My Experience at the Omeida Chinese Academy
TLDR: I am a huge fan of Omeida Chinese Academy after spending an intensive Mandarin fueled week there where I surpassed every goal I set for myself thanks to the academy’s dedicated teachers and friendly staff. Nestled in the breathtaking town of Yangshuo, this language school embodies the spirit of immersion, bringing together a community of passionate learners from all walks of life. By focusing on practical communication skills, they aim to unlock the mystique of the Chinese language, all while embracing cultural exchange. If you are at all interested in either beginning your Mandarin learning process or becoming fluent, I highly recommend this one-of-a-kind program – check out the website for yourself here at Omeida Chinese Academy and you can use my code ‘kerriemariah’ to get discounts and special offers.
Table of Contents:
- Getting There
- Class Setup
- Daily Schedule
- Living Quarters
- Extracurriculars and Volunteering
- Difficulties – Things to be Aware of
- What Makes Omeida Special
One of my degrees from university is Mandarin and I had studied it for almost the four full years I was matriculated at the University of Florida nearly ten years ago. I did a summer study abroad program at one of the top-tier schools that China has to offer, Tsinghua University, where I attended language and culture class every day for months back in 2013 and I have lived in Asia for the past six years of my life. Yet can I hold a conversation in Mandarin? Hardly. A year ago, if you had dropped me into a reality tv show where I only had to string three grammatically correct mandarin sentences and win a million bucks in prize money, I would’ve walked out of there with shame as the only thing gained. So what was my education all for and why did I not have much to show for it?
Mandarin is one of the hardest languages for a native English speaker to learn, in fact the State Department Foreign Service Institute places Mandarin in the “Super Hard Languages” category in their rigorous scientifically named rankings. So I shouldn’t beat myself up too hard, or should I? To be fair, I spent most of my time in university and at my study abroad enjoying my newfound freedom from home drinking, partying, and socializing and a lot less time studying or applying myself to more meaningful pursuits.
I decided it was time to get my butt in gear and finally gain that accolade I had chased half-heartedly for so long; to be able to converse in Mandarin. From my other university degree, linguistics, I had learned that the best way to learn a language was full immersion and to put yourself into a sort of survival, sink-or-swim situation to activate your brain into language learning mode.
Surprisingly, I couldn’t find many full immersion programs in either Mainland nor Taiwan. There seemed to be an insistence on classroom style, by the books teaching, that felt a bit too sterile to really activate language learning. Then, after some digging around, I finally found Omeida Chinese Academy, a language learning facility that not only offered language immersion, but also cultural exchange, volunteer opportunities, and a historic breathtaking landscape that has made the region world-famous.
I jumped on the opportunity for immersion, messaged Omeida, and a few weeks later I was off on a bullet train to Yangshuo China from Hong Kong Kowloon Station to start my week of intensive Chinese learning. One of the beauties of Omeida is that you can choose your own course duration, whether its one week like me, or up to a year of learning based on your needs and preferences. The other students I met there were planning on staying for a few months to half a year to really nail down their language skills.
Sorting Your Visa:
I’ve been lucky enough to benefit from the ten-year visa program that Americans had when relations with China were on warmer grounds back I the day so I have a multiple entry visa until 2027 that I plan to take full advantage in the upcoming years but for those of you who need a visa, don’t worry!
Omeida will take care of getting you the visa you need to get started on immersion process at their academy, just check the box of ‘I need a visa’ on your application form and one of their staff will help you get started on the process, they’ve had years of experience.
Getting there from outside of Hong Kong – I’d recommend getting a flight to Guilin which will probably include a layover in Beijing or Shanghai. The great staff at Omeida will pick you up from the airport on request and take care of things from there.
Getting there from Hong Kong – there are a couple of ways you can go about this. You can enter through Shenzhen and take a high-speed rail from there straight to Guilin, or you can go from West Kowloon station and take the high-speed rail straight from there to Yangshuo. The difference between arriving in Guilin or Yangshuo is negligible as arriving in Guilin adds maybe 20 minutes of taxi time and taxis are incredibly cheap in China.
I chose the West Kowloon high-speed rail option because it seemed the most convenient and I wanted to check out the new facilities. Be sure to book your rail tickets in advance, the earliest being two weeks before the date of departure because the tickets sell out fast and there is limited seating. You’ll need to do a transfer at Guangzhou South (GuangzhouNan 广州南) station which has big departure signs so you can keep track of your connecting train. Keep note of your train number as a way to track your train on the screen because the names of stations will be in characters and they don’t always correspond with the simple destination name.
I’d also recommend getting business class tickets for the longer leg which is around three hours from GuangZhouNan station to Yangshuo as the extra 100HKD it cost was well worth the legroom, comforts, and quiet.
