Whitney Swedlow, from Florida State University, USA, joined Lotus 5-week one-on-one program in fall 2007.

My time with the Lotus Educational Foundation study abroad program in Beijing was outstanding. From the minute I arrived to the minute I left, Lotus was there to assist and to answer any question I could imagine. It was my first time in Asia, and I was scared out of my mind when I first stepped off of the plane in China. I was afraid no one would be there to meet me, or my host family wouldn't like me, etc. A million potential problems were racing through my mind. I walked through the arrivals gate at Beijing airport to see Grace holding a sign saying "Lotus Educational Foundation" and heaved a sigh of relief. Grace introduced herself, presented me with my welcome package (full of valuable information!), and told me a little more about the program and what to expect as we rode to my host family's apartment.

My host family was fantastic. I had a 24 year old host sister (Xu Wei) who was studying English, and she made it her personal goal to act as dictionary, tutor, and translator for me throughout my stay. My host mom and dad were very busy and worked hard but they always made a special effort to talk to me when they had the chance. Xu Wei took the initiative to introduce me to all of her friends and family, and before long I had not one Chinese mom, but four! By the time I left China, my Chinese families called me "sar" (Third Child with a Beijing accent) and I called them "Mama" and "Baba." They took me to eat family meals, see amazing and important sights, taught me to play Mah-jong, and allowed me to just spend time with them and practice my Mandarin. It was very difficult to leave, and I had to make many promises to return and visit in the future!

Because of my time constraints I decided to do 5 weeks of the homestay with private tutoring. I was a little worried and I didn't know what to expect when I first started the program. I studied Chinese for a year in university, but when I got to China, I realized I had a lot to learn. My first few days in Beijing I understood NOTHING except "hello" and "thank you," and it took me about 45 minutes and a dictionary to form a whole sentence. My tutor came on my second day, and together we went to the study center to pick out books and talk about what I wanted out of the tutoring. By the time I left China I was able to have complete conversations in Chinese. I could get around, talk to people, and ask questions in Chinese! My tutor was fantastic, and always worked hard to make sure that I understood and that I learned as much as possible. I learned way more in my 5 weeks in China than I had learned in my whole year of Mandarin classes at University.

Not only was Lotus fantastic in the tutoring and homestay, but they also made a special effort to make sure that all of the students got as much out of their time there as possible. Lotus arranged cultural expeditions every few weeks that really helped to enrich my stay in China. One of the expeditions Lotus took us on was to visit a Chinese Senior Center. We spent time with the seniors: pampering them, celebrating their birthdays, and performing for them, and it was truly a unique experience. Lotus made sure that we all understood the cultural significance of a senior center in China and it really helped to understand the magnitude of what we were doing. Lotus also held a Chinese cooking class for the students in the program and took us on an expedition to the Lama temple in Beijing. These expeditions were great because they were a chance for me to meet and socialize with the other students in the program and a chance for me to better understand the history and culture of China.

All in all, my experience with Lotus Educational Foundation was something I will value for the rest of my life. Through Lotus I made innumerable friends and acquaintances in China, and I can't wait to return. I would definitely reccomend Lotus to ANYONE who would like to improve their knowledge of the Chinese language and culture, and have a great time while doing it!.