“Amazing…incredible experience”. This is what I say to anyone who ask me how it feels to live in China. People look at me differently when I say that I prefer staying in China than in my own country.
This amazing adventure started with only one single university application. From high school I worked very hard to be able to convince my parents to let me study medicine in a foreign country. While searching for the best options which included affordable tuition fee, living costs and good quality medical studies, my conclusion pointed to several universities in China.
In Mauritius, there are various liable agents who represent many foreign universities. I chose OVEC as mine for it was representing my choice of university- Nanjing Medical University (NMU). I chose this university as it has a very excellent reputation and good education quality for being ranked among one of the best in China.
I had to submit all my documents such as my school results and certificates for OVEC to process it after I filled in the application form provided to me. The application was free of charge for fresh graduated high school students. The minimum result for eligibility was three Cs in the subjects of Mathematics, Chemistry and Biology or Physics. I had higher grades that the minimum requirement which made me more confident that I would obtain a seat in Nanjing Medical University. I obtained the conditional letter of acceptance in which was asked to pay a deposit fee to confirm my seat. The deposit was made through a bank draft on the school’s name.
After the deposit was made, I was given physical examination forms to be done solely in a public hospital. Some of the tests included blood group, health status such as, if I have any mental illness or any diseases such as AIDS. These physical results were to be given to the school personally once we reach there. At the same time, I was also given a list of vaccines to be done for my own protection. These vaccines included Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B, Yellow fever and Meningitis. I obtained my visa few weeks prior to coming to China.
I was very excited for the new adventure though I was very anxious as to what to expect. Questions as what to bring or the lifestyle were very troublesome. I would search for Mauritian students who were already there through different social websites and would ask them all the questions that I had in my mind such as their own living costs or how they live or study or silly questions like what do they eat or what do I bring from Mauritius that I wouldn’t get there. Going to a new country without my parents was quite stressing as my departure date was approaching at a quick pace.
Meanwhile the agent would invite the senior students who were studying in NMU to meet all the new students in case they were on holidays in Mauritius or leave their contact details for us to get in touch. This was very reassuring for our parents as well as for ourselves as we knew we wouldn’t be totally alone out there. We were also given free basic Mandarin course by OVEC twice a week to help us get familiar to the language. The agent called us all for a last meeting a week before departure to reassure us, to verify everything one last time and to answer any of our queries. During that meeting we were asked to choose if we wanted to stay single in a room or double as per the university’s hostel regulations. I chose to stay double with a girl whom I met in the three months Mandarin course so as not to be too lonely there.
The agent and his secretary accompanied us to China which was very advantageous for many of us who never travelled alone before and for our family as well. I was myself confused from time to time during the trip but the secretary was always there to help me. Basically, I faced no problems while applying to NMU and coming to China as the OVEC took care of everything with great responsibility.

 

Arriving to China was exciting as well as stressing in many ways. However, one of the most surprising thing was to be given a Chinese name by the university. We were all called by our Chinese names rather than our real ones for easy communication. In the beginning, it was very awkward but now being called by my Chinese name seems totally natural and normal to me. Also, the Mandarin course that I did before coming to China did help me to certain extent but the experience of being surrounded by mostly Chinese was suddenly new and hard to adapt. One of the main differences was the way teachings are conducted and the optimistic motivation of the Chinese students. I had to adapt to the rules and regulations of the university which were very strict as compared to the universities of my country. Like the Chinese students, the teachers expected the foreign students to be at least ten minutes early than the actual time of the course which proved a disaster for we were still struggling with the time difference of our respective country and China. It was a little hard to adjust to a daily time table lecture of usually 9:40 to 16:20 at first. I found it difficult to adjust in the early weeks because the Mauritian batch came about 3 weeks late after the semester started because the hostels were not yet ready for accommodation. So we had to manage and master the 3 weeks of lectures within days by ourselves. I had to work round the clock just to keep up with the class lectures which were very hectic and discouraging as we were new comers and barely had time to cope.
I was having problems to write the Chinese characters (Chinese: Hanzi) properly because it was not taught in the basic course I had which was mostly about learning the Chinese words using Roman alphabets (Chinese: Pinyin).  I was still struggling with the three weeks missed Chinese lessons when we already had our first Chinese midterm. It was satisfactory as I was still having adapting issues such as sleeping, talking to my parents, time difference or keep up with the teachers’ lectures. However within two months that followed, I was now familiar to the English pronunciations of my Chinese lecturers and the way they were teaching us. They were going at a moderate pace which required me to view the lessons that we covered in class the very same day. While the teacher would explain I would add small notes and at home, I would read the books that were provided to us for free for further notes. In case I had any problems I would ask the teachers in the next class or go for the reference books in the library. One thing that I like about my teachers is that whenever I would ask them to re explain concepts that I couldn’t understand, without hesitation, they would explain to me politely and repeatedly if needed for my understanding. My Chinese lecturers never ever let me down in my studies. The rules and regulations such as attendance and the teaching methods of the teachers made me a stronger student. Our coordinator has helped me a lot in adapting to the university rules and regulations. He has been of relentless support and care to me when over my fresh year. I can proudly say that I am self-disciplined and very punctual student for most of my classes. I learnt and mastered the concept of time management to be able to study well, to explore my new surroundings, for proper sleep and communication with my families and friends bearing the four hours’ time difference between China and Mauritius in mind.
However, another problem I had was some of the teachers would use Chinese rather than English to explain some points in the lectures although my course is English medium. This irritated me for at least a month before I started to get used to it. Rather than getting angry, I would simply try to translate what the teachers would try to explain in Chinese and do further readings over the topics by myself. Gradually over the years I developed into a responsible and independent student academically. I certainly do not regret studying in a Chinese university. It is actually an honor to be part of my new family- NMU.
In my first academic year, the subjects were not so difficult for they were pre-medical subjects which were similar to the high school subjects to certain extent. My roommate and I prepared for the exams two weeks before it all started. We would help each other while doing notes and make subject quiz in our room to test our knowledge in the subjects we were to be examined. However for Chinese language I had to struggle a lot to be able to write properly for Chinese writing was a completely new subject for me. My first year went brilliantly and I returned to my country for the summer holidays. The early struggles of my first academic year made me a mentally strong and responsible student who can now tackle any problems with confidence and a smile.
My second year subjects were tougher compared to the first year ones because they were medical subjects. I worked harder to keep performing well in my studies. I would stay in the Anatomy laboratory till its closing time to study the specimens for my practical exam. I would study daily at least 3 hours for my theory subjects to be able to master each of them. There were days that I would think that I wouldn’t be able to keep up but then my close friends who were in China or other countries and my family especially my elder sister would encourage me daily with a motivational message to hold on and fight back. My roommate of first year also and I would encourage each other for we had similar problems and light homesickness. Over the years, my roommate and I became family in China as we were supportive to each other.
Whenever I would feel lazy, I would take my study materials and go to the library to study among the Chinese students, as by seeing them, they bring out my confidence and motivation to study hard like them. Chinese students are very intelligent, highly competitive and work extremely hard for long tiring hours for their studies. Whenever I would see any of them studying and reciting their notes, I would feel determined to do the same and achieve success in my studies too. I would say that a Chinese student is a perfect student for his high optimism and hard work. Being among them taught me to be focused on my study goals which included being always in the competitive race to win scholarships given by the university itself or by the Nanjing government.
Visiting the library daily after class till its closing time made me a familiar face in the library and many of the Chinese students started to accept me as a friend. Whenever I would be in the library I would ask some of the Chinese students to help me with my Chinese subjects. I would ask them to translate my comprehensions into Pinyin or correct my writing and grammar, and in return I would help them with English. I also studied Chinese language for almost 2 years laboriously and passed my HSK Level 5 (Hanyu Shuiping Kaoshi also known as the Chinese Proficiency Test) which was a great relief as HSK Level 5 is the requirement of my university for foreign students.
Furthermore, my third year has just started and my subjects are tougher than the second year ones but I am not losing hope as I still have the same good teaching habits that I have developed over the last two years. This year I go to the library for self-study 3 times a week and alternatively the rest of the days I do revision work in class with my friends after class hours. We share our ideas to better understand our subjects and prepare for the final exams which would start by the mid of December lasting till mid of January. I learnt to sacrifice festivals such as Christmas or New year to some extent to prepare better for my exams if my exams dates fall one or two days before Christmas or New Year. The materials that my teachers gave me, the books that school provided me or the reference books in the library together with my revision group work make me feel confident for my upcoming exams and they are certainly my best friends academically.

