By Amelia S, volunteer and student
I’m going to take this opportunity to talk about my personal experience at Omeida Chinese Academy in Yangshuo. This has been one of the best experiences of my life, and it’s not an exaggeration. I’ve fully enjoyed every minute of my time here, and I’m genuinely sad that my time here is about to end. I wish I could stay much longer, but staying longer is not possible. I signed up for Media/ SEO volunteering alongside studying Mandarin and every day in Yangshuo has been amazing. From climbing the TV tower at 5am to see the sunrise to traveling to different cities at the weekends, everything I have experienced here has given me the opportunity to leave my comfort zone and try something new and completely different. So why do I think that this is one of the best experiences? I’ll explain why.
Life in Yangshuo
First of all, I would like to talk about life in Yangshuo, as I feel that there aren’t as many comments as there should be, especially for people who are looking for places to study in China. I didn’t know anything about Yangshuo until I learned about Omeida, and now that I’m here, I can say that the scenery resembles the images that you see in photographs. Sure, you have to climb mountains to get those kinds of photographs, but this is an activity I recommend you do as the views are breathtaking once you reach the top. On top of this, Omeida Chinese Academy is located a 20-minute walk away from the famous ancient market street West Street （西街）which is lined with shops, cafes and music bars, and is especially popular at night. It gets very busy!!
Living in Yangshuo is very cheap and the school’s accommodation is perfect. I shared a room with a Chinese student who was studying English, which meant that in the evenings we could both practice our language together- I learned so much from doing this, from my pronunciation to general word use and tones. The room was clean and bed sheets were provided, which meant that I didn’t have to carry these things over from my country, which was a bonus. There are multiple buildings which belong to Omeida, so you know that whichever one you’re assigned to you’ll be staying with other students studying either Chinese or English.
Food in Yangshuo very cheap- there are many places which charge less than £4 a meal at the time of writing this blog…! Yangshuo is also very traditional in how you can buy food, breakfast especially, where you can go and buy dumplings and special local delicacies from the pop-up stalls that line the streets from around 8am onwards to serve breakfast. You can also buy fruit very cheaply, especially watermelons and mangos which are particularly delicious in my opinion- being able to buy them fresh on the street for around £1-2 depending on their size. There is so much food to try in Yangshuo, including the local specialties such as ‘beer duck’, ‘beer fish’ and the Guilin rice noodles (米粉) which are advertised almost everywhere, so you won’t have much difficulty finding these things to eat.
There is plenty to do but also plenty of opportunities to rest and take a break from busy city life. Omeida is very good at providing things for us to do, including activities every Saturday, cultural lessons every Wednesday/ Thursday afternoons and class dinners once a month that everyone can attend and get to know each other. You can also walk with others in your spare time to buy many of the iced drinks available or to buy one of the thousands of ice creams being sold- these have become daily activities for me and my friends here!
The teaching at Omeida Chinese Academy is fantastic. For starters, it’s very flexible. I decided to attend the standard course with lessons in the morning, starting at 9:30am and finishing at midday. My teacher, Twelve, was wonderful and was very patient and fully involved with the class, making sure that learning Chinese was interesting, fun and suited to our level of understanding. I had one classmate, to begin with and then another joined after the first week, so three in one class meant that it was intensive, that we could learn quickly and form good relationships with one another. Textbooks were provided when I arrived, and the small class size also allowed us to focus on areas we felt we were weaker in, such as grammar and pronunciation, enabling us to get the attention we needed to move faster through the course.
Studying Chinese in Yangshuo also meant that I could use what I learned with the local people- the benefit of a small town (for China) is that not as many people speak English, so practicing Chinese outside of school is much easier than in larger, more modern places. Omeida also has the Language Partners program, where students from the English school are paired with foreigners learning Mandarin as “buddies”, enabling both sides to benefit from language exchange and practice. I was paired with two buddies at the start of my stay in Yangshuo, who I became really good friends with, and we did many activities including climbing Yangshuo’s TV tower （电视塔）to see the sunrise, swimming, shopping and eating lots of delicious local food. Another benefit of this program is that you get to experience things that Chinese people know about, things that travelers can overlook or miss out on.
Similarly, while meals can be provided for us at the school canteen, it’s often great to go out with your friends and buddies to get a real taste of Chinese cuisine and to practice speaking the local language outside of a school setting. I picked up so many useful phrases and tried so many delicious dishes that I’ll never forget, but probably would not have been able to order (because I couldn’t read the menu very well when I first arrived) if I didn’t have a Chinese friend recommending them to me！
My time volunteering for the marketing department at Omeida Chinese Academy was very interesting and a wonderful opportunity. I did more photography and blog writing (such as this) but I also had the opportunity to dabble with Google Analytics, AdWords and other search engine optimization options. Taking photographs meant that I could go out every day to explore the local area while volunteering my time to help the school. Other days I edited the photographs for use on Omeida’s Instagram account, and others were spent checking the internet traffic for certain keywords and editing my blog posts to optimize the school’s visibility online. This was a great experience for me to put my photography skills into practice as well as learning new skills and techniques for SEO and blogging online, an entirely different area of media that I didn’t know much about before I came.
At Omeida, there is also the opportunity to volunteer as an English teacher, or through the Language Partner program. I also volunteered as a Language Partner; I would highly recommend it as it can really add something extra to your stay in Yangshuo!
Traveling around China from Yangshuo
Being located in Yangshuo also gave me the possibility to travel to other places in China. Omeida Chinese Academy is reasonably well connected to surrounding towns and locations such as Xingping （兴平）, Yangdi （杨堤）and Guilin （桂林）. I was able to visit Xingping with my language partners and was able to see the famous location on the 20 yuan note. We got the bus from Yangshuo bus station (about a 30 minute walk from the school), which also has regular buses from Yangshuo to Guilin, a much cheaper alternative than taking the taxi. Being able to visit the surrounding areas meant that there was plenty to do, but I only had to remember to check the bus times before I left!
Yangshuo is also a great location as most places are easily accessible by bicycle or electric bike, which can be hired cheaply from many places. The traffic also feels slower and safer than in other places, making it relaxing to go from scenic spot to scenic spot at your own pace and in your own time. Guilin’s accessibility makes it great to catch a train to other parts of China, or even a domestic flight if you wanted to travel much further afield- there are also buses from Yangshuo to Guilin airport, so you can travel around China before, during or after your stay at Omeida very easily.
Interested in the opportunities that Omeida Chinese Academy provide? Click here to get started!