The moment I heard “Welcome to China” in broken English, I knew my life was going to change.And it did.

Like many foreigners, my motivation to study in China is a story like many others. But theA�decision to stay to further my bachelors here and the leap of faith that brought me, an AmericanA�girl thousands of miles from my native home in California, USA or “Mei Guo”(in Chinese) toA�Chongqing,China is something unique to my own.

After watching Steve Job’s graduation speech on YouTube, I realized that if I’m going to pursueA�my diplomatic dreams, I might as well take the biggest gamble in my life and do it all the way. NoA�one ever said taking the crooked road was going to be easy. I decided to study in China, not theA�US with the best universities in the world, not Europe, but China.

Now looking back, 6 months ago: I was just an average high school student of Chinese andA�Russian ancestry living in the suburbs of Southern California. I finished high school early, was anA�avid writer and competitive debater, did a lot of humanitarian work in my city, interned at a lawA�firm, participated in local government, sang in a competitive choir, and etc, but in reality: besides
the few cities around my home, and a road trip across the US, I knew nothing of the worldA�outside my backyard.

In truth, the world seemed like a big and far away place outside of my daily orbit.

6 months later: my best friend became a girl from France, I met my other international friendsA�each night in front of Xuelin Hotel(a hotel converted to an international student dormitory) atA�Chongqing University to decide whether we should eat “mian tian”(noodles) or order the usual,A�”gong bao ji ding”, “chao qie zi”, “shi hong shi chao ji dan” at our favorite local restaurant on
campus. And for our break on China’s “National Holiday” we decided to go on a cruise for theA�week past the infamous Three Gorges.

There were around 102 countries represented out of the 1000+ international students at CQU,A�the girl who lived across from me came from Syria(a warA�torn country in the news butA�nonetheless she was hear practicing her Mandarin just like me). My next door neighbor was fromA�Ghana, the student below me is from Australia and next to him, Andrea is from Italy. Down theA�hall, you hear a mix of anything from Brazilian Portuguese to Russian spoken by the girls fromA�Belarus.

We were all here either to study Chinese or were mutually lured by China’s prestige andA�presence in the 21st century, but it was all beyond my expectation. No one in the brochures orA�the websites ever told me that China: was going to literally bring the world to my front door. WeA�lived in a quiet, though lively(packed with thousands of Chongqing University’s local ChineseA�students and professors ) campus in the heart of Shapingba district. Surrounded by many localA�residents(families of university professors), so much that we often witness the elderly coA�existA�with the students in their morning jogs. And in the afternoon, the same elderly will bring out theirA�grandchildren to enjoy the fresh air.

It was definitely a culture shock as 4 yearA�olds and young adults alike populated the universityA�grounds; speaking in coarse Mandarin that is heavily laced with the native Chongqing dialect.A�Just a 15 minute walk outside of the main gates, we would waltz into The Three GorgesA�Shopping Mall, the biggest megaA�outlet in the district of Shapingba whose size and glamorA�overshadowed those of Los Angeles and San Francisco. Yet, it is nothing compared toA�Jiefangbei, the heart of Chongqing(a 25 minute taxi away) whose shopping center can be easilyA�compared to New York City. Yet, this was all just in Chongqing, a city that is merely known to theA�world, and admittedly at first, us as well.

The international community here is very small compared to that of Beijing(besides the mainA�districts, you would usually never ever see a foreigner around Chongqing), but it’s hugeA�population sends a cornucopia of job opportunities our way. We have more chances ofA�interacting with Chinese locals(instead of seeing Starbucks overflowing with foreign tourists andA�students), Chongqing residents pay the same Beijing/Shanghai price when it comes to EnglishA�teachers, yet the cost of living was half or even less of that of Beijing.

To be frank, due to the cost of living in China overall, life can be cheap, but if carefully managedA�with a teaching job(s) or scholarship or a combination of both, life can also be luxurious. TheA�uniqueness of Chongqing, is that not only is it just as cosmopolitan when compared ti that ofA�other international Chinese cities (despite being lower in the rankings). But the competitionA�among the few foreigners here is also relatively low. Making it the best quality education for theA�lowest dollar price.

