Oliver - Shanghai Jiao Tong University

B. Engineering
Semester 1, 2015

Academic experience

I studied 5 courses: Engineering Thermodynamics I, Design and manufacturing I, Game Theory, Chinese level I, Introduction to Cryptography. All the courses I did were taught in English. There is a massive difference between the approach to learning/teaching in China compared to the system in Australia. The Chinese system is still quite ancient by our standards. The system is basically just the teacher in front of the class going through the new material. Questions can be asked, but it is a little unusual for any in-depth questions to be asked. There are no tutorials and nearly no labs. So the structure is quite difficult to get used to. But the good thing is that the professor is teaching only a class of around 20-40 students, so one on one time with the professor is easy to get if you are having trouble. Something I didn't learn early enough was the proficiency of English of the students in my class. I was able to converse with all of them very easily, but I definitely didn't realise this early enough, for some reason I just assumed their English wouldn't be so good, even though they were taking the same class as me in English.

Personal experience

The biggest Buddha in the world!
The biggest Buddha in the world!

I went into the exchange with a lot of uncertainty with what I was doing and the direction I was going with my studies. I knew doing a semester away in China would be very challenging, and I was hoping for it to shake me up enough to find some solid direction and answers to many questions I had. Of course, I met many really amazing people and had some amazing experiences, China is definitely an incredible and very beautiful place! But most importantly for me, I managed to find a lot of answers to questions which had been bothering me for years. Culture-wise China is nearly as different as you can get compared to ours, you see many very strange things, and many very lovely things and they force you to change much quicker than you would if you just stayed in Australia for another semester. Because of all this, I've come back much more focused than I was when I went to China. I really know what I'm going to do and now I'm just going to do it.

Accommodation

For the duration of living in Shanghai, I was staying with a host family. I really love them, we became very close. I can't imagine going back and getting through my time in China without them. They didn't speak very good English at all, but I really relished that as it forced me to pick up the language much quicker than any of my friends. They also took me to many family events like weddings, dinners, etc, which I would never have the opportunity to attend otherwise. They taught me how to cook, forced me to become an ultra clean person and study more (definitely a good thing), but also didn't mind if I went out partying and didn't get home until 5 or 6 in the morning. They were really understanding and accommodating and I'm not afraid to say I shed a few tears after they dropped me off at the airport.

Budget

Rent with the host family was super cheap, only 1000 RMB a month. You can pay whatever you want for food. It ranges from 7-15 RMB for street food or school canteen, to about 30-100 RMB for a nice meal at a restaurant. Average I'd say for a week would be able 200-500 RMB, depending on how strict you want to be. Transport is also very affordable, 1-2 RMB for a bus anywhere or 2-10 RMB to get the subway anywhere in Shanghai. Again entertainment was up to you depending on your budget it can be anywhere from a few RMB to a few hundred. Total I budgeted about 500-1000 RMB per week while I was in Shanghai and that was plenty. Don't expect travel to be cheap though. It gets very expensive very quickly. China is a huge place, and to see the top touristy sites you need to travel very big distances. Planes are comparable to Australian prices for the same distances. Trains are cheaper but can take a day or a few days to get to places. Also, good hostels book out really fast so you need to plan travel in advance in China.

Professional development and employability

I could only take electives while overseas, and my proficiency in the Chinese language isn't at a point where I'd write it on my resume as a skill, but I would say it is a hobby. The experience has also given me a solid drive to continue my studies in Australia, and actually created a deep love for our country. I also do think that compared to before I went overseas my passion and drive do shine through, and I think they are very employable qualities. So in a way it has definitely helped me.

Highlight

Attending a traditional rural Chinese wedding, getting to eat what they eat, and drink what they drink. I felt a part of the table I was sitting at and felt like everyone at the table was my friend, even though they didn't speak any English and at the time I spoke nearly no Mandarin.

Top tips

  • Don't expect it to be easy, expect it to be a challenge, but also expect it to be really worthwhile.
  • If you really want to do it, do it. It is really challenging. But also amazing.
  • Where ever you go keep an open mind, every day, every second. But don't be afraid to take some time out if you need it, some days suck and are so hard you just want to curl up into a ball and cry, some days are so good you just want to sing and dance in the street.
  • It's crazy, the ups and downs of everyday life are magnified by about 100, it's like an emotional roller-coaster. And who doesn't enjoy roller-coasters? :)
Oliver - Shanghai Jiao Tong University