I've been getting a lot of questions about my year abroad in China, what I did and why I went there, how is it I travelled so much, did I even study? So I'd thought I'd write a little bit about it for those who's wondering - and perhaps even inspire someone out there to consider a similar experience in the future.
The city of Ningbo in Zhejiang Province. It's two hours south of Shanghai by train. Population: 7.6 million people. Duration of study: One full academic year from August 2015 to May 2016.
The most common response I used to get when I said I'll be moving to China was why China? What's there to study in China? How are you going to live in China?? I received so much scepticism - the so-called "warnings" for going to China, let alone to live there for almost a year by myself. But I was lucky to have my best friends and family's support from day one so there was never any doubts of going. So to answer the 'why': Since I'm studying international business at Edinburgh uni, it was a mandatory part of my degree to spend my third year abroad as an exchange student. The location of host university was dependent on my first year's performance. I knew that if I wanted to get out of Europe, I had to prove well on my academic performance. It was my greatest motivation to work hard and accomplish certain results.
I landed on China because as a business student I think China will be a great boost for my future career. The advantages are so many considering the Chinese economy and its current relation to the rest of the world. Looking back I think living and studying in China was worth it just for the experience itself. I've learnt so much this past year that I probably would've been without had I decided to go somewhere else. Despite the many challenges, I don't regret it a second.
Living in china
I lived in student accommodations on campus the whole year. The first semester I shared a flat with three other girls (all international students), while the second semester I decided to go en-suite just to get the feel of them both. I lived in two different student accommodation buildings but they were on the same site just a minute walk away from each other. I didn't live with any local Chinese students, because the university had a weird way of separating locals apart from the international students. It's a shame.
HOW and what DID I Study IN CHINA?
The university is the first sino-foreign university in China, so everything except Chinese classes are thought in English via a British education system. The teachers and professors are of mixed nationality, both Chinese and foreigners. The same with the students. Classes and lectures were pretty much similar to Edinburgh, although my timetable had bigger gaps. I strategically chose my courses so that some days I would only have one lecture or one tutorial. Or pack them all in on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays to get long-weekends every weekend when possible.
First semester I studied four business courses and Mandarin. Second semester I studied five business courses and Mandarin, so all together 11 courses in a year which was doubled the amount that I was used to from Edinburgh. However the levels were very achievable, except language studies which was more challenging. I dedicated 3x more time and efforts studying Mandarin than I did with any business module. I passed all my courses with 2:1 and 1st but my fourth year still counts a 100%.
Eating in china
'What did I eat in China' is probably the most frequently asked question because my mom would call and ask me everyday. I'm almost a bit sad to say that I can count how many times I cooked during my year abroad because it's probably less than twenty. There were so many food options on campus. I would walk down the stairs from my flat and get 10 dumplings for 13 RMB ( £1.50), walk fifty steps and have sushi on the right and a Chinese restaurant with hundred different dish offers on the left. Not to mention the three canteens that could put me in a food coma for less than 10 RMB. Basically, my diet was terrible in China. The food is tasty, I'm not gonna lie. But it's super greasy and not very nutritious at all. Yet eating out is much cheaper and time-efficient than cooking so that's what I did unfortunately. I ate a lot of fruit and vegetables but everything was so fertilised that at one point I almost gave up trying to eat healthy and instead I spend extra hours at the gym trying to compensate.
- The culture shock in the beginning because China felt like a different world. Read blog posts from my first weeks in China here.
- The language barriers.
- Maintaining a healthy lifestyle.
- Being so far away from my loved ones & the time zone differences.
- Seeing stray dogs and cats everywhere without being able to do anything about it.
- The Great Firewall of China (Google, Facebook, Instagram etc: all blocked). I never had 3G on my phone during my whole time in Ningbo and the Internet connection was constantly slow when connected to Wi-fi.
- Being an overseas Asian in China. Watch the story of my life:
I can get around with very basic Mandarin (survival Mandarin). I think I'd be able to travel around China comfortably by myself. I can also recognise about 300 Chinese characters, but yeah that's about it. I studied six hours of Mandarin per week in first semester and three hours in second semester. Additionally I did at least one hour individual study every day.
I didn't befriend as many Chinese people at university as I hoped I would due to the lack of integration between locals and international students. But I made a few really good friends through a group project and my attendance at a singing contest. And I'm also super lucky to have had the opportunity to get to know quite a few local families in Ningbo who invited me to their homes and dine-outs twice every week. I still keep in touch with them today!
Do I recommend travelling to China?
I never oppose anyone going anywhere because I think all places needs to be experienced first-hand first. Someone's bad opinion about a country shouldn't prevent you from going because you might like it. Except when your health and safety are actually at great risk (e.g.: civil unrest etc). But yes, go to China! It's a wilderness at first, but go. Just be prepared on the culture shock - it's going to happen if you're not used to it.
Since this post is getting pretty long so I'll answer more questions on a separate Part 2. I'll get into more details about my thoughts on China, and the topics of travelling.