Konall Culture Exchange

Program Reviews

Default avatar
Steven
10/10
Yes, I recommend this program

I spent five weeks there and was really impressed. I had been self taught and really needed a push to get out of my comfort zone. My teacher certainly did that! After a 20 minute Skype evaluation before my arrival they had my level nailed. That's the beauty of one on one teaching, your instructor adjusts to your ability level - and you can't hide in the back of the class either! The only thing I would do differently is stay with a host family rather than have my own apartment to intensify the immersion experience. Speaking of which, the entire time I in Shijiazhuang the only foreigners I saw were my fellow students, so this school is a terrific way to really focus on learning Mandarin. Highly recommended, and if my wife will let me I plan to go again next year.

What was your funniest moment?
One day I was on a bus to school, a girl came to me and started talking to me in English. Later I said Nihao to her. She said wow, your Chinese is so good. Then she started to speak Chinese very fast and I could not understand at all. It was really funny.
Default avatar
Lisa
10/10
Yes, I recommend this program

I came to KCE with no understanding of the Chinese language at all. The teachers are quick to pick up on your level and the most appropriate learning style for each student. I had 1-on-1 lessons with Mandy for two months, and I cannot fault her teaching style at all. She kept the lessons engaging and never hesitated to help if it seemed like I needed extra support.
I have really enjoyed my stay at KCE, and have grown to love the city of Shijiazhuang. I fully recommend KCE to anyone who is interested in a full immersion into the Chinese culture .The benefit of Shijiazhuang is that there are very few tourists, so you are forced to use Chinese in the streets, as well as during class hours.
I will miss this school and city very much. I am already making plans to return!

Default avatar
Byran
10/10
Yes, I recommend this program

I’m now studying Chinese in KCE and I truly loved every minute! Everyone from the teachers, to the staff were fantastic! Everyone was very accommodating, warm, friendly and supportive of me learning Mandarin.
The 1-on-1 intensive lessons were a new experience to me, but I quickly discovered how efficient this learning method is for learning Mandarin, probably even any language.This type of program is intense and the student will be pushed to learn as much as possible in the time that they are here.
The atmosphere at KCE is just very informal and relaxed, it feels a bit like high school where you just go to class and have some fun afterwards. The students and teachers at KCE are also very kind and they organize a lot of activities during the week and excursion trips during the weekends.
I highly recommend going to KCE if you are interested in intensive (but fun) Chinese learning at a school with flexibility, great teachers and staff, and international students. Shijiazhuang is also a very beautiful city with great landscapes and opportunities to explore.