On an international scale, most college students(no matter what country they are from) take outA�loans, or require parental support to fund their education. But as I’ve said before, if managedA�carefully, you can not only support yourself fully in Chongqing, but also have more then enoughA�left over after covering your basic needs. Most students live on campus, and at ‘CQU’, theA�majority of us have our own single rooms with personal bathrooms that are styled in a hotelA�manner(though some scholarship students do get 1 roommate at most). But either way, atA�times, the rooms can also be very dirty(such as the case as some of my friends) since some ofA�the buildings are actually quite old so some may opt to rent an apartment off campus. However,A�most of my offA�campus friends find clean, affordable housing through word of mouth ratherA�through advertisement.

Either from other international students who have been here for over a year, or from localA�Chinese students. Despite the natural placement of Chinese language students with otherA�international students: most degree students(bachelor’s, master’s, PHD) study in a normalA�Chinese classroom with local Chinese degree students. At CQU 98% of the degree classesA�here are in Chinese. Though, some universities do have programs taught in English. Personally,A�I chose to live on campus because it was truly like living at the United Nations with the diversity ofA�the students.

However, majorA�wise, I am thinking of applying to Wuhan University for next year which not onlyA�offers bachelor degrees in English (since most Chinese Universities only offer English degreesA�for Master and PHD students, whilst the majority of universities that offer English bachelorA�degrees are Beijing universities, and relatively third tier colleges in China whom are trying toA�attract more foreigners) but it is also a top university in a metropolis with a relatively small foreignA�population, much like Chongqing.

Personally, like most Americans, I arrived in Beijing back in July when I set eyes on China for theA�first time due to it’s famous name. However, after vacationing while touring universities in theA�more “famous” cities of China. I realized I did not like Beijing and Shanghai for 3 personalA�reasons: the air quality(especially Beijing), cost of living compared to other cities, and theA�increase of competition from other visiting tourists, researchers, and students made part timeA�teaching jobs much harder to find.

In Chongqing, I had a corporate internship/”job” along with other part time English teaching jobsA�that provided me with more then enough to support my lifestyle(I have only been in Chongqing forA�3 months as of today). I also was able to gain the experience of traveling to a more “authentic”A�Chinese city, and once again, I decided it was better for me to go somewhere very littleA�foreigners had gone before, even within China.

After my brief arrival, Chongqing University also invited and allowed me to directly study withinA�my Chinese Language and Culture major(for my bachelor degree) with the choice to double withA�International Economics afterwards. Instead of studying one year of Chinese, before going into aA�normal 4 year program.

However if I have already graduated or was a part time student and was looking for anA�international job, I would suggest Beijing, GuangZhou and Shanghai where corporate full timeA�jobs would be much easier since it’s more of an “international” cities encompassing severalA�large western companies. And as for a student seeking only to learn quality Chinese: then again,A�Beijing dialect would be the most similar to “Putonghua” which is standardized Mandarin, unlikeA�the Chongqing dialect which at times, is somewhat incomprehensible by even local ChineseA�people from other regions.

But of course, how did I even get here in the first place? You see, since I was 10 years old, myA�dream was always to work for the United Nations or US Foreign Service, especially with risingA�global superpowers like China. My spoken and listening Chinese(took it as my foreign languageA�in primary/high school) was proficient, but I knew it was not good enough to be able to read aA�business contract in Chinese(I was still working on elementary level reading), and I talked with aA�”foreign” accent.

I had went to Stanford University last summer to study in a scholarshipA� funded gifted youthA�program as a 15 going on 16 year old and met many students that shared the same dream. ButA�one day, it all hit me. Even if I graduated from a top university, what was going to tell me apartA�from my highly educated and well rounded classmates? There were also many ChineseA�students who arrive in the thousands to study in the US and one day, there English would be justA�as good as mine.

That’s when I decided to apply.I realized want to say that I have the American perspective andA�mind, but my Chinese was just as good as a native. I wanted to wrought the education andA�mutual understanding of two of the biggest world players in our lifetime. To fully immerse myselfA�and witness Chinese society, before returning to study my master’s or attend law school in theA�US. And not just for 1 one year like a study abroad like thousands of other Americans, but aA�degree.

Luckily around the same time, my father’s company had decided to expand into China, andA�chose Chongqing as their primary location. An international metropolis that has exploded literallyA�in the middle of central China, and became one of the fastest growing municipalities in the worldA�with a population of 32 million. A pure Chinese city with it’s own dialect and peculiar taste in itself,A�away from the already internationalized and foreign filled ports of Shanghai and Beijing.

