I thought, my academic limits had been pushed, and I was more open to new experiences. After a year in China, it's actually not that much different. Again, I've discovered my independence; instead of academic limits, I was pushed professionally; and being open to more experiences? Duh. To add one more thing to the list that didn't exist in Berlin -- I've learned about myself in terms of identity, but more about that in a bit.