Default avatar
Rebecca
10/10
Yes, I recommend this program

I just got back 2 months ago from studying advanced Chinese abroad here for four months. KCE is an immersion school offering one-to-one classes from beginner to advanced as well as cultural study and HSK prep. It is a small school with more students in summer but fewer in spring/fall. If you want to make friends and do lots of cultural activities, go in summer. If you want to focus on studying go in fall/spring.
Classes are one-to-one so the teacher's attention is focused on you and personally tailored to your needs. You can study at whatever level, at any pace and on any topic you like from grammar and speaking, to poems or reading the newspaper. The teachers will speak mostly Chinese, but if you are a beginner, they can speak good English too. I used the school's intermediate to advanced textbooks and they were great, if a bit outdated, with many interesting topics. I added hundreds of useful words to my vocabulary, improved my speaking and listening from HSK 2 to HSK 4/5 and improved my reading and writing from HSK 3/4 to HSK 5. I'd rate classes a 10/10.
I lived with a host family a twenty-minute bike ride from the school. When living with a host family you will eat many different amazing Chinese foods, be immersed in the Chinese culture and practice Chinese outside class, while teaching the host family son/daughter some English in exchange. I loved teaching my host family's daughter many basic words and seeing her English improve. My host family was really nice always helping me out and keeping me well fed. They even took me traveling during National Holiday Week to the host mother's hometown deep in the beautiful Chinese countryside. I had an amazing experience and would rate living with a host family a 10/10.
There are also dorms which I stayed in during my first week. They are decent but spartan. You will have 2 beds, 1-2 desks, and 1-2 closets and in summer you may have a roommate. There is also a bathroom with a shower and western toilet, a washing machine and a small kitchen. If you are only staying for a month the dorms are okay, but otherwise I would go with a host family. I'd rate dorms a 7.5/10.
Now Shijiazhuang is real China, meaning there are few English speakers, less western stores, and almost no foreigners. You will be completely immersed in Chinese culture rather than western influenced China like Shanghai. This means plenty of chances to use your Chinese outside of class and learn about real Chinese lives. It will be slightly less crowded as the city has several million people not 23 million and everything (save western stuff) will be really cheap. There are also still plenty of modern accommodations (buses, subway lines, shopping malls, parks, etc.) The weather is also pretty decent, not too hot in summer with only some rain and cold in the fall. As for pollution while summer, fall and spring are usually pretty good, between mid November and March the pollution is much higher but gradually this is getting better. For the time I was there (August-early December) I'd rate Shijiazhaung an 8.5/10
To sum up this is an amazing school, that provides you with a great immersive Chinese language experience. If you are prepared to live in real China and embrace Chinese culture while greatly improving your language skills then this is the place for you.

Default avatar
Gleb
10/10
Yes, I recommend this program

I've spent two months in late 2016 studying Chinese in KCE while living with a host family. In short, I've found it to be a very cost-efficient way of improving one's (especially spoken) Mandarin Chinese. Accordingly, I believe it would be useful to mention several general points about the program:

First of all, as to why I chose this school in the first place, there are several notable reasons (in no particular order):
1. Comparatively low costs - both in terms of tuition fee and in terms of other expenses, it would be rather difficult to find a more cost-efficient option.
2. Flexibility - while despite the mentioned costs being rather low, they are naturally higher than what one would pay for a similar period in an average Chinese university. However, as I only had a very specific time period during which I could study, the fact that one can begin to study whenever one wants, and to study for as long as one finds suitable, is a most valuable thing. Hence, if you aren't very flexible in terms of time, KCE is a very good option.
3. Private one-on-one lessons - which is the reason to said flexibility, as you do not need to wait for others, with a similar level of Chinese to enroll for the program. Yet, more importantly, that means that you get to choose what and how to study, not having to depend on other students, as the teacher's attention doesn't need to be divided among several students. Thus, the progress is much more significant compared to studying in groups, let alone in university classes.
4. The option to live with a host family (almost for free) - as I have been interested in Chinese culture for quite a while, I found this to be a rare opportunity to experience it at first-hand, away from the history books, university classes, (pseudo-)historical films, and the things one sees as a tourist. What's more, this option could save one quite a lot of money, as it is provided for a rather small one-time fee, in addition to teaching the family some English. Of course, it's also a good way to practice your Chinese.
5. Shijiazhuang is one of the (few) places where standard Mandarin is spoken. While it is safe to assume that teachers in other schools do also speak standard Mandarin, yet in case you wish to practice it on the street, you may not find it quite as easy, given the local accent and/or dialect. Hence it is easier to actually start using your Chinese in such an environment (the standard tones and pronunciation are difficult enough as it is). Yet I must note, that it is true mostly for Shijiazhuang city, and less for the adjacent towns and cities (which are also considered to be part of greater Shijiazhuang), it might also not be true for people of the older generation and to migrants from other places.
6. There are very few foreigners in Shijiazhuang, hence it contributes to one's immersion in Chinese language and culture, and locals are more curious about foreigners, thus it is easier to enter into conversations with them, unlike Beijing/Shanghai/Guangzhou.

Secondly, the application process (if one is to call it so) went rather smoothly, and the school staff was always ready to answer my numerous questions, and help me (to the extent that they could) with the visa application process. Upon arrival, they also dealt with the different bureaucratic formalities. Generally speaking, the staff was very friendly and helpful, and to the best of my knowledge they can also help with daily things, such as shopping, getting a SIM card, going to the bank etc., but I didn't require their help with that.

As for the program itself, it included four hours a day, two in the morning and two in the afternoon. The curriculum, by and large, depends on the student - accordingly, apart from spoken Chinese, I also asked to study some classical Chinese and Chinese literature. Quite frankly, I was surprised that they agreed to that, since it is not their field of expertise, and yet they did what they could to help me with that as well. The program, as its name suggests, is indeed rather intensive, and yet each student can balance it according to his or her abilities. Basically, it seems to me that one's progress depends to a great extent on one's willingness to learn and be proactive, hence I do believe that the intensity is not a bad thing, as it encourages one to try harder. I believe that I've made good progress during my stay there (although maintaining it is not easy once one leaves China), perhaps most importantly it allowed me to really start speaking (albeit with various mistakes), thanks to the immersive environment - both in school and at home, something that I was not able to achieve after more than four years of studying Chinese on my own and in the university (although, truth be told, these years made it much easier to achieve said progress).

Regarding the homestay, I lived with a pair in their 30s and their small child, not far from the school. I had my own room and ate with the host family (except lunch on weekdays - it's served in school). Occasionally, I helped them a bit with English, but I still had to speak Chinese all the time, which helped to further advance my Chinese. The host family was very nice and helpful, and I had quite a few fascinating conversations with them, getting to know the realities of life in China. It was truly a remarkable experience, and I recommend it to anyone willing to learn about "real" China.

Finally, as for the city itself, I've found it to be a very nice city and life there is both cheap and convenient. Prices are low compared to the major Chinese cities, and definitely compared to "the West", and public transportation is both cheap and efficient (well, except rush hour). I didn't care much about entertainment, but I know that it is rather abundant, but it is indeed, very "Chinese" in nature - KTVs, restaurants, bars, film theaters, shopping malls etc. For those interested in shopping, apart from the (rather pricey) malls, there are a few markets and even a retail market, where one can buy just about everything (just don't forget to bargain).
However, there is an unfortunate factor one should consider - the pollution in the city is one of the worst in China (and in the world), but in most cases, appropriate respirators can help.

And some general tips for conclusion:
1. Figure out what your study goals are before going to China, it will help you to progress much faster and much more efficiently.
2. Be proactive, it will make the lessons much more interesting and productive than just studying from the textbook. Find materials you would like to study - be it internet videos, stories, articles, poems, songs or any other thing.
3. Come open minded, especially if you decide to live with a host family. Don't insist on judging things based on "Western" principles and standards, just accept things as they are and try to treat it as an anthropological experience. It's not that you shouldn't express your opinion, just do it with tact, avoiding preaching and excessive criticism - this way you can both avoid unpleasant situations and talk about interesting, even controversial, topics (I was actually surprised by it to an extent).
4. Get appropriate respirators ("masks") before coming to China (especially if you plan on going in Winter), although you can get them in pharmacies - they do tend to sell out. Make sure that the respirator matches the N95 or FFP3 standards. If you have respiratory problems, I would also suggest consulting your physician before going.
5. Get a VPN (preferably, before actually coming to China) - although it won't help your immersion, it will potentially save you a lot of trouble.
6. If possible, study some Chinese before coming to China, I think that the environment might be a bit too immersive for absolute beginners, but there is no harm in trying.
7. Try to avoid using English unless absolutely necessary.

tl;dr -
A most recommended program. It's cost-efficient, flexible, immersive and offers the option of staying with a host family. The staff is helpful and friendly, the program is intensive but helps achieve significant progress in a short time. The homestay is a great way to practice Chinese, to learn about "real" China and to save money. The prices in the city are low and life there is convenient, but it's very polluted. If you decide to go, figure out your study goals in advance, be proactive during the lessons, be open minded about things, get respirators in advance, get a VPN in advance, try to study some Chinese before going and avoid using English while in China.

