Cameron - Peking University

B. Arts / Law
Semester 1, 2016

Academic experience

I studied four courses at an intermediate level in Mandarin Chinese. The academic system was less laissez-faire and there was a lot more of a focus on students attending every class and actively participating rather than passively listening, which was of enormous benefit in a language-related class. Classes were taught in Mandarin which also accelerated my language development. The fact that all academic staff spoke mainly Chinese with only a few capable of speaking basic English presented another challenge, which was that any arrangements relating to classes or other administrative matters had to be resolved in a foreign language.

Personal experience

My exchange was an incredible experience for development on numerous fronts. First of all, my Mandarin level surged in leaps and bounds. I came back able to consistently hold conversations with Mandarin speakers, which was a source of great pride. While there I made a number of great friends among the other foreign exchange students as well as local Chinese people, many of whom I still miss greatly today and keep in touch with. Short-term travel to Chengdu and to Shanghai will remain a highlight of the trip for years to come, with new experiences as well as historical and cultural knowledge.

Accommodation

I lived on campus in the Shaoyuan dormitory. The facilities at Shaoyuan were generally up to scratch. Many of the other international students chose to live in the Zhongguanxinyuan dormitories, which are just outside the campus, opposite the East Gate. I would recommend either of the university-provided options for accommodation (Shaoyuan or Zhongguanxinyuan). Whilst there were some international students who opted to find their own accommodation privately, many of them run into problems in doing so. One such example is that renters are not afforded the same legal protections as they are in Australia, with the result that occasionally an owner may simply decide to evict a tenant with very little notice, causing a panicked rush to find new accommodation and relocate (as happened to a friend of mine).

Budget

View from the Great Wall of China
View from the Great Wall of China

With a limited number of exceptions, everything in Beijing was significantly cheaper than it is in Brisbane. Rent in Shaoyuan was 140CNY ($28AUD) per night, which is slightly more expensive than student-level rent in a sharehouse in Brisbane. Public transport was incredibly cheap, with bus and subway trips rarely costing more than 2-3 CNY (AUD$0.40-$0.60) and medium-range taxi journeys of 20-30 minutes costing 30-40 CNY (AUD$6-$8). Given the size of China, domestic travel was slightly cheaper than it would have been in Australia.

Professional development and employability

My professional skill development in China during my exchange was principally focused on improving my Chinese language skills. Given Australia's close geographic and commercial relationship with China and the importance of the Chinese language when it comes to doing business with China, this has stood me in good stead for future career options.

Highlight

The highlight of my experience at PKU cannot be distilled to a single event. I would say without hesitation that the people that I met and the lasting friendships I have forged will stay with me for a long time to come.

Top tips

I approached the decision to go on exchange with no small degree of anxiety. Being in a foreign country with no friends or family nearby and a limited grasp of the local language was, in my mind, a hurdle that I had to overcome if I wanted the ability to develop my Chinese properly. I came away from the experience realising that my fears were unfounded and that the benefit I got out of exchange was vastly greater than I had expected. Even though I tend towards being an introvert, I had an amazing time and met so many fantastic and interesting people. I can't recommend strongly enough going on an exchange before you graduate.

Cameron - Peking University