Suzanne - The University of Nottingham (Ningbo, China)

B. Business Management/Arts
Semester 2, 2016

Academic experience

From an academic perspective, I found my experience at UNNC very different to that of a semester at UQ. During the semester I took 5 courses; Management Strategy, Macroeconomics, and Financial Accounting, as well as two Mandarin courses. This meant that I experienced a great deal of variety when it came to the course teaching styles and course planning.

At UNNC the bulk of assessment for all my courses was at the end of the semester, and most of my courses had final exams worth 100% of my whole semester’s grade. From my experience, they put a lot more emphasis on final examinations, and I had no assignments or presentations as a form of assessment for any of my modules. For students looking to travel a lot throughout the semester, this is great, you just need to be prepared to really knuckle down during the revision period. 

I found that in my three Business Management modules the teaching methods were not as interactive as at UQ, with Professors usually talking for two hours straight without much input from the students. However, the Mandarin modules that I took were quite the opposite. With small class sizes, it was easier to be involved in class discussions, and I felt comfortable practising my Mandarin. 

At UNNC each student’s timetable is assigned to them by their faculty based on the courses that they are enrolled in, so it’s luck of the draw as to if you have a 5 day week... or a 5 day weekend.

Personal experience

Xuedou Temple
Xuedou Temple

My semester in China was definitely an experience that I will not forget. My time in Ningbo taught me a lot in terms of perspective and patience, as China is unlike anywhere else in the world. 

Having grown up in Hong Kong I did not find there to be much of an initial shock in terms of culture, food and environment etc. I did, however, find that living in China and visiting China to travel are two very different experiences altogether. By choosing a university that wasn’t in one of China’s major cities (Shanghai or Beijing), I saw a bit more of the ‘real’ China. For me this is a choice that I am glad I made, as it showed me the realities of modern-day China, which I wouldn’t have got a feel for otherwise. 

Sharing my experience with the friends that I made from all over the world is also what made it so memorable. The people that you meet when you are overseas are a huge part of your experience, especially when you are so far from the comforts of home. I was lucky enough to meet some incredible people, with whom I could laugh at any mishap or cultural misunderstanding, and with whom there was never a dull moment.

Accommodation

During my semester at UNNC, I stayed in the student accommodation provided on campus. Very few international students live off-campus, as it is far more expensive and more hassle than it is worth to organise. I had a simple but ample room in a shared flat with 3 other international exchange students. The international student accommodation is separate from that of the Chinese students, and there were two options to choose from. 

My shared flat boasted a very basic kitchen, shower and bathroom facilities. Upon arrival, I was delighted to discover that each flat was kitted out with not one, but two toilets; one western style, and one Chinese style/squat pot. Needless to say, the ‘squat pot’ was only used in times of unavoidable desperation... The other option of international student accommodation was a single room with an en-suite bathroom. These were bigger bedrooms and turned out to be a lot more private. However, I didn’t choose this as I found it was more social to be in a shared flat with other students. 

I paid for my accommodation before leaving for China, as it is a required step in your enrollment. All together I paid 7500RMB, which included all accommodation fees for the entire semester, a deposit for accommodation and textbooks.

Budget

Before completing your pre-departure enrollment online UNNC requires each student to pay a fee that covers their accommodation for the semester and the cost of their textbooks. This cost 7500 RMB. 

Food - Food on campus was ridiculously cheap. Meals at the typical Chinese canteens cost 10 - 20 RMB. Food at the more 'international' canteen generally cost a bit more, around 15 to 30 RMB. 

Transport - Transport in Ningbo is also cheap. Buses cost 2RMB per trip and start at a base fare of 11RMB. Train tickets between cities will cost you a few hundred RMB, and I recommend booking through Ctrip for the best prices. In China, the high-speed trains are usually immaculate, punctual and very reliable.

Professional development and employability

Some aspects where I can see huge differences after my exchange are in my self-confidence and ability to put myself in new situations and feel comfortable. Being outside of your comfort zone in a foreign country teaches you to trust your instincts and be considerate of those around you, no matter how foreign they may seem to you. I have also seen first-hand how speaking a foreign language can open many doors for you, and this experience has inspired me to pursue a career overseas.

Highlight

As cliché as it may sound, the highlight for me was meeting like-minded people from all over the world. I was blessed to meet people who were just as open-minded and hungry for adventure as I was. This made them easy company, and people I could turn to, to share all the highs and the lows with.

Top tips

  • In China you will rely on your phone for pretty much everything, so be sure to have an internationally unlocked phone that you can use before you depart, (it will save you a huge hassle once you get there). 
  • Download and get familiar with the Chinese Apps (WeChat, Didi, Baidu, Alipay, Ctrip). In China you can do almost anything on an app, so be sure to use the same apps as the locals to keep in the loop and get the best prices for things. On the topic of apps, also be sure to download a VPN BEFORE you leave to China. There’s no worse feeling than arriving in a foreign country and then realising that you can’t send your family a quick Facebook message to let them know that you’re safe. I bought an Express VPN Package which worked well and allows you to use the VPN on 3 devices simultaneously. Although I had to pay a small fee for mine, there are plenty of free VPNs that you can find online. 
  • Eat the local food! There are so many types of Chinese food, with each province having its own identifiable cooking-style or flavour. As food is a huge part of Chinese culture, the best way to learn about it is to eat! Its also probably better not to ask what is in each dish, as you may be in for an unpleasant surprise...!
  • Learn Chinese. This may sound like a no-brainer, but you’ll be surprised at the number of people I met who were in China for a few months, however, had made very little effort to pick up even a few basic phrases. You don’t have to be studying Chinese as part of your degree to learn it. Something as small as going to one evening class a week will set you up with the basics, and the locals love it when you whip out a few phrases as it shows you are making an effort with their culture. 
  • Don’t be upset if you find it hard to be friends with the Chinese students. Befriending the locals isn’t always as easy as it sounds. I urge you to try your best but don’t be upset if you find it tough. I found it easier to relate to other exchange students who had a similar background to me, and who were also eager to travel and see all that China had to offer.
  • Go to KTV, you won't regret it. In China karaoke is kind of a big deal. As in, it's a huge deal. When I first heard about it I was a bit dubious, but my advice is don't knock it until you try it. Belting out a few oldies in a sound-proof room is a cheap and easy way to spend an evening, made even better by the occasional verse translated into very questionable English.
  • At first, you will find living in China a challenge, and that’s normal. I advise you to roll with the punches and take everything with a pinch of salt. All the other exchange students are in the same boat as you, and the best way to bond with people is over experience that you share.
Suzanne - The University of Nottingham (Ningbo, China)