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Studying Abroad in Beijing
Thinking of doing a year abroad in Beijing? You might be daunted by the culture shock and new language, but James is here to help with his top tips for studying abroad in the Chinese capital.
What were you doing there?
I was studying in Beijing for 10 months. If you are studying, prepare to be thrown in at the deep end with classes exclusively in Chinese and classmates from other parts of the world and Asia. It can be difficult to meet Chinese people due to the language classes obviously not being for them, so make the most of sports at the university if there are any, or going to bars and talking to people if given the opportunity. Language courses are usually reasonably priced and are a great way to get to know real life in China. Look for any scholarships there might be to go and study in China.
How did you find accommodation?
Apartments are available but can cost a lot more than student accommodation, so if you get the chance to live in student halls, I would recommend that. Most universities will have two-person rooms. My accommodation cost roughly £7-10 / 55-95 Yuan per day.
Best places for food, drinks and going out?
Big clubs tend to differ from clubs in the West, more orientated to tables and Chinese clientele buying bottles of whisky. That being said, in those clubs, you can get in for free and get a few free drinks. Websites such as The Beijinger are really useful for finding out about smaller club nights and venues, otherwise Sanlitun (三里屯) has big clubs and lots of bars. China has a great craft beer scene going on at the moment; places like Slow Boat Brewery and Great Leap Brewery have great beer and a friendly atmosphere.
Food-wise, there is a lot of choice. There are restaurants for nearly every cuisine in the world in Beijing so do yourself a favour and try as many as you can. Hotpot is a must and is great if you have any Chinese friends.
Best places to visit?
Great Wall – most universities run free trips for visiting students, but if not, it’s around 100-200 Yuan (£12-22) to get to the most popular places. Badaling (八达岭) is great when you go at off-peak times.
South China – Sichuan, Yunnan, Guiyang, Guangzhou, Shanghai, Zhejiang
North China – Northern China is also gorgeous in winter; the Harbin Ice Festival is one thing I regret not seeing. Beware of temperatures here as it can get to -30°C!
Don’t be afraid of travelling around on trains and buses which are cheap, as that’s how it is done in China.
Any practical advice?
When things do go wrong, it’s never usually life-changingly bad. Bureaucracy is a pain for almost anything official so make sure you have all the correct documents. Don’t mess with the police or anything like that – they often conduct random urine tests in foreigner-frequented bars around big political events so beware. Hospitals are confusing and often done all in Chinese so if necessary take someone with you who has great command of the language. Try and bring some local currency with you – I brought roughly £700 in Chinese Yuan in cash initially just in case, as my accommodation had to be paid upfront and in cash. Find a card that has no international withdrawal fees (e.g. Monzo).