When talking about studying abroad or going on a student exchange program, China is far from being the flagship destination for English-speaking students. However, going to China for study can be a springboard for your future and probably an experience that will always be etched in your memory.
I had the opportunity during my university studies to go to two Chinese-speaking cities to complete two one-year student exchange programs: one in Taipei and the other in Chongqing.
In this article, I will focus mainly on student life in mainland China, since life in Taiwan is a little different. (However, if you would like to know more about student life in Taiwan, please read this article.)
I am sharing my experience in the hope of convincing those who are still hesitating about their choice of destination to consider China, a fascinating country with many surprises. So here are seven reasons why it is good to study Chinese in the Middle Kingdom.
1. Discover scenic views
Guilin/Guangxi region of China
If you go to China for study, you will have between four to six weeks of winter holidays, but also extended weekends of three or four days during national holidays. You can take the opportunity to discover magnificent landscapes as well as surprising and gigantic megalopolises.
Do you want to tan on white sand? Fly to Hainan Island.
Do you want to admire magnificent waterfalls and turquoise blue lakes? Embark for the Jiuzhaigou Valley.
Do you dream of seeing pandas a few meters from you? Make a stopover in Chengdu.
Do you like thrills? Access the summit of the famous Zhangjiajie Mountains.
China is full of natural springs, breathtaking landscapes, and vibrant cities.
If you wish to discover other horizons, many Asian countries are also available to you. Take the opportunity to travel to Pakistan, Japan, Cambodia, or other Asian nations that you have always dreamed of visiting.
Indeed, the opportunity to visit China, or its neighboring countries, is not an easy thing when you come from far away continents such as Africa or Europe. By studying in China, you can enjoy being close enough to those places to enjoy them without excessive jet lag.
2. Stand out from your competitors
The current Top Universities listing does not include any Chinese cities among the top ten overseas study destinations, the majority being located in Western Europe.
With a high number of students flying to these common study destinations, going to China to study can help you to stand out from other young graduates during professional interviews.
By studying in China, you have the opportunity to show employers your adventurous side, your open-mindedness, and your ability to adapt to places that are completely different from where you are from.
In addition to being an economically powerful country, China is also a place full of opportunities. If you are going to do an internship, finding a company in China is highly recommended, and is a real investment for your future.
3. Meet unforgettable people
When I returned to France after studying in Chongqing, many people asked me questions full of clichés about the Chinese. One question that often came up:
"Is it true that the Chinese are rude?”
Well, this answer is no, absolutely no.
The local people I have met in Chongqing, or in other cities during my small road-trips around the country, are all extremely welcoming and helpful. My Chinese friends are always there for me when I need their help, even though we have not known each other for long.
Merchants on the streets, taxi drivers, or owners of small local restaurants often talk to me and are very curious to know more about why I am in China. It is important to know that the Chinese are very patriotic and meeting foreigners who are interested in their culture and language makes them very proud.
So yes, in some areas you can occasionally see people spitting on the ground, a behavior which is often criticized by Westerners. However, you have to be open-minded and also remember that very harmless things you do in your own country can also be considered very rude in some foreign countries (for example, blowing your nose in public in South Korea, or touching a child's head in Laos).
When you want to order a bowl of noodles in a traditional restaurant, locals will sometimes be used to talking a little louder than normal and will probably ask you with a straight tone "What do you want?" instead of a simple "Hello, what would you like to order?”. Again, this is not rude, but just a different way of speaking to others.
By accepting their outspokenness and adapting to their culture, you will discover that they will quickly consider you one of their own, which will make your experience in China unforgettable.
4. Learn or strengthen your Mandarin Chinese
If you are studying Chinese, it would be a waste not to go to China to deepen what you’ve learned until now. And if you’ve never learned Chinese before, take the opportunity to learn it there.
Local universities all provide Chinese classes tailored for foreigners. When I was in Chongqing, I had 20 hours of Chinese classes per week, which helped me to improve my level extremely quickly.
I have met some foreign students that arrived in China without speaking a word. Two semesters later, they were able to hold intermediate–level conversations easily.
By being able to practice outside of the classroom what you’ve learned in class, you will get to a high level of Mandarin in a short amount of time.
And again, being able to speak Chinese is a huge advantage on your CV.
5. Party from Monday to Sunday
The life of a foreign student in China is much more relaxed than in Western countries where the workload is often high and the schedule very busy.
The hardest time for Chinese students is high school. They must study non-stop to get a high score on their final exam and enter the most prestigious universities. Once they’ve got their diploma, they can finally relax.
In China, the university schedule and workload are both lighter, and less work means more free time. So, if you’re studying in China, take the opportunity to discover the world of the Chinese nightlife; it’s completely different from what you can see in western countries.
China is full of huge clubs, bars, and karaoke (called KTV), open from Monday to Sunday, ideal for parties and friendly gatherings.
In addition, there are many gatherings in each city organized by international students, which allow you to meet not only local people but also students from all over the world.
If you have a taste for the nightlife, China is perfect for you in yet another way.
6. Experience mind-bending local cuisine
After studying for a year in Taipei, I had very much regretted not having the courage to taste some local dishes that at the time seemed unattractive to me. When I had the opportunity to do a second year of exchange, this time in Chongqing, I decided to take my courage by both hands and taste all the traditional Chinese dishes, from the most basic to the most strange.
Actually, I didn't really have a choice. As soon as I arrived in Chongqing, I lived with a local friend for a week and ate every evening with his family. I had to taste a little bit of everything on the table, even duck blood, chicken feet, and pig intestines.
It may seem unattractive to some of you (it was to me too); and yet, I ended up loving it!
I think it would take an infinite amount of time to list all the Chinese dishes that exist because China is so big and its culinary culture so vast. If you decide to go study in China, what you will find on your plate will probably vary depending on the city you are in.
Anyway, don’t be scared like I was - taste all the things you wouldn’t originally dare to eat. It will please the locals, and who knows? You might be pleasantly surprised. ;)
7. Leave your comfort zone
If you are adventurous or looking for some culture shock, I strongly encourage you to consider China as your exchange-year destination.
Although each country has its own identity, leaving your continent can sometimes bring you much more in terms of cultural discovery (but also in and of itself).
China is a country with a rich culture of more than 5,000 years and traditional customs that make it unique. Thus, taking off for the Middle Kingdom will allow you to discover not only many things about the country but also about yourself.
Traveling alone and out of your comfort zone is a sure way to grow mentally and have a greater openness of mind.
China, an ideal destination for international students looking for adventure
China is not yet a popular destination for students who wish to study abroad or do a student exchange program. However, if you decide to go there, you will have the chance to experience an extraordinary adventure in a context totally different from Western countries.
If you want to discover breathtaking landscapes, enhance your CV, meet extraordinary people, practice Mandarin Chinese, party with international students, eat exquisite dishes, and step outside your comfort zone, I strongly encourage you to choose China as your top destination.
If you want to know more about China and its culture, discover other articles on our blog by clicking on the links below:
- 13 surprising things I discovered when I arrived in China
- Taipei: elected as the preferred city of expatriates
- 6 things to know about karaoke in China
- The 5 best applications and websites to progress in Chinese
- 7 very complicated Chinese characters that even locals have trouble writing
And if you want to start learning Chinese or improve your level, register now and try a free online course with teachers.