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What You Didn't Know About Studying in China

Study abroad in China

Mistakes in translation are common between English and Chinese. With completely different etymological roots and vastly distant written languages, the gap between what is said and what is meant can sometimes span an ocean.

But what about your study abroad advisor? If you’ve ever suspected that what they’re trying to say is getting lost in translation, GoOverseas is here to the rescue! Below, we’ll shed a little light on exactly what to keep in mind and what those important tips from your study abroad advisor really mean. WIth these tips, studying abroad in China will be a breeze!

Beijing and Shanghai Are Way More Happenin' Than Where You Come From

Beijing and Shanghai are indeed full of life: Shanghai is the world’s largest city with over 23 million residents, and Beijing isn’t far behind it with 20 million. For a frame of reference, the largest city in the United States, New York, has just over 8 million people. As a result, the cities’ public meeting places and infrastructures roar like great rivers of people. The subways of both cities are nearly always full, regardless of the time of day, and smart travelers should factor in sufficient time to wait in line for nearly any errand.

ramen wall

However, this abundance of life is what makes both Shanghai and Beijing two of the world’s great cities. Both are snapshots of modern China in the 21st century. Shanghai is the buzzing financial hub of the world’s fastest-growing economy, and Beijing is a fascinating mash-up of contemporary Western style woven together with traditional Chinese culture.

You Have More Program Options Than You Think

China has so much to offer international students, and there's no reason to settle when choosing your program. Repeat: there's no reason to settle when choosing your program. As it turns out, you may find a study abroad program that is not offered by your university that is a better fit for your academic goals. Your advisor will probably skim over these opportunities when suggesting programs to you. So be picky, and be forthright. Make your needs known early on and do independent research before choosing a program that best fits you. Just be sure to factor in the overall cost of your program (Will your financial aid apply?), whether your course credits transfer or not (Will this program help you on your path to graduating?), and if your needs are being met (Do you prefer a certain type of housing or level of activity planning?).

Don't choose a provider just because they have classes in your major, organize lots of extracurricular activities, or house students in awesome dorms - keep doing research until you find a provider that offers all this and more! Some example providers worth looking into are SIT, CET, IES Abroad, and Education Abroad Network.

You'll Get Stared At

We are fortunate in the United States to hail from the most demographically diverse country on Earth, and odds are good that each of us has at least one friend or coworker who looks and thinks nothing like us. For Chinese citizens, things are different. 92 percent of China identifies as Han, the ethnic majority. An additional two percent identify as other related ethnic minorities. Meanwhile, the number of Chinese residents who identify as black, white, or Hispanic is statistically nonexistent. As a result, the rainbow menagerie of humanity that makes up American daily life is a sight to stop and behold for the Chinese. And perhaps to snap a photo of, or two.

Study abroad in China

While the idea of being “on display” may leave many American travelers uneasy, the curiosity of the Chinese towards Americans is as innocent and well-meaning as a child’s. Sure, they may watch you walk past on your daily stroll, or you may feel a few eyes on you as you enjoy your evening meal. You may even find yourself becoming the center of attraction at destinations like the Great Wall or the Forbidden City. But behind every camera lens aimed at you, there is guaranteed to be something else: a smile.

You’ll find that Chinese shutterbugs are absolutely thrilled to offer a practiced “Hello!” or to let you try out your Mandarin skills with them. Behind watching Chinese eyes, there is usually an open Chinese heart, and one great opportunity to make a friend. So relax, smile, and say cheese!

Food in China is NOT Like Panda Express

While the truth of this statement may vary from province to province (and from restaurant to restaurant back home), don’t expect your typical meal in China to taste like the combo at Panda Express.

The average American’s concept of Chinese food, characterized by wok-fried favorites like General Tso’s chicken or sweet-and-sour pork, is much more characteristic of northern China, Beijing, and the surrounding areas. Further, the dim sum that many Americans have grown to love is actually a Hong Kong style of preparation not very common on the mainland. The reality of Chinese cuisine is one dictated by the realities of Chinese life. In the more rural, southern areas of China like Guangxi province around the city of Guilin, dietary staples are generally local and inexpensive.

