by Jakob (German student is now studying Chinese language in BLCU)

As a German student studying Chinese language at Beijing Language and Culture University, I would like to share my own experience of applying at Chinese universities with those who plan to study in China. Planning to work in China after having finished my Master degree in Germany, I came to Beijing to first build up my Mandarin skills.

Application process

Having already experienced studying in China, I knew that the application process for Chinese Universities can be very complex and time-consuming. The first time I came to study Mandarin in China during a summer vacation program at Beijing Normal University (BNU) for one month in 2010, several problems occurred; It started with finding the right University. There are around 200 Universities and other schools in China offering around 20.000 different programs for foreign students, but to finally choose one and start the first contact often turns out to be harder than expected. Moreover, many of China’s universities have confusing websites with a lack of information about their programs, no information in English, and no English-speaking staff to answer calls and E-mails. Getting the information you need is time-consuming, especially considering the time difference of seven hours between the countries.

When I finally decided to study at Beijing Normal University (BNU), the subsequent communication via phone and e-mail turned out take more time than expected as well. The whole period of sending the application documents from China to Germany and vice-versa– from the application request until enrollment confirmation– took more than two and a half months. Finally arriving at BNU on registration day, I was tested again. I found no English speaking staff, and they wanted four more passport photos than they had originally told me to bring. Without any Mandarin skills myself, finding a place to get passport photos done in a city where very few people speak English proved to be difficult. Needless to say, it was a rough first day.

For these and other reasons, I decided to ask CUCAS for help in going to study in China. First of all, I appreciated the clear information in English on CUCAS’ website. It summarizes the most important facts concerning the programs, including duration, fees, application process and deadlines, requirements, possibilities for Chinese scholarships, and more. After contacting CUCAS, the staff answered quickly and in clear English. CUCAS was dealing with the University and managed the whole application process, sending me the application materials I needed and guiding me through the process. Within one month, I had already acquired all the necessary documents to apply for a Business (F) Visa in my country.

Hint: If you are going to study for six months or less, you can obtain the F Visa. This exempts you from the ‘Physical Examination’ check in your country, which is required for a one-year+ Student (X) Visa. (CUCAS: Now students have to apply the X2 visa, learn more>>)

One more reason to apply via CUCAS is the fact that you get privileged treatment in room bookings in the student dormitory, which can save you a lot of unnecessary frustration experienced by many foreign students who book last-minute. I experienced both applying with and without CUCAS. In my opinion, the services offered by CUCAS are well worth the $100 fee.

A foreign student’s life in China

Life in Beijing

Of course studying in China is a big change in a foreign students life, but it is also one of the most interesting experiences one can have. First of all, the scale of Chinese cities is so much larger than most other countries’ cities. With around 20 Million people living in Beijing, it can take up to one hour spending your time in crowded subway trains or traffic jams just to reach the city center from the campus. That being said, living on Campus and in the area around BLCU, where many of Beijing’s universities are located, you will find everything you need: shopping centers, sports clubs, cafes and bars, nightlife and lots of students from all over the world. Living here you will never feel alone, as there are so many students in the same situation.

Travel around China

For the students who not only come here to study, but also want to get a better idea of China, its culture and history, there are many tours offered by travel agencies and the university. One-day trips to the Great Wall, Summer Palace, Forbidden City and other sights are definitely worth the money. As for the weekends and vacations, you can spend time visiting other places around China. Instead of joining a guided tour offered by one of the numerous agencies, you can also try getting around yourself using your Chinese skills. China has a well-developed, cheap and convenient railway system, which makes it easy to do short-term trips. You can venture to Inner Mongolia to experience the Mongolian life in a “Mongu-hut”, or to Xi’An to visit the famous “Terracotta Army”. Going to Inner Mongolia on an overnight train (category “softsleeper”: you have our own small bed and two toilets in each wagon) you pay around RMB 320 for a round-trip ticket. The train leaves at 8 pm and  you wake up at your destination twelve hours later. Going to Shanghai via bullet-train takes around five hours and costs around RMB 900 for a round-trip ticket.

Moving out of the dormitory

If you are going to stay for a half year or longer, you can consider moving out of the student dormitory and look for your own room in a flat share in the area around the university, as I did. Looking through the flat share offers on “The Beijinger” (an online platform for expatriates exchanging all kind of information) and other websites, I found an agent that helped me to find a room in a flat share right across the street of my campus. Instead of paying RMB 2.000 per month for a bed in a double room in the BLCU international student dormitory, I pay RMB 2.600 for my own room in an international flat share with a big kitchen, a living room and no cockroaches. If you intend to do the same, consider that an agent usually charges a fee of the equivalent of one months’ rent. Be sure to be very clear about total costs with them before signing anything!

Earning some pocket money

If you feel that life in Beijing is too expensive after all, you might have the possibility to earn some extra cash working a part-time job. Many students teach Chinese students English  (even though they are not native speakers) and other languages, whether as a private tutor or as a teacher in a school setting. Doing this you are able to earn between 100 and 300 RMB per hour, depending on the level of the students, and your English doesn’t have to be perfect.

Coming to Beijing to study Chinese was the right decision for me. You will make incredibly fast improvements that will not compare to your studies in your home country. After the classes you can improve your spoken Chinese with the help of a Chinese language partner, who is easy to find. Living here and being forced to use your language skills every day fuels your motivation during your studies. Furthermore, if you have any problems, the team of CUCAS is there for you anytime. They can assist you with questions of any kind, and they helped me weeks and months after I started my studies.

I hope this article summarizing a few of my experiences here has given you a little insight into the life of a foreign student in China. I wish you good luck for your exciting experience here!