 

Managing study and living alone in a foreign country can be very hard if it is a first time experience. Coming from a pretty small country, I struggled a lot in my first year to adapt myself to the new and more sophisticated lifestyle of China. Travelling in the different metro lines was very confusing and stressful at first. I was having difficulty in memorizing the Chinese station names which kept me alert all the time I was travelling so as not to miss my station. Hopefully the metro lines use Pinyin as well as the Hanzi system which was very helpful while travelling. However it was difficult to find location directions as they were all written in Chinese.
Hopefully, my senior Mauritian friends accompanied me during my first few shopping in Nanjing. They showed me places such as the small Yiwu market where everything can be bargained and the Xinjiekou city where many of the fashionable clothes are sold at affordable prices. They also gave me directions for vegetable market and supermarkets where foreign products were sold I would memorize the directions so that I would not be too much dependent on them. They showed me places to eat and basic things to ask in the dishes since I was a pure vegetarian in my first year. They took me to the bank to open a personal bank account and helped me buy a Chinese SIM card in the first week that I arrived in China itself. For the bank it was very confusing for me as I was not able to communicate in Chinese, so they would talk for me or would write all the important things that I would need in the bank if they could not accompany me. They would give me advices such as to always check the currency rate while changing foreign money into RMB.

 

They taught me how to bargain in Chinese for lower prices because Chinese sellers would triple the prices when they see foreigners who can’t speak proper Chinese. For instance I paid a simple plastic bucket 40 Yuan when I was alone when the actual price was simply 10 Yuan. So, ultimately as a result, I started to improve my Chinese and make the sellers believe that I was in China for over a year and that I know the actual price of the commodity so that they would not fool me with extreme prices. It was indeed very hard to go for shopping in the beginning. Before buying anything, I would always convert it back to my country price to be able to keep my pocket money under control and avoid finishing it all since I was given pocket money monthly by my parents.
It was not easy to travel or do shopping alone during the first few months since the language was not familiar to me and I was not yet comfortable. My friends and I would make group and the senior friends would take us to explore the important places that we needed to know to live in China such as Visa office, Banks, Flight booking offices, hospitals and the different kinds of supermarkets where we would get products from our country. However to be independent, I started to study Chinese language very well and make Chinese friends to help me. I knew that the faster I would be fluent in Chinese the better my life would be in China as the language was the key of enjoying what China had to offer to foreigners.
I knew life would not be a bed of roses when I would come to China and I prepared myself mentally to fight any obstacles that would prevent me from living comfortably in China. One of the obstacles was the use of Asian toilets. Asian toilets are rare in my country but very common in China which was very awkward and funny in the start to use. As time passes I got used to it because it is found almost everywhere be it in teaching buildings, public places or hostels which had both the European and the Asian toilets. I used to use the Asian style toilet mostly in the dorm because the European ones were sometimes out of order due to problems created by other students. For a start, I had to adapt to the different nature of the different students in which some were good whilst others were filled with wickedness and naughtiness. I had to be careful whom to trust as friends and whom not to. Some of our senior friends would scare us with ghost stories over the hostel but I was much stronger and mature enough not to let myself fall in these silly and foolish matters. We had to adapt to all of the other students’ behavior so that peace would be maintained in the dormitories. Another problem we all encountered in the dormitory was the prohibition of using electric appliances such as hairdresser. It took us a while to convince the school to allow certain appliances such as electric plate and hairdresser in the hostel. My roommate and I decorated our new home with stickers and pictures of our family. We would help each other in cleaning the room and wash the clothes. In order to save money, we would cook our own food in the public kitchen which was shared by all students living on the same floor. There was a common refrigerator in which we would put our room number on all the commodities that we would store in the fridge. Cooking our own food would save us approximately half of our pocket money. Also, all the students in the hostel would celebrate each other’s festivals with great traditional food preparation and traditional clothes. We would also arrange to celebrate birthday parties of each other on the ground floor of the dormitory or over friends’ places if they stay off campus.  I developed the habit of avoiding to buy tempting attractive commodities to save money for small trips outside Nanjing. For instance last Mid-Autumn holidays I visited Anhui and during the last National day holidays I visited Shanghai.
