Natalya - Tsinghua University

B. Laws / Economics / Dip. Language (Chinese)
Semester 1, 2015

Academic experience

Despite 16 weeks of classes with no mid-semester break, my semester at Tsinghua has flown by so quickly. I studied five courses whilst at Tsinghua – 3 economics and 2 Chinese courses which went towards by Diploma of Languages.

Although Tsinghua is arguably the best school in the country, the language school for exchange students, in my opinion, wasn't as good as other university’s programs or the other language program offered at Tsinghua. