By Tanner Greer from U.S

This review will cover two parts: my experience at BLCU’s intensive summer program, and my experience with applying through CUCAS and the special services CUCAS delvers to students who go to BLCU.

Lets talk about CUCAS first.

  • Price

    I am a great fan of CUCAS. CUCAS is not the only outfit that helps students go to school in China – if you google “study abroad China” or “study abroad Beijing” you will see just how many different organizations there are. Many of them have fancy, flashy websites. But don’t be fooled, most of these cost a ton of money—much more than they should! Think about it: this is China we are talking about. If attending a semester at a Chinese university costs anything even remotely comparable to an American university’s tuition then you can be sure that you are being ripped off. The universities do not charge this much, even to foreign students. The prices listed here on the CUCAS website are the prices these universities actually charge. If another outfit is charging you more to attend the same programs then you can be pretty sure they are simply pocketing the extra cash. Going through those outfits is not worth it. In terms of price CUCAS is far and away the best option.

  • Pickup Service

    If you attend BLCU then CUCAS offers a few other services to its applicants. For $100 they will pick you up from the airport and for another $100 they will help you register at the school. Anyone familiar with Beijing taxicab prices knows that this is priced very high.If you already speak Chinese fluently then you are probably better off without the pick up service and saving $80. But before you go ahead and do that, think about this question: just how well do you understand Beijinghua? Even beter: how well do you understand some old guy speaking Beijinghua with an old man’s slur, dropping slang left and right, and speaking fast as an auctioneer? I have never met someone as difficult to understand as a Beijing taxi driver. But if you can understand them without a problem, you probably don’t need this pick up service. (You could also use Beijing public transportation to get there. The subway system is pretty nice and is quite workable even if you do not know Chinese well. But I would only use it at certain times of day. If you are trying to get your luggage through rush hour crowds…. Well, good luck!)

  • Registration Service

    The help with registration was very valuable. I forgot to bring a necessary photograph and it was causing all sort of problems that needed to be resolved before I could register. Luckily one of the folks from CUCAS was there to help me understand what was going on, for I would have had no idea what to do or where to go if he had not been around. I strongly recommend you pay for the registration help. I was also touched by how genuinely nice and concerned the CUCAS staff were. Upon discovering I had no umbrella the man who came to help me register and pick me up gave me his to keep! They also gave me their phone number in case I got stuck in a hard situation or had anymore registration problems with the school.

  • Application Process

    I only have one warning with CUCAS: the application process is slow. I suspect this might not be a CUCAS’s fault, but an inevitable problem when dealing with the Chinese postal and university systems. I made the mistake of filling out my application just a month before I was supposed to arrive. Between the time it took to get my application back and the wrestle I had with the Chinese embassy to get my passport accepted, I did not have all of the materials I needed to arrive in China legally until ONE DAY before my flight to China! It was crazy. If you keep the limitations of the Chinese system in mind and apply earlier than I did you will save yourself from a lot of needless stress.

Now on to BLCU.

  • Student Body

    Contrary to my expectation, BLCU was not a school only for foreigners. Even during the summer programs more than half of the students at the school are Chinese, and most of them are pursuing some type of linguistic or internationalish type degree. I found this to be one of the best things about this school—there were many, many Chinese students to befriend, and so many of them are willing to practice Chinese with you if you practice English with them. There are plenty of international students to hang out with too, of course, and by the looks of things this is what most of the international students did, only making friends with other expats. I view this as a lost opportunity. So much of my progress in the language came from the hundreds of conversations I had outside of the classroom. The students at BLCU are so willing and eager to talk with foreigners – it would be a shame to pass that opportunity up!

  • Location

    BLCU is located in the Wudaokou neighborhood of Beijing, which is famous for its large number of international students. It is very close to a Subway station and there are several malls, shopping centers, and night clubs within walking distance of the school. The campus is small by American standards; it is surrounded by both walls and gates. All the dorms are within these walls, in addition to the class room buildings, a substandard library, the cafeteria, and several stores and small restaurants. If you are taking the subway it is probably a 30-40 minute trip to get to Tiananmen or other famous sites closer to the middle of Beijing. Because the campus has lots of trees, ponds, and greenery, the whole campus is abuzz with cicadas during the summer. There are a TON of mosquitos; big spray is a smart investment.

  • Accommodations

    BLCU offers several different accommodations whose quality varies greatly. I went with the cheapest one available and got what I paid for: a very small room, which I shared with one other person, having a shower that was always cold (whose drainage was just a hole in the floor), and not having any soap or toilet paper (you had to buy it yourself). The pampered Americans among you will find all of this horrid, I am sure, but I thought the accommodations were suitable for the price I paid. The costlier accommodations are much, much nicer.

    The cafeteria they have at the school was great. Cafeteria is not really the right word for it – the building has four floors, each with its own cuisine. The bottom two are not unlike a Western buffet cafeteria, while the third floor is styled much like a food court with half a dozen restaurants ready to take your order. The fourth floor has actual, sit and dine-in type restaurants, including, if I remember correctly, a coffee shop, a Southeast Asian, Korean, and a fancy Chinese restaurant. I spent most of my meals on the 3rd floor, which had tons of variety for a fairly cheap price.

  • The Program

    I was part of the six week summer program for elementary learners. I do not know how similar it is to normal school year classes, but I imagine the teaching style is similar.

    In the beginning they will give you an oral test to figure out what level of class you should be taking. The teachers—well, most of them—are very warm and engaging. They were some of the highest regarded teachers in Beijing; some of them had been selected multiple times by the Chinese government to teach Chinese abroad. I felt comfortable with them immediately. Most know English but they rarely use it in class. They use a course book and a humorous series of power points as the anchor for their class, and a great deal of class time is spent on repetition and memorization of phrases from these texts. You will spend much more time repeating formulas than you ever would in a Western classroom. I did not mind this—you have plenty of chances to get creative with your new vocabulary outside of the classroom with the thousands of Chinese people at the school. Because they do not use English or other international languages during instruction, it was pretty common for students to feel overwhelmed and incapable during their first week. I certainly did! By the end most people feel much more confident.

    My course was focused mostly on speaking and listening comprehension. Many of the tests at the end had pinyin in addition to characters, and if we replaced a character with its pinyin equivalent during the test itself we were not marked down for it. Thus my reading and writing comprehension did not approve nearly as much as my speaking and listening did. And my goodness did they improve! I could not believe how much my spoken fluency improved in just six weeks’time. When I flew into Beijing I could barely speak a few words to the Chinese woman next to me on the plane; on my flight back to America I spoke to the guy next me in Chinese for at least an hour. Indeed, there were days where I talked in Chinese for *hours* at a time without a problem. These were very elementary conversations, of course, about simple things—but for the first time in my life I was having, real, sustained conversations in Chinese.

    I credit my success to the excellent teaching program at BLCU and to the many Chinese I talked to outside of the classroom every day. This last point is crucial: if you come to Beijing and just talk to other expats, your Chinese will not improve much. But if you come here and take advantage of everything the campus has to offer then there is nothing to stop you from having an incredible experience a BLCU.

I give both the CUCAS service and the BLCU summer program 5 stars.If learning Chinese is your top priority, then I strongly recommend this program. Those willing to work hard and leave their comfort zones will have an incredible experience.

 

Author Details:

Name: Tanner Greer

Nationality: U.S.

University: Beijing Language and Culture University (BLCU)