Modern Chinese language immersion in China’s cultural and political center
Faculty: Jennifer Liu and additional Harvard University faculty
Beijing is a 3,000-year-old city that has been the capital of China for most of the past 600 years. In recent decades, it has gained international importance as a political and economic hub, while retaining a rich historical and contemporary cultural heritage. Combined with its status as a center of Standard Mandarin in a linguistically diverse country, these qualities make Beijing an ideal location for intensive Chinese language study and cultural immersion. The Harvard Summer Program in Beijing, also called the Harvard Beijing Academy (HBA), offers students of Chinese the opportunity to gain a full academic year’s worth of Chinese language study in the course of a nine-week summer session. The program offers five intensive courses in modern Chinese at the intermediate and advanced levels, all of which include a one-week Social Study project, as well as curriculum materials designed to develop and reinforce all aspects of Chinese language ability, including speaking, oral comprehension, reading, and writing, in authentic cultural contexts
The course structure is designed to maximize students’ language acquisition, with five hours of class (lectures, drill sections, and a one-on-one session) every day, Monday through Thursday, from morning until early afternoon. Written and oral exams are held every Friday. Students devote much of the remainder of each weekday to homework, study, and review, but also have the opportunity to participate in a variety of extracurricular activities, as well as semi-weekly “Chinese tables” where students and teachers eat lunch together in a relaxed setting. Teachers hold office hours in the evenings from Sunday through Thursday, and students are encouraged to come by for help with their lessons, or just to talk with their teachers and classmates.
On the weekends, there are performances (e.g., acrobatics show) and excursions (e.g., the Great Wall, the Summer Palace, and the Beijing Art District). Students may also spend time on weekends with host families to experience the daily lives and customs of Chinese families. This school/society nexus gives the program its unique participatory flavor, with language instruction continually related to its Beijing setting.
“I’m amazed at how much progress we’ve made in our Chinese classes. Our teachers are all kind, friendly, inordinately hardworking, and tirelessly passionate. It was an absolute pleasure being one of their students.”
– HBA student
“HBA has been a wonderful experience. It’s been tiring, but extremely rewarding.”
– HBA student
Social study project
Students spend the fifth week of the program conducting a social study in a location of their choice, and visit factories, villages, and schools to conduct interviews with local people on some aspect of Chinese society. In this practical extension of the classroom experience, students experience facets of China’s geographically and socially diverse landscape that they may not be able to during the classroom study weeks of the program. They use the insights gained during the Social Study to write a report in Chinese as part of their course requirements.
Below is the tentative list of Social Study trips that will be offered in 2015:
- Martial arts and religion (at the Shaolin Temple in Henan Province)
- Rural life and development (in Huangshan, Anhui Province)
- Business and globalization (in Beijing)
- Minority nationalities, culture, and economy (in Inner Mongolia)
- Economics, business, and modernization (in Shanghai)
- Ancient history and its modern influence (in Sha’anxi Province)
Graduate students may elect either to join one of these program-organized trips, or to design their own trip within or outside Beijing for specific research purposes, with the approval of the Program Director.
“The Social Study week was excellent—a really in-depth experience in a part of China I never would have seen if not for this program.”
– HBA student
Course of study
Students enroll in one of the five courses listed below (note the new 2015 course offering). They are placed in a course commensurate with their level of fluency, which is assessed based on their written and oral application materials and a placement test taken after they arrive in Beijing. Because all language progress is relative and student strengths vary, every effort is made to ensure the best placement.
The textbooks, written by faculty of the program, use both traditional and simplified characters, and students are encouraged to learn both.
Prerequisites for all courses: Harvard College students must be taking a Harvard Chinese course or have taken the Harvard Chinese placement test and received an assignment of intermediate-level Chinese (120a) or higher. Taking a Chinese language course before the program increases a student’s chances of being accepted. Students from other colleges must have at least one year of college-level Chinese or the equivalent.
CHIN S-120c Study Abroad in Beijing, China: Intermediate Modern Chinese (32805)
In this second-year course, students develop their conversational and narrative skills using carefully selected vocabulary and grammar. The textbook is based on authentic conversation, moving gradually from casual to formal styles. The text covers the most important communicative skills needed by American students studying in China and provides a deeper understanding of cultural and intellectual differences between US and Chinese societies.
