Laurence Coutier

Immersion Program - Guangzhou

Laurence, from Montreal, shares with us her experiences on the Immersion and Study Program in Guangzhou this summer


I lived in Guangzhou with my host mother (Grace), her son (Leo), her husband (M. Li) and their dogs (Niuniu and XiaoBai). There was also their helper that we called “Aiyi” (auntie). All of them were very welcoming and nice to me. We were living in an beautiful apartment in Tianhe District, it was a very safe and spacious area. The family made me stay in Leo’s room, which was very clean and comfortable. My host family was very lovely, I’ve learned a lot from them and I will miss living with them. When the summer holiday started we had the chance to do various activities all together, it was extremely enjoyable. They liked to learn about my culture and enjoyed sharing information about the Chinese culture.


What do you like most about China?


I will miss the food for sure. I had the chance to taste new food. Aiyi (auntie) cooked homemade food three times a day and I loved every single meal that she made. I also went to various restaurants with the family and by myself. It was great to try new flavours and meals.

Being surrounded by only Chinese citizens was interesting and helpful. The culture is beautiful and so rich. I liked visiting Chinese temples and important landmarks of China (in Guangzhou and Beijing). China has so many gorgeous places to visit. Learning about the history of Chinese culture was rewarding.

…so many things, would be hard to write about all of them.


What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?


Visiting the city! To go out to explore was so great. It allowed me to discovered new places and try new food.


How have you got to know people socially (both Chinese and other ex-pats)?


At first it was hard to make friends, because I was the only one in the program in Guangzhou this summer. Additionally, my Chinese lessons were private, so I didn’t have any classmates. However, I eventually met new people; for instance, Grace’s friends have a daughters (LingYing and Coco), we became quickly good friends. I also met Grace’s nephew, Whistle. I did various activities with all of them which allowed me to know more about the young culture of China. My teacher also became a good friend of mine! When I went in Beijing by myself I also met a lot of people in the hostel (from China and also from various countries all around the world).


How do you rate your Mandarin course? Is your Mandarin improving?


My Mandarin improved for sure, 50% due to living with locals (and in China) and another 50% due to my Mandarin lessons. I really enjoyed learning at the Mandarin House. My teacher was efficient, nice and patient. Sadly I only had 4 weeks to finish the textbook, but I feel like I have learned so much regarding the time that we had. Also, it was amazing to be able to practice my Mandarin in the outside world. I would definitely recommend this place to anyone who wishes to learn Mandarin.


Have you done any sightseeing, either in Guangzhou or further afield? If so, what’s the best place you’ve been so far?


Yes, in Guangzhou I visited various place with my program coordinator, host family and by myself. I also went to Beijing 10 days. The best places I have been to are the temples. I loved how beautiful they were an so rich in history. I have learned a lot about Buddhism in China. For example: Temple of the Six Banyan Trees, Lama Temple, Confucius Temple etc.


What have you found to be the major cultural differences? Have you made any cultural faux-pas?


The major cultural differences are the way food was traditionally served, the huge amount of people in the subway and of course the traditional landscapes/architectures. I don’t believe I have made any culture faux-pas, I think I just had to get used to be surrounded by a lot of people. (and of course… the humidity!!)


What were your expectations prior to starting your role? Has the experience matched your expectations?


My main expectations:
– Improve my teaching abilities.
– Meet new people (Chinese and foreigners) as a foreigners.
– Become more responsible/independent.
I feel like my expectations were reached!


What piece of advice would you offer to prospective applicants?


To be open-minded and patient. It may sound scary to travel in China, because of the cultural differences and the language barrier. However it’s a wonderful experience and there is actually nothing to be scared about. The Chinese are welcoming and nice. The food is amazing and the views/landscapes are gorgeous. Of course, there may be things that you won’t like, but it’s ok. Being able to learn everyday, and not just academically, makes the whole experience unforgettable.

Furthermore, to not be scared to ask questions.. to anyone: coordinator, host family, locals etc. Be sure to communicate with all of them, and tell about your intentions, be clear.


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