The Middlebury School in China is scheduled to reopen for the fall 2023 semester after being suspended for three years due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
For the first time since the school’s sudden closure in spring 2020, six students from Middlebury and other institutions were admitted to study in Beijing for the upcoming fall semester. Study abroad at Kunming, the school’s other location, will not be offered for the fall semester because of the small number of applicants, according to Kai Zhang, Chinese Department lecturer and director of Middlebury’s School in China.
For Chinese learners, the program is an opportunity to apply their knowledge in an immersive context. Amuna Sonomdagva ’24.5, one of the six admitted students for the fall 2023 semester, believes that going abroad to China makes the best use of the efforts she made to learn Chinese over the past two years.
“It makes what I have learned in textbooks more natural and authentic. It will be a challenge and a fun experience,” Sonomdagva said. As an International Politics and Economics (IPE) major, Sonomdagva is drawn to the courses in political science and economics offered in Beijing. She also looks forward to exploring the city and its food culture.
The program’s reopening will not be the exact same experience as three years ago. Students are unlikely to live with a Chinese roommate this fall, which was an important feature of the experience before the pandemic.
“Our partner university changed its housing policy during the pandemic, and it takes time for the policy to revert to normal,” Zhang said.
Students also feel uncertain about being the first cohort to study abroad in China since 2020.
“Many students going abroad last year and this year changed their destinations because they or their families are concerned about China’s handling of public health emergencies,” Sonomdagva said. This impacts students like her who plan to go to Beijing, too. She could not learn about the experience and how to prepare from a previous attendee because the program could not find previous attendees who are still current students.
Despite these difficulties, Sonomdagva said that support from faculty made her feel more at ease about studying in China.
“Taking Chinese was one of the best decisions I’ve made at Midd, because the department really cares about its students,” she said.
The program’s organizers are also optimistic.
“News coverage of China can make students insecure about studying abroad there,” Zhang said. “But I hope students still have the courage to go to China and experience the reality of the country by themselves. That may challenge some false beliefs and make their time abroad very worthwhile.”