CHIN S-130c Study Abroad in Beijing, China: Pre-Advanced Modern Chinese (32806)
In this third-year course, students study contemporary China and develop their speaking and writing skills by constructing new compounds, using idiomatic expressions, and mastering formal and informal styles. The curriculum is designed to further improve listening and reading abilities through texts geared specifically to the understanding of Chinese culture and society.
CHIN S-130xc Study Abroad in Beijing, China: Pre-Advanced Modern Chinese for Heritage Students (33270)
In this third-year course intended primarily for heritage speakers, students develop their Chinese proficiency at the pre-advanced level. The curriculum is designed to help students to further expand their vocabulary, to recognize formal and informal styles, to improve their reading and writing skills, and to hone their oral communication. The course makes use of texts related to contemporary issues in China and the wider world, including newspaper articles, dialogues, and essays, as well as supplementary audiovisual materials.
CHIN S-140c Study Abroad in Beijing, China: Advanced Modern Chinese (32807)
In this fourth-year course, students read authentic texts of varied genres and styles emphasizing social and cultural issues in contemporary America and China. Through the extensive readings, students learn reading strategies, and stylistic transformations (casual and formal). Students also write compositions and papers, do formal presentations, and participate in classroom discussions to develop a solid foundation in the four skills—listening, speaking, reading, and writing—in conversational and formal Chinese.
CHIN S-150c Study Abroad in Beijing, China: Academic Chinese—Culture and Society (32808)
This fifth-year course enables students to speak and write formally, preparing them for future research and engagement in all fields where Chinese is used professionally. Students read academic articles from different genres and classical stories from different periods compiled in the textbook. They also write compositions and papers, do formal presentations, and participate in classroom discussions. Students learn a complete set of written grammar, including formal vocabulary, formal sentence patterns, and rules of discourse composition that help formulate coherent and effective expressions and passages.
Jennifer Liu, PhD, Director of Chinese Language Program, Department of East Asian Languages and Civilizations, Harvard University
Who should apply
Open to students and recent graduates from all institutions and countries, the program is designed for English speakers who have completed at least one year of college-level Chinese, or have substantively equivalent ability. With a two-to-one student–teacher ratio, the program provides the best environment for any student to make substantial improvement in all areas of Chinese language ability.
Students must be at least 18 years old, have completed at least one year of college or be a first-year student, and be in good standing to apply.
The application materials, outlined below, are due no later than January 15. Although the online component of the application will not officially close until January 29, please be aware that we can only guarantee review to applications submitted in full (including all components listed below) by January 15. Applications completed and submitted after this deadline will only be considered for review if spaces remain.
Applications will be reviewed on a rolling basis; early application will increase your chances of admission. Students may submit the various components of their applications as early as they wish. The online registration component may be completed at any time after it becomes available in early December. All admissions decisions will be released during the last week of January.
A complete application will consist of the following materials:
- An online registration that includes:
- A $50 nonrefundable application fee.
- A paper application that includes:
- A typed English statement of interest.
- A handwritten Chinese statement of interest.
- A recommendation form from a Chinese language teacher, written in either English or Chinese.
- Transcripts (student record accepted for Harvard students).
- First-year college students who do not yet have any course grades must include a sealed recommendation from their academic advisor or the equivalent.
- If your transcript with fall semester grades is released after you have submitted your application, you may mail it in separately for consideration as part of your application file.
- An audio recording in Chinese (~3 minutes) introducing yourself and explaining why you would like to study at HBA. The recording should be done in an impromptu manner, and should not be scripted.
- E-mail your recording (in MP3 or WMA format) to email@example.com.
- Include both your Chinese and English names in the subject line of the e-mail.
- Two photocopies of the photo and signature pages in your passport.
- Please make sure that the entire two pages are included in the photocopy and that all text is clearly legible.
- If your passport expires before February 2016, you should apply for a renewal immediately, as Chinese government regulations stipulate that visas may only be granted to applicants whose passports are valid for at least six months after their planned departure from China.
