Life in China

My name is Raymond and I’m from Indonesia. I first came to China in 2012 to pursue an undergraduate degree in Financial Mathematics from Xi’an Jiaotong Liverpool University (XJTLU) in Suzhou, China. It was on the 26th of August 2012 when my Indonesian fellows and I were supposed to take the next flight to Shanghai Pudong International Airport from Soekarno Hatta Airport in Indonesia. Suzhou does not have an airport, so in order to go to Suzhou, we have to go to Shanghai first and then take a train or bus to go to Suzhou. My heart was filled with anxiety yet it was also full of excitement at the same time. I was really looking forward to live an independent life in China without being accompanied by my parents and also to be a good representative of my own country, Indonesia. When I first arrived in Shanghai, it was 8 o’clock in the morning and the airport was already crowded with people. I think it shows how hardworking Chinese people are and at the same time I was confused as to how am I supposed to travel to Suzhou. Fortunately, 2 people from the university came to pick us up from the airport and had already prepared a bus for us. The trip from Shanghai to Suzhou took about 2 hours and along the road, when I saw those signs in buildings in Mandarin, I still remember what I said to myself, “What are these alien language that I’m seeing right now?” My mandarin was really poor back then but that was what motivated me to study Mandarin seriously in China.

International students in China usually stay on-campus dormitory. However, in XJTLU’s case, the university itself has established a partnership with hotels and apartments in the nearby areas such as MBA Apartment and RnD Apartment. Therefore, international students can choose to live in the dormitory or in the apartments. Dormitories on campus are shared by 4 people in one room and it provides furniture, air-conditioner, water heater, network sockets and a washing room (Room types and furniture maybe a little bit different as different house building time). The cost of the accommodation is around 2000 RMB per semester.  In MBA apartment and RnD apartment, the facilities are similar, with an addition of a living room, a kitchen, TV set and free internet access. However, the price is higher. In MBA apartment, the room is usually shared by 3 people and it costs 2760 RMB monthly. In RnD apartment, it is usually shared by 2 people and costs 2800 RMB monthly. Nonetheless, the space in either MBA or RnD apartment is much bigger than in the dormitories. In addition, each person has their own room so they can have their own privacy.  Once in every two weeks, there would be housekeeping to come to the apartment to change the bed sheets and clean the toilet so it is very convenient for us. All of these accommodations, however, are excluding electricity and water bills. I myself lived in MBA apartment last year, sharing the apartment with two other people. The monthly fee, including electricity and water bills is usually around 1000-1100 RMB. Currently, I am living in an apartment called HanLin Yuan which is near to the campus as well. In this case, we have to find the landlord by ourselves and try to find a place which we really like. Most of the landlords could not speak English so we have to speak in Mandarin. Even though it is more complicated, I feel that it is worthwhile as we can practice our speaking skills.

In order to live in China, we have to undergo some registration processes such as residence permit and medical check-up report. However, there is no need to worry as the university had already planned about our registration as we were given schedules of what we should do in each day before the classes start such as going to the police station, do medical check-ups and making a bank account. In order to help us, the school raised a committee called the buddy program which is originally a program to help us in adapting ourselves to Chinese’s lifestyle. They are able to speak fluent English so that they can help us communicate with the people in the hospital and police station. With their help, we did not have any trouble in getting all of the documents needed. Another point to keep in mind is that the residence permit for foreign students would only be for 1 year. Therefore, you need to pay attention especially when you want to fly back to your home country. Make sure that your residence will not expire when you are in your country. Otherwise, you have to apply another X visa in order to go to China and will be forced to do registration from the beginning again. Also, whenever you return to China, you have to go to the nearest police station before 24 hours to report for your return or else you will be fined.

The teaching and learning activities in XJTLU are without a doubt dynamic. My studying experience here has never been better than before. Firstly, as it is an international university, most of the lecturers are native English speakers, so we will not have any trouble in understanding the classes. Also, learners are expected not to only sit and listen to the lecture, the professors would encourage students to ask them any questions, even to the point of meeting outside of class hours. They can easily mail the professor and make an arrangement and meet them in person. Besides being supportive to students, the professors are also either dual master degree or PhD degree, which means that they are experts in their specific subject and therefore could assist us students in the best possible method. In addition, all of the Chinese here are very friendly. They do not hesitate to share their knowledge with us when we are in trouble of understanding the lessons. Being in an international university makes it difficult for foreign students to study Mandarin; however the Chinese here are also willing to help us in improving our Mandarin. The university itself also has an organization called Language Partner Union, an organization formed for international students and supervised by the Chinese Language Teaching. Its aim is to help international students with Chinese learning by assigning one local student to be our “personal tutor”. Furthermore, the university had just finished building a 13 story tall library for students to do some self study sessions or to borrow books as well. I don’t know why but this library gives off a studying aura so I always study here, especially in preparing for the final exam. Nevertheless, studying all the time would be boring. This is why there are many clubs established in the university such as soccer club, basketball club, harmony club, debate club, etc. These clubs not only can help students to relax themselves after studying, but can also indirectly help people to make new friends. This is quite helpful for new students to be able to get to know their seniors. Additionally, the university provides full facilities for students: libraries, computer labs, cafeterias, basketball court, tennis court, printers available in every building and also free wi-fi in the whole university area. This is to ensure that students can study seriously and at the same time, relax themselves when they are tired.