I learnt how to use chopsticks within one day of my arrival to China, out of stress and confusion, being in the new place. With time I mastered the use of chopstick which became my favorite as compared to forks or spoons. Being a vegetarian can be a horror if you don’t cook your own food or you can’t speak Chinese. Over my first year, I would cook my own food or if I was eating outside, I would ask them to exclude all the non-veg contents from the dish. I would get some pure vegetarian dishes from the school canteens from time to time. We have three big main canteens which include numerous stalls in which they provide a variety of dishes which include Chinese dishes, Xinjiang dishes and “Halal” Muslim dishes. No student in NMU can say there is no variety of food in the dining halls. Some of the dining halls have been renovated recently and the dish menu are updated very often. Over the last two years, I slowly became non vegetarian which was pretty much easy as non-vegetarian food is available everywhere.
In my first and second year I would cook my own food using my country spices and other ingredients but gradually I got used to the Chinese eating habits with now Chinese dishes being my favorite. Some of the dishes are purely Chinese whilst others are from Xinjiang. I now seldom cook my country dishes. I used to be a bread lover but now I’m more of the Chinese bread (Chinese: Baozi) lover. There are a variety of delicious foods in China but the trick to taste them all is to have Chinese friends who would help you in discovering them or by simply being very fluent in Chinese.
It was very fun to stay with a roommate in the hostel but sometimes we would have slight adaptations problems such as noise disturbance or being aware of the presence of each other in the room since we were more used to living in a single bedroom back in our house in Mauritius. Nevertheless they were the slightest problems that we learnt to overcome as we accepted each other and became family over time. I grew into a more patient person who could adapt and stay with another stranger in a peaceful atmosphere. We were among the few couples which remained double for a full one year period whilst many fought or left to live alone in a room. My ex roommate is still my family and my best friend to whom I turn to when I’m having any difficulties.
In my second year, according to the rules and regulations of the university I was allowed to move outside. I chose to move outside because I found a single room of affordable price approximately ten minutes walking distance from my school itself. I went to many agents in the nearby regions and searched for rooms. I didn’t hurry to take any of them as the agents would compete among each other and try to show me the best deal possible to take flat from them. They would call me a number of times over a single day to ask me to change my decision when I would refuse some of them.  I chose to stay in a single room for four months as a trial because I had to share the whole flat with other Chinese flat mates. I had few problems such as cleanliness was not their forte or noise disturbance from them which made me left the room after the completion of the four months. I went for another similar room which ended up with the same problems. I couldn’t find any foreigner friends as flat mates for many were hesitant to move out from hostel. But I was strong enough to know what I wanted and I went for it. It was a difficult path in which I struggled a lot but I did not regret it for in the end I came across an agent who showed me a studio which included kitchen, living room, washroom and a big bedroom for an affordable price. The studio lodging fee of one year became less than that I would pay in the hostel itself which made it the perfect deal for me. It also provided for safety through the security patrols every three hours and cameras installed everywhere. I took the studio after checking it thoroughly inside if everything was safe and working. The agent made a one year contract paper for my landlord and me with me transferring the rent fee every three months to the landlord’s account. It has since been my new home for eight months now. In case I have any problems I can contact the landlord or the flat society management to solve it. After a few weeks that I moved out from the hostel, I bought a scooter which was in a very good condition for half its actual market price. I got it from a foreign friend who bought it while visiting China. I use the scooter every day to go to school and to do any errands I have for it is less time consuming and not tiring at all. I always reach the teaching building 10 minutes before the class starting time.

 

My class can accommodate the eighty students of my batch very comfortably with its two air conditioning systems, a huge blackboard and an efficient light system and a presentation board. I love staying in class after school hours for my group revision work.
Another important lesson that I learnt is avoiding putting myself in trouble. I have had friends who got warnings from school because of silly pranks or mistakes by not observing the rules and regulations or who have had accident with fuel bikes which foreigners are not allowed to ride without a license and subsequently had police problems.  I also learnt to be smart while making friends with Chinese through the network sites by not giving personal details to avoid being robbed or other problems. Nevertheless China offers a lot of safety such as cameras everywhere. I’m totally not afraid to be on the road alone late night though I avoid it as a precaution because from to time to time I do come across people with evil intention such as thieves. That is why I tend to be very careful with my bags wherever I go but especially when I’m returning from the banks.
Keep your friends close and your enemy closer is a perfect example of living among other students in China for some view you as friends while others as mere competitors in the medical field. I learnt how to be cautious within the years I spent in China. I tend to avoid too much freedom of the night life where sometimes it may lead to troubles. Staying alone in China among Chinese and other foreigners taught me to adapt with different kinds of behavior and to differentiate between good and bad for myself.
Coming from a tropical island, I faced no problems enduring the high temperature of summer in China. All I needed was to keep me hydrated by drinking a lot of water. I spent part of my second year summer holidays roaming around Nanjing and the rest in my country. I visited several places in Nanjing such as the Yuhua Tai Scenic Area. However for winter, it was a completely different experience. I had to equip myself properly with thermals, caps, boots, gloves and thick jackets and I was not used to very cold temperatures. My country’s coldest temperature is 10 degree Celsius. Each year I prepare myself with these winter clothing so as not to fall sick and avoid complications, as being sick or admitted to a hospital can be sometimes expensive depending on the disease.
My coordinator who was responsible for my batch had been of endless and selfless support all throughout the years and is still our main support. I can always count on him for any serious problems that I encounter which are rare though as I, myself am a very responsible student. He would give us advices from time to time and would always encourage us to perform better academically as well as in extracurricular activities. Over the years when I compare myself as to how I was in the past and now, I found myself growing from a simple high school student into a very mature, responsible and disciplined person who can now manage time very efficiently.
One of the thing that I concluded is that if you master the Chinese language, you can conquer the whole of what China has to offer you. You can travel and explore China on your own, if you’re a good Chinese speaker. Furthermore if you understand Chinese well, you would get the best deals and promotions in everything you want to buy be it a phone or internet on your mobile. I used to wait for the best deals to put internet in my mobile or buy electric appliances such as mini oven or hair equipment.
Another common thing that I came across in China is Chinese people staring at me or simply yell “Waiguoren” (foreigners) in front of me. This is certainly not racism but actually being surprised to see foreigners among them or living like them. I would always give them a simple warm smile that would make their day and mine as well. Chinese people like to have foreign friends and I certainly do like to be theirs as they have taught me several precious lessons such as to always being a fighter and to never back down while achieving my goals and dreams and to do whatever it takes to fulfill it.
I also believe that one lifetime will not be enough to explore the entire China which is why I’m planning to stay in China this coming winter and summer holidays to explore other provinces such as Hunan’s Avatar Mountain for winter holidays and Shaanxi’s Terracotta Warriors and Horses for the summer holidays rather than go back to my country. I love almost everything in China and I’m looking forward to have more fun and thrilling experiences in the next remaining 3 years that I have here.

 

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                                                                         Nanjing Medical University

 

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                                                               Campus Life of Nanjing Medical University

 

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                                                                                Teaching Building And My Class

 

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                                                          The University’s Library And My Chinese Friend

 

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                                                            The Dormitory And The Different Dining Halls

 

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                                                                             The Scholarship Ceremony 2013

 

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                                              Extracurricular Activities And Life Outside Campus

 

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                                                  Celebration Of My Festival In China

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                                                                                                 Exploring Nanjing

 

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                                                                        Short Trips Around And Outside Nanjing

 

 Author Details:

Name: Vishwanee Keetarut
Chinese Name: 王维熙
Nationality: Mauritius
University: Nanjing Medical University
Major: M.B.B.S