Default avatar
Elizabeth
10/10
Yes, I recommend this program

I planned to spend 2 weeks at KCE this spring, but ended up extending an extra week because it went so well! If you want to make serious progress on your Chinese, in an enjoyable setting this is the place!
Highly recommended!

Overall: The teachers and staff were really kind and welcoming. Helly was very helpful sorting out the details by email before, and very accommodating in terms of what I was looking for. The weeks I was there there were between 4-7 foreign students. I know how easy it is to spend all your time speaking English in a big program, so it was nice to chat at lunch and do a couple things on the weekend, but not be surrounded by English all the time!

Classes: I really like the set up of the one on one classes - 2 hours in the morning, a couple hours break with lunch in between and 2 hours in the afternoon. This was much less overwhelming than 4 hours in a row and I felt like I could make good use of the afternoon session having had some time to learn and review in the break time.

Homestay: This was really important to me and did not disappoint. My host 'mom' was actually around my age, and her 5 year old son was only there on the weekends. A little different than many family situations but meant we had lots to talk about! I think this practice was key to a lot of the progress I made. She was really nice and made good vegetarian food. I helped her with a little English, but we used Chinese almost all of the time. I would definitely recommend a homestay!

For background: At the time I had been living in another city in China for 3 months and meeting for 4 hours a week with a teacher as well as studying on my own. I was studying around HSK 2 material so had some basics but it was hard to practice longer conversations in day to day life because of my low level. Living with my english speaking husband and relying on his much higher Chinese level also made it tough.
Even with just 3 weeks at KCE I made a huge leap forward, particularly in being able to speak more fluidly and in my listening skills.
I didn't need help navigating China life (i.e. already had a Chinese cellphone and bank card, could buy train tickets, etc etc) but from what I heard from the other students they really went the extra mile to help people who had just arrived - airport pickups, travel plans, day to day necessities etc.

What would you improve about this program?
I thought the program was really well run, no suggestions for improvement!
Caoimhe
10/10
Yes, I recommend this program

I'm a junior at an American high school, and I attended KCE for one month over the summer with a friend. The academic program is incredible, with 1-on-1 lessons suited well to your individual needs. I learned a lot of Mandarin very quickly and became very close with my teacher. She and my friend's teacher helped us beyond the classroom, they brought us to a Chinese night market and even gave us gifts.
The staff at KCE are very helpful, they assisted in exchanging currency, getting a SIM card, buying train tickets, and anything else we needed. The people of Shijiazhuang are very friendly and excited to meet foreigners. They are not used to seeing non-Chinese people, but are very accommodating.
I stayed with a host family, who worked very hard to make sure I felt comfortable and happy. My host mother found out what foods I like, bought me pens and a notebook so I could do my homework, and was always very kind. I was sick for a few days, and she was very concerned and made sure I knew that I could wake her at night if I wasn't feeling well and offered to take me to the doctor several times. My host parents even brought me to their hometown, where I was able to experience life in rural China. I had a younger sister, who was really excited to get to know me and teach me Chinese. Her English level was very low and her parents spoke no English, so I taught her some basic phrases and vocabulary, but otherwise I was speaking Chinese the whole time, which really improved my speaking ability. I would definitely recommend living with a host family, I loved mine and have kept in contact with them since I left. I am planning to return to China and KCE next summer or the summer after to continue studying Chinese and see my family and friends.

Default avatar
Connor
10/10
Yes, I recommend this program

KCE is quite simply the place to go if you want a true Mandarin immersion experience. Located in Shijiazhuang, a drab yet gloriously authentic Chinese city, just over an hour away from Beijing by high-speed train, you will be immersed in true Chinese culture from day one on this program.

The KCE community is small but homely and the teachers constantly strive to make your stay in Shijiazhuang as pleasant as possible. I highly recommend this program for anyone who is serious about improving their Mandarin skills.

