Studying in China has become very popular among foreigners, and there’s good reason for it. With China’s growing economy and business opportunities, some people may see learning Chinese as advantageous for their work, while others see it as fun learning a second language. Whatever the reason, there are a few things you need to know and prepare for when you want to study in China.
1. Decide why and how you want to study in China
Before you start, ask yourself why you want to study in China. Knowing what your reasons are and what you want to get out of this experience can help you choose the Chinese language school that’s right for your study abroad experience.
2. Research Chinese Language Programs
The internet has a huge amount of information on studying in China for international students, and there should be plenty of schools and universities to choose from. But how do you decide which one suits you? Well, here are some considerations:
Which location – Would you prefer small towns or big cities?
School fees – What are the fees, are they reasonable and affordable? Are there any free inclusions?
Class types – Are classes small groups or large groups? What are the class hours or HSK level requirements?
Accommodation options – As an international student, you can choose to immerse yourself in the culture with a homestay family or share a room with a local student in school dorms.
Reviews – Read blogs and reviews from those who’ve done it. It’s always good to hear firsthand from ‘the horse’s mouth’ so reach out to any previous foreign students who’ve studied in China to get their personal experiences and feedback. Testimonials may be available on the school’s website and if they’re not, ask the school if they can provide the contacts. Here are some testimonials providing some insight into student life in China.
Scholarships and discounts – Chinese government scholarships and discounts – some universities may offer study in China scholarships or discounts on tuition fees, so it’s worth checking if you’re eligible.
Extra curriculum – Activities or programs offered by the school for international students. For example, teaching English as a volunteer, cultural classes or language exchange programs.
Other – Things you want to get out of your time in China such as travelling, cultural exchange, etc.
Once you’ve decided on where you want to study in China, contact the school or university about the application process and ask if there are any other requirements. For example, what are the expected class hours, or compulsory activities or exams?
4. Get your Chinese Visa ready
It can be a little daunting when applying for a visa to study in China, and deciding which visa type to apply for will depend on your length of stay and your purpose e.g. studying or holidaying.
The requirements for a China visa may vary from country to country, so check your own country’s embassy or consulate website as a starting point. In most cases, a Chinese language school could offer assistance with your visa application. The institute could help provide a recommendation or accommodation letter as proof of your stay in China. However, if applying to a public university in China, it may be difficult to get in contact with them and you may need guidance from a third-party visa service.
You may need to have these documents on hand before submitting your visa application:
5. Download helpful apps for Internationals in China
Familiarise yourself with the local surroundings, and download apps that can help make your foreign student life in China that much easier.
Pleco is a handy Chinese language app that you can use to help with studying in China. The app is the most common dictionary of Chinese for English speaking foreign students. What’s great about the app is that it can be used offline so there’s no need to be connected to the internet or Wi-Fi. There are also other language apps out there, just search in Google Play or App Store.
WeChat is China’s answer to WhatsApp, but much more. It’s popular and widely used around China, pretty much the way of life here. With WeChat, you can do more than just chatting between friends. You can pay for almost anything in China using your mobile phone and every merchant or store accepts WeChat payments, cash is almost dead – even the local lady selling fruits on the street accepts WeChat payments!
However, setting up WeChat for the first time can be a little frustrating, and here’s why:
You’ll need someone to verify you and they must have had WeChat for more than 3 months. Ask your Chinese language school if they could help verify you.
To set up mobile payments you’ll need to link WeChat to a Chinese bank account- foreign bank accounts are not accepted.
If you’re studying in China for a longer period, opening a Chinese bank account is handy, especially if you want to make online purchases or payments, book ride-shares or order food online. The process to open a bank account can take some time, so be prepared to wait and be patient. If you’re on a tourist or student X2 visa you may not be able to open a Chinese bank account, but still worth trying at different banks as it may vary from bank to bank.
Getting yourself a cheap local SIM card could also be worthwhile. You can access the internet, calls and messages conveniently without having to rely on public Wi-Fi connections. And if you intend to open a bank account, then you’ll need a Chinese phone number.
6. Manage your expectations of Chinese Culture
When first coming to China as an international student, there may be many surprises you encounter that could cause frustration or anxiety. Having foreknowledge of them can help manage expectations, and planning ahead can help things go smoothly when you encounter them.
Water – It’s not safe to drink from the tap in China so stock up on bottled water, or boil your water and refill into used water bottles.
Traffic culture – like many Asian countries with dense populations, traffic can be hectic and road rules may not be commonly followed by the locals. So be careful when crossing the road and don’t be offended if you hear honking from cars or motorbikes, it doesn’t mean that people are rude – it’s their way of letting you know that they are turning or merging into traffic.
Language barrier – if you don’t know any Chinese or have never studied Chinese before then you may find it hard to communicate with the locals or get around as a lot of them don’t speak much English. To be honest, even if you do know some Chinese it can still be just as difficult. Depending on which city you’re at, the locals all have their own dialect or accent, which can be hard to understand. Try to use hand gestures, download a Chinese language app on your phone that you can refer to or find a bilingual Chinese friend who can occasionally help you.
Squat toilets – the topic most people avoid. Toilets in China are mainly squat toilets. Besides potentially giving you a great thigh workout some international students and foreigners may find it quite shocking and challenging to use. If you’re unable to use it, you could try looking for a McDonalds/KFC or a modern building and check the very last cubicle or a disabled cubicle for a Western toilet. And don’t forget to bring your own toilet paper!
Breaking notes – with everyone these days using Wechat to make payments, stores may not have change for your 100 yuan notes and often don’t carry small enough notes to break them. Try to use your large notes at supermarkets or big retailers, they’re usually stocked with change.
Bargain, bargain, bargain! – expect to be overcharged when shopping as an international student or foreigner, there’s no bottom price for most items so shop owners will always start with the highest price they can think of. Some small eateries may also have two price categories, one price for the locals and another for the foreigners – generally a few more yuan. If it’s a place that you frequently eat at then try to find out what the locals are paying and then next time just hand them the exact money (local price), or go with a Chinese local and ask them to order food on your behalf to get the local price.
Foreign currency exchange – exchanging foreign currency at the bank can take up to 30mins if the teller has never processed foreign currencies before. Allow yourself plenty of time and bring your passport for ID. A quicker way to access cash is to have a travel money card (purchased in your country prior to arriving in China), this is usually linked to your foreign bank account with the money already converted into local currency so you can withdrawal at any ATM.
Despite the cultural differences and the language barrier, studying in China offers one of the most amazing and unforgettable experiences. If you keep an open mind and prepare for what to expect, then not only do you learn a new language and culture, you also get to meet some great local and foreign friends, and most of all, have the best time of your life!
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