But I had no clue. Like most foreigners, I only knew 4 cities in China: Beijing, Shanghai, HongA�Kong and Tianjing(actually I had idea where it was geographically located at first either). I heardA�of the icy winters in Harbin but that was about it. Then(around the beginning of Spring 2013), IA�applied directly to the websites of Beijing University, Fudan(Shanghai) University, and ChongqingA�University(after researching that it was the best college in Chongqing) as an Chinese languageA�student. However, at the time, I had not heard of CUCAS(due to my busy schedule at home andA�limited research) so I submitted everything electronically directed to the universities, unaware ofA�rankings, and etc. If I had, I would have been able to easily identify the programs at eachA�university.

I received the admission notices, my visa JW202 applications and etc. in the mail around 1A�month later, before taking them for my visa application to my local Chinese embassy in LosA�Angeles, California. I then waited a total of 2 weeks for my newly engraved passport to arrive.

However, word of caution, because this was where my documentation troubles began.A�Because this would be my first time in China, I was wrongly misled with the notion that once IA�arrived in China with a student or a work visa, I had 6 months to change it to a residentA�permit(this privilege is only granted to F/vacation visa holders) but by law, I had only 30 daysA�starting from the moment I entered China.

My embassy back home made an error and did not give me a warning brochure, and unluckily IA�had arrived in Beijing around 4 am, so the official that stamped my passport was literally asleepA�until I woke him up. Both did not warn me, and since I knew that Chongqing University was goingA�to help me acquire my resident permit upon my arrival(however the university had did noA�knowledge that I was going arrive 2 months before registration since most students arrive theA�week of registration in China), I did not know that to change my visa and went over the limit by aA�month.

Now, months later after my first troubles, such as forgetting to always bring hand sanitizer andA�tissues with me(public restrooms always lack soap and other necessities), using publicA�squatting toilets(only very expensive private places in China outside of your own dorm room haveA�normal western toilets), and speaking enough Chinese for a taxi driver to understand you, I amA�slowly adapting to the surroundings around me. However, on a side note, referring to theA�restrooms in China, most homes have “western toilets” but due to Chinese tradition, the largeA�population of China, and other factors, the majority of restrooms have only squatting toilets. ButA�besides this, I have a couple tips to all prospective Chinese students.

First of all, the very foundation of Chinese education(but it is similar to that of Korea’s, Thailand’s,A�etc according to those students here) is very different to that of western countries. Here, theA�main method of learning is through repetitive memorization. Chinese student only have oneA�highly pressured entrance exam for college, so they spend their entire academic careersA�focusing on memorizing thousands of characters to thousands of facts.A�Thus, as terms of the quality of education, the majority of classroom material would be for you toA�endlessly practice Chinese characters for reading and writing, and to do the same for the fourA�basic tones of Chinese in order to improve your spoken Chinese.

My personal studying method has been to watch nonstop Chinese television shows andA�movies(Chinese movies are all broadcastA�ed in standardized Mandarin) without subtitles andA�pausing it at times, in order to repeat certain sentences and phrases. Youku, the ChineseA�alternative to Youtube, is an amazing site which not only updates our favorite American, British tv
shows each week with new episodes, and newly uploaded English music videos straight fromA�Youtube(the Chinese upA�loaders are truly miracle workers) but also has thousands of popularA�Chinese series and music.

My personal problem is that I have an unique memory that remembers phrases and words withA�the correct tones. Which enables me to easily regurgitate Chinese terms with the correctA�pronunciation while memorizing the meaning of the word. However, I have a hard timeA�recognizing characters.A�For example, I cannot read certain sentences but if read to me, I will be able to understand it’sA�meaning. But like everything else in this world, especially when it comes to learning a foreignA�language, it takes time, effort, and patience to slowly digest new materials.A�But I can fullA�heartedly say, that with great sacrifice, there is always great reward. An experienceA�I had currently encountered was when I walked down ShanYin Road last week: I looked up andA�realized that I can now read the majority of the signs, or atA�least be able to grasp what eachA�store was selling.

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Author Details:

Name: A�Elizabeth L.

Country: USA (American born and raised to an American mother of Russian and Chinese blood, and a Chinese father)

University: ChongQing University

Major: Chinese Language and Culture & International Economy and Trade(second major for next year)