Outside campus life, there are a lot of activities that can be done. Suzhou is a place with many scenic spots. Tiger Hill is one of the popular places that is known for its natural beauty as well as its historical sites. It is called Tiger Hill because it is said to look like a crouching tiger and it covers an area of 14,100 square meters. The main attraction of Tiger Hill is its pagoda which is slightly tilted like The Leaning Tower of Pisa in Italy. Other than beautiful sceneries, Suzhou is also known for its silk production which has gained a worldwide reputation since the Tang and Song dynasties (A.D. 618-1279). There is a factory called the No. 1 Silk Factory in Suzhou which is also a favorite tourist spot. The factory is divided into three parts: the exhibition hall, exhibiting the history of Suzhou silk and ancient collections; the working area where we can see how the silk is made; and the product exhibition hall which shows the main products of the factory, the silk wadding quilts. However, on weekends, I usually go hang out to have some quality time with my friends. We often go to the mall or just to a nearby café.  There are a lot of cafés where the waitresses can speak English. Other than hanging out, we also like to play some sports. There are basketball, soccer, tennis courts near the MBA apartment and it is free to use as well. On Sundays, there are also Catholic’s and Christian’s church which is delivered in English as well. Transportations in Suzhou are easy to find as well. I usually travel by bus or the subway, but taxis are the most convenient of them all. However taxi drivers can’t speak English so Mandarin is a must.

From all the experiences I had in China, what I would recommend is for you to at least have some knowledge about the language first. On the first week I came here, trying to order food was very hard as I was not familiar with the names of the food. As a result, I did not even know whether the food that I ordered was delicious or not. Luckily then, some local students helped me by explaining what the food is. Another reason why a little Mandarin is important is to be able to ask for road when we get lost. I once was travelling to Shanghai and I was supposed to go to my friend’s hotel to stay for the night. It was already around 11 p.m. and it was raining lightly so there were only a few people around. To top it all, my battery phone was off too. I knew the name of the hotel and I asked the local people around, but no one knows where the place is because I said the name of the hotel in English. Turns out that the local citizens only knew the Chinese name of it. So I spent many hours in Shanghai wandering alone in search of the hotel. That is why it is important for us to be able to communicate in Mandarin with the local citizens. Nonetheless, all of Chinese foods are a bit oily and it may take some time before we get used to the local foods. However, if you do not like Chinese food, you can also cook your own meal at the apartment. There are markets nearby and by doing this you would save up some money as well.

To apply for a student visa (X visa), it was not complicated at all as fortunately, there are agencies available to help us apply for universities and they would also help in completing all the necessaries documents to get a X visa. All I had to do back then was to give documents such as passports, ID cards and do a medical check-up. However, for those of you who do not want to use the any agents, here are some requirements you have to complete in order to apply for a student visa:

  1. Original passport which is valid up to at least 6 months and at least one blank page.
  2. Complete an application form.
  3. Attach one recent passport photo (white background).
  4. Original and copy of JW 201 or JW 202.
  5. Original and copy of admission notice from the university.

After getting all of the requirements, you have to submit the application to the consular office of Chinese Embassies in person or you can entrust it to somebody else (friends, relative, etc) if you are not able to come personally. The processing usually takes around 4 working days.

To sum up, coming to Suzhou for an undergraduate degree was the best decision I have ever made in my life. By coming to China, I have learnt to live independently without my parents and start to be proactive towards everything that I do. I also have experienced many things that I could not have experienced if I were to stay in Indonesia. Even though there are some hardships in living here, I believe that it would all add up to my life experience and one thing that I always tell to myself is that “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”. This sentence always motivates me and would always keep me going. Finally, I would recommend studying in China to all of you as it would be a lot of fun in China. You can study a lot and have fun at the same time.

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Author Details:

Name: Raymond Loei

Nationality: Indonesian

University: Xi’an Jiaotong Liverpool University (XJTLU)

Major: Financial Mathematics