It’s no secret that China has risen to become a major player on the world stage. Not only is China at the epicenter of innovation, it has one of the richest histories on the globe. Students who study abroad in China will find themselves immersed in both ancient imperial relics and towering skyscrapers. China itself is as diverse as it is populous; lush green mountains make way for lively cities. Students who study abroad in China will gain an intimate insight into a culture that continues to shape the modern world.
China is chock full of opportunity, adventure, and... tasty dim sum. With more than a billion people speaking the Chinese language, there has never been a better time to jump on the Mandarin bandwagon and ride it full speed ahead into a future with a competitive edge. Hailed for its remarkable (and long!) history, China is home to over 20 different ethnic minority groups. The eastern terminus of the Silk Road and the world’s fastest train can be found in China, and studying abroad there will excite and surprise you as you uncover the many components of its multifaceted personality.
Choosing a City in China
Regardless of the intensity of your study abroad program, more and more student expats and young professionals are flocking to the big cities in China, giving you ample opportunity to make your own friends and establish your own social life.
Sometimes students have a difficult time making friends with local Chinese students. A great method of befriending Chinese is to create a “language partner” relationship. This mutually beneficial “hang out time” will allow you to regularly meet with and get to know a Chinese person in a way that typically evolves into a friendship.
Though Beijing and Shanghai are the most popular destinations within China, we'd also recommend looking into programs in smaller cities like Chengdu, Guilin, or Kunming.
For language learners, the Beijing dialect is Mandarin's standard, and the local universities have the most established programs for teaching Chinese to foreigners. Beyond the language, there is a plethora of cultural sites to entertain you during those much-needed study breaks (including the Great Wall, Tiananmen Square, and the Forbidden City!).
Though located in the colder northern region of China, Beijing is still a great choice for the student interested in seeing firsthand China’s recent past converging with their dynamic future.
Robust, fast-paced, and colorful, the pace of life in Shanghai echoes Hong Kong or New York. Shanghai is said to be the culmination of the China of the future, with the beautiful Oriental Pearl Tower leading the pack. If you are more the money-driven type, interested in getting involved with China’s booming business sector, Shanghai will be a great place start.
Situated in southern China directly on the coast, Shanghai enjoys the warmer temperatures often found in seaside towns. Its proximity to nearby Hangzhou and Nanjing make Shanghai and its surrounding travel opportunities more appealing.
For an immersion experience, Kunming is the ideal choice, as it is the perfect example of a Chinese city that comfortably integrates modernity with tradition. It's status as a smaller city and distance from the developed coast means that significantly fewer foreigners live here, giving you a chance to really get involved in the Chinese way of life.
Bordered on the south by Burma, Laos, and Vietnam, and Tibet and India to the west, Kunming's key location in the southwest corner of China has created one of the nation's best travel hubs.
For more ideas on where to study in China, take a look at our list of budget destinations for learning Chinese abroad.
How to Choose a Study Abroad Program in China
China offers a variety of options across the spectrum for study abroad: if you prefer the city life, Beijing or Shanghai may make the best fit.
If you’re more keen to have an immersion experience, the smaller, more inland cities of Chengdu and Yunnan provinces may better suit your study abroad experience. Language of instruction, housing and cultural activities are important things to consider when picking a program.
Chinese is admittedly a world of different away from English. Arriving in China with no knowledge of the language is possible, albeit difficult. Prioritizing learning the language while in China will be a great first step in making the most of your experience there.
It's possible to register at universities that uniquely specialize in language instruction for foreigners. Likewise, it is possible to find private learning institutions that offer smaller group classes for language instruction. Double check that your program includes language classes and if not, I would recommend hiring a private tutor.
Where you decide to live will play a major part in influencing your Chinese experience. Many universities offer affordable international student dormitories that provide unique opportunities to learn not only about life in China but also make friends from all over the world.
Some programs may automatically place you in this dormitory, or organize dorm-like housing in hotels. Programs through China Study Abroad (CSA) offer multiple living arrangements, home stays, private-luxury apartments, and even apartments with a Chinese housemate.
Immersion & Cultural Activities
Programs differ in the amount of perks that are included in the overall price. For example, IES Abroad’s semester in Shanghai program includes housing, courses, and field study trips as inclusive in the cost of the program. If you prefer a less structured program, CSA’s customizable program planner allows you to specifically design your program to fulfill your study abroad desires.
Decide if you prefer to study abroad with a company who will organize all of the details of your stay, or if you would rather enjoy more independence when studying abroad. By opting to forgo included field trips, for instance, you will be given more opportunities to plan independent adventures.
China is a huge country and has all four seasons, so be sure to take a look at the weather in your study abroad city before leaving. Regardless, it's a good idea to pack layers, a converter, and chargers for your electronics. If you're there for a full semester or year, we'd also recommend packing extra shoes and undies, as those tend to run small in China.
If you wear contacts, consider switching to disposable daily contacts or glasses while in China because of pollution. For more tips, read the full packing list for study abroad in China.
China is renowned for being a relatively inexpensive travel and study destination. It is not uncommon to spend a mere US$5 and feel full for days (especially if you’re stocking up on dumplings!) The country uses the Ren Min Bi as its currency (also know as the Kuai or the Yuan), and typically runs on cash versus credit cards. Regardless, its always good to have extra pocket money. Here are some scholarships available for study in China:
- China’s University and College Admission System offers excellent student scholarships to individuals pursuing study abroad options as undergraduates, masters, or graduate students.
- The Council for International Education Exchange (CIEE) offers scholarships to CIEE program participants who are members of groups that have traditionally been underrepresented in study abroad.
- Many scholarships for study abroad are offered through the U.S. government, including the Freeman-Asia Program and the Gilman International Scholarship.
- As a non-profit, the various USAC study abroad scholarship opportunities aim for students to gain international experience -- without breaking the bank.
- More Study Abroad Grants and Scholarships
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Study Abroad Programs in China
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