Richard Hickey, from York University, UK, joined Lotus 8 weeks Winter program in 2005 (3 weeks One on One plus 5 weeks at BLCU).

I came to China on the 8 week Winter course, which was 2 weeks of one-to-one tuition when I arrived, a five week course at BLCU, and then a final week of one-to-one. I arrived not knowing a single word of Chinese, and wanted to learn just enough Mandarin to allow me to travel around China alone easily. For me therefore, the individual tuition was great. I also found that combining group classes with half a dozen individual lessons a week was very useful in reinforcing what I had learnt. Having not enjoyed languages at school, I was expecting to be thoroughly ready to move on and leave school behind by the end of the course. Instead I am regretting not doing the 20-week course, buying textbooks to take home, and even planning to return to China to teach for 3 months in June, July and August, after traveling and before going back to uni. Learning the language in the country where you can actually use it every day is great.

The family were really nice. The food was tasty, and it was good to see what real Beijingers eat every day. They were all remarkably patient with my faltering Chinese, especially as I had start with "wo" and go from there. Zhou Jia Yi, the daughter, speaks quite good English, but her parents don't speak much. For me this was the perfect combination, since I could practice with her mum and dad, but if i got stuck we could generally work it out. The flat was good, and well-located for BLCU. They even lent me a bicycle, which i came to love, even when I nearly went under a bus one day. Beijing is a very interesting place, the energy really is palpable.

Would i recommend homestay? Definitely. Compared with friends who stayed in dorms at BLCU with other international students, my Chinese is better. Plus, there is far more incentive to learn of you get to practice it every day. Thanks to everyone at Lotus for rushing my application through.