- Applicants not currently enrolled in Harvard may be asked to have a brief interview with an HBA faculty member. For students enrolled in Yale, we will arrange for Harvard Chinese instructors to visit campus in January for in-person interviews; for students enrolled at other universities and for graduates in other areas, we will arrange interviews via Skype. The purpose of this interview will be to enable us to get better acquainted with students whom we do not already know through the Harvard Chinese program.
- Applicants will be notified in advance of the details and timing of the interview, which will be scheduled once all the student’s application materials have been received.
Mail the paper application form, teacher recommendation, transcripts and passport photocopies directly to the HSS Study Abroad Office, preferably in one envelope. Harvard students may submit their application materials in person to the Harvard Beijing Academy program office (5 Bryant Street, room 104).
Notice to all applicants and accepted students
Due to the lengthy nature of HBA, we recognize that it may overlap with other potential commitments. You should only apply to HBA if you are able to commit to attending for the full nine weeks, from the listed arrival date to the listed departure date. This has been the tradition of our program since its founding, and while we regret any inconvenience it may cause, we also found it essential to maintaining the intensive and high-morale environment that makes HBA so successful each year. In addition to attending all class sessions and other mandatory activities, students are required to remain within Beijing for the duration of the program.
There is a nonrefundable $50 application fee. The cost of the program is $6,000 and includes the following:
- Room and two meals each week
- Course materials
- Scheduled local excursions and extracurricular activities in Beijing
In addition to the program fee, students are responsible for:
- Most meals
- A health insurance fee (waived if students have US insurance that provides coverage outside the United States)
- Transportation to and from Beijing
- Transportation within Beijing
- All costs relating to the social study project (including room, board, and travel expenses if staying outside of Beijing); rooms at the university are covered for students doing their social study in the Beijing area
- The cost of passports and visas
- Any immunizations
A laptop computer is strongly recommended. Every student must have at least an iPod or other MP3-capable deviceto listen to the audio recordings that accompany the textbook.
See a sample budget for estimated expenses.
How to pay and funding options
See Payment and Funding for payment deadlines and more information, including funding options for Harvard College students.
The Chinese-only pledge
Students must speak only Chinese during the entire program (with exceptions for emergencies and phone calls with friends and family). Every student signs a pledge agreeing to this commitment, which is a crucial factor in the effectiveness of the HBA immersion system. Students who violate the Language Pledge will be given a written warning, followed by a grade reduction for a second violation, and expulsion from the program in the case of further violations. We have maintained this strict policy on Language Pledge violations not only because of their impact on the individual student’s language learning, but because of the importance of maintaining collective morale and discipline among all students. Experience shows that students who make friends with local Chinese people and keep their use of English to an absolute minimum—by limiting phone calls, e-mail, and reading in English—invariably show the greatest progress during the program.
OPIc (Oral Proficiency Interview—computerized)
HBA students take the OPIc, a computer-based assessment of spoken Chinese ability, during both the first and last weeks of the program. This assessment, designed by the American Council for the Teaching of Foreign Languages, provides a standardized and substantive measurement of students’ improvement in spoken ability over the course of the summer.
Obtaining a visa
To attend HBA, students must obtain a 180-day X2 visa, which is the shortest-duration student visa issued by the Chinese government. Once enrollment is finalized, BLCU will prepare formal “Invitation Letters,” which the program will then mail out to individual students. This “Invitation Letter” must be included among each student’s documentation when applying for the X2 visa. Accepted students should refer to the HBA Student Handbook for more information on the details of the visa process.
The host institution, Beijing Language and Culture University (BLCU), is located in the modern and trendy Haidian District of Beijing. Students live in comfortable, single rooms at the university’s conference center, with private bathrooms, air conditioning, television, and other amenities. The conference center is steps away from the classrooms. All students must stay in program-provided housing.
The conference center and the BLCU cafeteria both offer reasonably priced Chinese and foreign food, and there are many restaurants and shops within short walking distance of campus.
Please e-mail the program coordinator, Alex Lopatin, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Watch a video project by HBA student Bo Young Choi, taken during the 2014 Inner Mongolia Social Study trip.
See the presentation from the information session to learn more about the program.
Students with disabilities
Students should contact the disability services coordinator as soon as possible. See Students with Disabilities for more information.