Default avatar
Levin
9/10
Yes, I recommend this program

Hi there! I just spent a month at KCE and I really liked my experience, let me explain: Before going to KCE I wasn't sure if I should choose this school or going back to Yangshuo where I was learning Chinese last summer. Finally I decided to go to Shijiazhuang as I wanted to try something new and I don't regret my choice at all.

The teaching level is very nice and comparable to the one I had in Yangshuo. My teacher was very nice and funny and could explain and teach Chinese very good. She had a lot of patience with me and could provide a good learning atmosphere. I had 5h/day of private class. The good thing about private class is that you move on at your speed and that you can choose when you want to have the lessons and even ask for a customized programme. Before going to KCE I was a bit afraid that 1 to 1 learning could be a bit too intensive, but finally it was perfect for me. The school is very concerned about their quality, afer the first week I had to fill out a questionnary about what I liked and what I didn't like and what I want to chance. One time the manager of the school attended my class to check that the teaching matches the schools quality.

I stayed with a Chinese host family which provided a private room and food. In exchange I spoke English with the son (on a very very basic level as his English was pretty bad) and helped him with his English homework. Living with a Chinese family was a great experience but not always easy. Their way of living is of course not the same as the one I'm used to, but it's a great opportunity to learn a lot about the country and it's people. There is probably no better way to use your Chinese than while drinking some beers and chinese strong alcohol with you host dad :) I would recommend to everyone to stay with a host family!

The city of Shijiazhuang is a rather big Chinese no-name city with unfortunately not the best air. There is not a lot to do in the city but there are some nice mountains around the city and Peking is just 1.5 hours by train. The good point is that nobody there speaks any word English and that in my one month stay I just saw one other white guy who wasn't from this school. So it's a great place to learn Chinse!

Conclusion: The school offers a perfect environement for learning Chinese for a very very competitive price! I would recommend this programme to everybody who is serious about learning Chinese and who's not afraid about cultural shock and living in a big city. If you're looking more for a mix between holodays and learning Chinese I would recommend you an other school where the recreational factor is higher.

Default avatar
Matthew
10/10
Yes, I recommend this program

I'm writing this review because it wasn't so easy to find up to date reviews of KCE, and I want to let anyone considering coming here to absolutely do it. I visted from Singapore and had a few requirements: (i) I work and needed a flexible program instead of the usuall 3 month summer fare, (ii) I was somewhere around HSK 5 and needed to know how to bridge the gap to 6, (iii) I had little interest in touristy stuff in BJ, my interest was purely in the language. The school more than matched expectations. Teachers were excellent - I had Helly and Dan Dan for 2-3 hours a day each, one for conversation and grammar and the other purely for HSK. In the end both taught me a bunch of grammar - I studied Mandarin (poorly) in school as a teenager but English is my first language and I needed help with basic sentence structure/rules. As for HSK 5, I loosely knew most words but it was helpful to run through and be sure I could pronounce, write and use each word. Most painfully I had to memorize passages but I finally understand why it is necessary to do this - it reinforces language patterns and makes you pay attention to individual words. If I had any questions about the language or China or anything at all I could simply raise them. The 1-1 is great in this respect. I'd say you have to be willing to chit chat and give away a bit of yourself though, but that's how you make friends. Food was fine, relatively little meat is served in China so be prepared for that. The cityscape is somewhat drab and the pollution is serious, I'd advise obtaining masks before arriving because they are not that widely available, but the people are great. A fellow student hooked us up with a bike group and we went cycling a few times in the nearby hills. Fellow students were fantastic too - a good diversity of folks, feels cosy cos there are usually less than ten of you, and tend to self select for interesting conversation. Made a few friends I very much hope to stay in touch with. Finally I stayed in an apartment with a helper to cook and clean, it was fine but think the helper is not necessary as food outside is very cheap even if you eat in restaurants. In conclusion, this program is totally legit and I would come back in a shot!