When I first decided to pick up and move to HK, I did not quite have any sort of plan in place (arguably I still don’t). I just knew it was time to make the change, had applied to one job (and even that may ultimately be on the Mainland if I even get it!), and otherwise had no real alternative worked out. I was just going to pick up and figure it out once I got there. Not really a good plan.
Fortunately, I shared my idea with Mike, a classmate of mine from law school who proclaims he can solve everyone’s problems but his own, who suggested why not start out by attending some sort of continuing education so that I could get settled into the country in a more relaxed transitional state, get a chance to really spend some time in the place before I decided a full blown commitment, all the while learning a marketable skill?
Mike was right, and the idea was brilliant! I had taken 2 years of Mandarin in college, and had gotten relatively advanced, but did not feel entirely comfortable enough to work in a professional setting where I only spoke Mandarin. I also speak Cantonese on a fairly basic conversational level, but it would be nice to really improve that as well. It is, after all, my “native language” technically. So going to Hong Kong to learn Mandarin AND Cantonese made perfect sense. Plus, no awful simplified Chinese! Yuck!
But where? The next morning, I immediately turned to your friend and mine Google, and searched terms like “mandarin study hong kong,” even “best mandarin study hong kong,” and found a number of “commercial” educational programs that catered to foreigners like me, with courses ranging from 2 to 8 weeks, costing about $800 to $2200 respectively. These courses have a number of different start dates, and some included excursions, focusing on the “cultural experience.”
It was really hard to compare them. I started making charts by costs per lesson hour, and noting whatever else I could tell that might differentiate one from another – but it was near impossible. Further, these “intensive” courses, focused on training one quickly, which was not in line with my purposes in HK. Besides from attaining quality education, I would actually prefer to take it slow and just get a real feel for my surroundings.
I’m not sure how I ended up surfing over to CUHK, but it came up on one of my searches and looked nearly close to perfect in terms of what I was looking for. It did not force me to go in the summer only, targeted foreigners, had multiple levels of training and a variety of courses in terms of levels and time lengths, was at a a real university campus, was affordable. I began to research CUHK further and discovered it was also one of the best universities in Asia based on some USNews-like rankings for Asia.
Turns out the Chinese Language Center has roots dating back to 1961, originally formed to teach ex-pats Cantonese. In 1963 there was a collaborattion between the New Asia University and Yale, forming the New Asia -Yale-in-China-Program. In 1974, the program was moved over to the Chinese University of Hong Kong’s campus out in the New Territories. Now there are Mandarin and Cantonese classes, teaching a range of levels (1-5), short intensives, and regular seasonal semesters (Fall, Spring, Summer).
Turned out Peter and Han Han, who both went to Yale, had attended exchange programs there during summers past, and spoke very highly of the program. What’s more, Liz ‘s parents had taught at CUHK (not CLC itself), and in fact are moving back to HK in 2010. CUHK CLC very easily became the forerunner, and soon there was no reason to try to figure out which of the seemingly hundreds of other study abroad programs would suit me. We have a winner!
Although I could not get any direct information on the very program or classes I intended to take (also found some relatively positive but uninformative anecdotes on an expat talk thread), the program overall seemed perfect for me. And now onto applying (a whole other post to come)!
The take-away here is that Mike’s idea is a great one, and for quite a few people I know who have expatriated to the USA or to other countries from the USA, it is often the first stepping stone. It provides a good opportunity to transition more gently into the new country, and helps with learning what sometimes are needed skills to live in the new place (either job skills or language). Plus, it should give you a valid legal premise! Yes, we don’t just get to move somewhere and live there without proper visas.
As to finding the right program – my recommendation is to look into REAL universities. Study the area’s actual unis and educational institutions, including city colleges, community colleges, (I looked into the other universities of HK, including HKU and HK Polytechnic, etc.) and from there, check to see what kind of continuing education programs they have. These, however, may be more expensive (although not so in the case of CLC), but at least they will probably be more reliably legitimate programs, and offer more in terms of a community and support.
On the other hand, this is not to say that those “commercial” educational programs are necessarily worse, and it will depend on what you are seeking.