Having done extensive internet research back in England on learning Chinese in Beijing, I started turning my attention to homestays, as it seemed by far the most effective way to become fully immersed in Chinese language and culture. After a quick cursory glance over Lotus’s website, I firmly placed it on my shortlist of options for my time in Beijing, especially as they offered an internship along with the homestay.
Lotus was by no means the only organisation offering both an internship opportunity and a homestay, and I was as yet undecided on which organisation seemed the best. At last…The clincher undoubtedly came when I found out that Lotus are a not-profit organisation, rather than a business devoted to extracting as much money from you as they can whilst spending as little as possible on your comfort and convenience whilst you are there. Lotus seemed to be genuinely interested in promoting and fostering Chinese-Western relations by encouraging the exchange of language and culture. They were not just in the language teaching industry to make money like many others.
Anyway a few email exchanges later and I was set up with a homestay in an area about half an hour by subway from BLCU, where I would be studying Chinese every morning Monday to Friday. I was also set up with an internship every afternoon, also Monday to Friday, in a dynamic and exciting non-profit organisation, where I knew I would be able to make valuable contributions and gain excellent experience…without the ridiculous price tag that comes with many other means of organising internships in China.
Soon after, I was being greeted at Beijing airport by a driver and an incredibly lovely young girl from Lotus called Zoe, who took me straight to my host family. My host mother greeted me with a huge smile and immediately started chatting away to me in Mandarin. It was at this point that I realised that after a couple of years of studying Mandarin from a textbook, I essentially knew nothing. That evening, over a spectacular Beijing meal, myself and the family communicated via frantic hand gestures, laughing to break any awkward silences and ecstatic celebration by both sides whenever anything was successfully conveyed.
So far it has been a week since I set foot in Beijing for the first time, and although I still possess a toddler’s speech capacity at best, every day I can feel myself understanding more and more phrases that are spoken to and around me, and I already feel settled both with my lovely Beijing family and in the Lotus office.