This abundance of life is what makes both Shanghai and Beijing two of the world’s great cities. Both are snapshots of modern China in the 21st century.

Bok choy (known in China as bai cai) and a long thin Chinese variety of eggplant are among the most commonly used vegetables, and are usually grown close by. Meat is expensive, and is typically only used to add a savory flavor to soups and noodle dishes.

However, this simplicity is maximized by Chinese cooks. Dishes are flavorful and often cooked in spicy chile oil. Most meals will be far lower in calories than an average American meal, and the ingredients making up your dinner will be easy to identify. And if you get hungry when you’re out and about, ubiquitous street barbecues offering up flame-grilled goodies on a stick are a staple of any Chinese city. Try the barbecued octopus tentacles - seriously!

There Are SO Many Cities to Choose From

China is a big country. It has nearly the same geographic land area as the United States, with about five times as many people. As a result, picking the right location within China can be more important than with other study abroad destinations. If you were visiting America, you probably wouldn’t pick Wyoming to study fashion, and you wouldn’t pick New Mexico to study finance. There is nothing wrong with either place, but neither would be the best choice for that particular field of study. The same goes for China.

Study abroad in China

If you want to study a subject like fashion design or economics, bustling metropolises Shanghai and Hong Kong are great choices. Both are vibrant centers of modern trade and trends, and both will give you easy ability to stay connected with the outside world.

If you wish to study the humanities of art, language and history, a city less far-removed from its ancient past will give you a better opportunity to immerse yourself in scenes you had only before ever imagined in a text book. Cities like Guilin and Kunming offer students a chance to delve into the study abroad of their dreams. Whatever you want to study, there is a destination in China that's perfect for you.

Heck, there's also Chengdu, Harbin, Hangzhou, Suzhou, Qingdao, Xi'an, dengdeng. Be sure to do your proper research before choosing to ensure you get the very most out of your study abroad adventure! (You might even consider taking our fun China personality test to find your best city match!).

Cost of Living is Low

At the present, one US Dollar is worth roughly six Chinese Yuan. And while the laws of inflation state that this does not guarantee that your bowl of chow mein will be cheaper in China, the laws of reality do. The cost of living, and subsequently the living wage, are far lower in China than in America. Cosmopolitan cities like Shanghai and especially Hong Kong are still very pricey, just as Paris and New York are, but outside of those, prices drop dramatically.

Whatever you want to study, there is a destination in China that's perfect for you. Be sure to do your proper research before choosing to ensure you get the very most out of your study abroad adventure!

In the southern city of Guilin, a big hearty bowl of rice noodle soup, designed to feed hungry farm workers, costs thirty American cents. Rent, taxi fare, the occasional Tsingdao -- all facets of your financial life will cost drastically less in most of China.

Student Housing is More Expensive Through Your Program

Now, you may be asking yourself, “Then why is my university charging me so much money for my program and housing?” I'll tell you why: because you don't have to arrange it. Dealing with Chinese bureaucracy can be a nightmare.

The machinations of the Communist government are murkier than the relative transparency of the American government, and the same cloudiness of process exists in real estate and in higher education. Your university or study provider is saving you the enormous headache of trying to enroll yourself in a Chinese university or find yourself a suitable lease on an apartment in your city. So bite the bullet, write the check, and be thankful you'll still have money left over to splurge on Chinese dumplings.

Enjoy Your Time in China

There you have it, my friends, straight from the mouth of someone who's done it. The next time you go in to meet with your study abroad advisor, remember this helpful pocket translation guide to deciphering their directions, and you'll have all the knowledge you need to make sure your study abroad in China is the most memorable experience of your life. Because as the saying goes: actions speak louder than words, but those words need to be in English. Enjoy!

Photo Credits: Jason Limnios and Jason Rogers.
Jason Rodgers

Jason is a hockey player from Virginia, and his passport is a quilt of stamps and visas. He studied French at the Sorbonne in Paris, worked in International Ed in China, celebrated Thanksgiving in Amsterdam and cheered July 4th in Brazil. Jason can recite Sartre in 3 languages just as fast as he can put a puck past your ear. Follow Jason on Twitter @HeyJayJRogers and on Google+.