You’ll have to exit Hong Kong and enter China in West Kowloon station so make sure to arrive at minimum an hour early to go through this process as it can be arduous, especially for a foreign national.
How I booked my tickets: https://www.trip.com/trains/china/route/Hongkong-to-Yangshuo/
Depending on your desired program, you’ll be having a one-on-one class, or a very small group class based on your needs. Since many of the students arriving to the program have different mandarin levels, from my understanding you’ll likely be having private one-on-one classes with your teacher. Classes are in one of the Academy buildings and during breaks sometimes us students would intermingle in the café and get to know each other. Classes have three 45-minute segments with ten-minute breaks in between each segment to help your brain rest and solidify the content it just learned.
Next to our learning building was the English students learning building, where Chinese students were participating in their intensive English language learning programs. It was a cool dual setup and Omeida often had us intermingle during cultural and extracurricular events to get to know each other and practice our respective language skills.
This was my daily schedule when I signed up for Omeida’s intensive mandarin program. When I go back I am going to sign up for the standard mandarin program which is a less intense and more laid back so I can indulge in a bit more sight seeing and volunteering without being so exhausted from so much one-on-one learning.
7am Wake Up
Spent this time catching up on my work-related emails, news, etc and getting a few yoga stretches in because my body is old enough to start aching. I’d also use this time to review the previous day’s lesson and catch up on any homework.
9am Coffee Time
Head down to the student café to make myself some coffee from the academy’s French press, talk to some of the staff and other students who were around
9:25 – 12pm Morning Classes
First round of classes with my grammar diligent teacher Wency who took my boorish sentence structures and turned them into something approaching understandability with calm finesse. All classes are broken into 45 minute segments with a ten minute breaks between each segment.
12 – 2pm Lunch Time
After the morning classes, we’d head down to the Academy’s cafeteria down the road where the lunch lady had prepared a variety of local dishes which would include vegetables, meat, rice, of all sorts. It was always delicious and always oily when compared to other cuisines so come prepared with some extra fiber pills or something to keep your digestion working as per usual. I always ate more than I should have because of the rich flavors.
I’d then take an hour nap, or practice driving my scooter, Sasha, around the less busy streets of the town.
2 – 4:35pm Afternoon Classes
I’d return back to the Academy at 2pm for my afternoon classes with Leah. These were more culture focused and we’d tell stories from each others lives using the book’s vocab as a guide. I’d make it a challenge to try to use as many as the new vocab words as possible in a sentence to try to instill it in my memory and Leah was great at answering so many of my cultural questions. I’d often use our ten minute breaks to go down to the corner store and buy myself an ice pop with the rest of the town’s elementary school kids to get a little boost of sugar to get me through the rest of my lesson.
4:35 – 7pm Exercise and Language Partner
For the first half of the week I took this time to rest and then go for a jog around the town where I saw some truly beautiful sites around Yangshuo and got to see people coming out in the evening to dance and play with their children and grandchildren. The second half of the week, this time was spent with my language partner, Emma, who I took an immediate liking to after the staff at Omeida paired us up based on mutual likes and interests. She and I had a great time eating out, exploring the town together, and hanging out.
On Wednesday during this time we had a voluntary culture class on Kungfu with other English and Chinese students where we got to practice our moves after a presentation by one of the Chinese students who was enrolled in the English program.
After 7pm Bedtime
At this time, I was exhausted and so I’d make my way home to my dorm and get myself prepared for the following day before passing out.
Omeida is great in that it provides living accommodation for students that is convenient, comfortable, and close to the Academy. I chose to go private instead of sharing a room with another student because I was only going to be there an intense week and didn’t want to overload myself too much with new experiences.
The living quarters is technically a hostel but there is a toilet and shower attached to the room, with a bunk bed for the second person if you decide to not go private. There was plenty of space and a desk to get some work done which was nice and a good view of the street below.
One complaint Westerners often have when they arrive in Asia is how hard the beds can be, so if you’re sensitive to this then I’d suggest bringing an bed pad or something to soften the mattress and make it more comfortable.
When I go back for a longer stint, I’ll stay in the dorm for a week until I can find larger accommodations where I can spread out a bit more for my work and to make my living quarters a bit more homey – so I don’t feel as if I’m back at university as a thirty-year old.
Lunch and dinner are provided at the school’s canteen which is about half a block from the Academy. The food is local, which is known for being oily and full of vegetables – it’s honestly delicious but it did mess with my digestion a little bit. Next time I’m going to pack some psyllium husk to avoid some of the constant bathroom breaks I had to take.
A vegetarian might struggle a little bit as a lot of the vegetables are mixed in with the meat or meat sauces and the food varies everyday so some days you might be fine but others not so much. This isn’t much of a problem since there are a variety of food choices around the Academy that you can choose from which range from 15RMB – 120RMB so you won’t be at a loss for delicious meals to eat.
Another nice thing is that Omeida gives you meal tickets that you then give to the lunch lady every time you use the canteen. At the end of your program, any lunch tickets you don’t use you can give back to Omeida to be reimbursed so you’re not obligated to eat at the canteen.
Extracurriculars and Volunteering
I wasn’t there long enough to participate in the volunteering, but one of the cool students I met who was there for a few months said she loved participating in it. She got to practice her mandarin and help out in the community and for her it was a very meaningful experience.
Omeida is well known for its extracurricular activities which include cave exploration, hiking, exploring, culture classes, calligraphy, tai chi, and more. These are voluntary and I suggest joining in because it’s a great experience where the students in the English program and the students in the Mandarin program intermingle. So not only can you continue practicing your Mandarin, but you can also make some friends.
I was able to participate in the midweek event, which was learning about Kungfu, where one of the learning English students practiced her English in giving a presentation about Kungfu and brought in someone to give us a demonstration. Then we all got to practice our newly learned skills out in the front yard which made us laugh at how clumsy we almost all were. It was a great way to break the ice and get to know many of the other students.
I was lucky enough to be able to join the weekend activity before I had to catch my train back to Hong Kong. We woke up really early on Saturday morning to go hike a mountain and watch the sunrise over the beautiful river pass. The climb was a good bout of exercise and it was a good bonding experience with the other students as well. We chatted and got to know each other as the sun came up and painted the mountains in a golden glow.
You can use the cost calculation when you click ‘apply’ on Omeida’s website, be sure to use the code ‘kerriemariah’ to get some kickbacks and benefits!
The intensive Mandarin program was the most expensive choice since it involves double the one-on-one teacher instruction that the standard course doesn’t have. Also, the longer you stay, the cheaper the courses so staying for a few weeks or a few months would be more economical.
The standard, non-intensive, program is half the price if you’re looking for a more relaxed pace for Mandarin learning.
The intensive course itself cost $670 USD for the one week with all expenses paid, so that is just shy of less than $100 USD a day for food, accommodation, more than five hours of private lessons, some of the extracurriculars, language partner matching, and course materials.
If I decided to do two months of the intensive mandarin program, it would be around $625 USD a week for the same accommodations.
The only extra costs that I paid were:
Private airport pickup and drop-off roundtrip – $50 USD
Renting my scooter – less than $10 USD a day
Extracurricular weekend activity – $15 USD
Shopping and snack purchases – $100 USD (I bought shoes, a purse, and a few other things because of how much cheaper it was in Yangshuo compared to Hong Kong)
Difficulties – Things to be Aware of
In Mainland China some people speak English fluently while many do not, so make sure to download an app which can translate real time in case you are in trouble, get lost, or need help urgently.
Be aware of the Chinese firewall
You won’t be able to use google translate or quite a few other western services in Mainland china if you are using local wifi or get a Chinese sim card for you phone. VPNS are becoming harder and harder to setup and use and theres no way to test them before you arrive.
One work around is to use your country’s sim card (or a Hong Kong sim card) and get a Mainland/International roaming package. This will circumvent the firewall and give you access to those sweet sweet Western apps that we’ve come to know and love.
Most people in China use WeChat pay or Alipay which is convenient and easy to use, if you have a Chinese bank account and bank card. If you don’t, then it’s a royal pain in the butt and often the apps won’t accept foreign cards, not even Hong Kong cards. It’s frustrating and not well setup for the casual non-Chinese tourist so be prepared with cash.
What Makes Omeida Special
Immersive environment: The academy resides in the picturesque town of Yangshuo, China. As a learner, you’d be diving headfirst into the sea of Mandarin language and Chinese culture, making your learning experience all-encompassing and alive. Not only will you be studying the language, but you’ll also be living it every single day.
Community-oriented: Omeida isn’t just a language academy, but a vibrant international community. You’d be rubbing shoulders with students from across the globe, offering you an opportunity to forge lifelong friendships and broaden your global perspective.
Hands-on and Practical Learning: Their teaching philosophy prioritizes real-world application. The focus on practical communication skills ensures you’re not just memorizing words, but learning how to use them in a way that’s relevant and practical.
Philanthropy: Omeida’s commitment to social good sets it apart. By providing free English lessons to local children who can’t afford education, they’re not just spreading knowledge, but also lighting up futures. Being a part of Omeida means contributing to a mission that extends beyond language learning.
Cultural Exchange: The school strongly promotes intercultural exchanges. Along with Mandarin, you’d be soaking up Chinese customs, traditions, and lifestyle, providing you with a rich cultural experience that textbooks alone cannot offer.
It’s clear that Omeida Chinese Academy is more than just a language school. It’s a cultural immersion, a global community, a force for social good, and a platform for personal growth. It’s where language learning and life’s beautiful experiences intertwine, creating a journey worth embarking on.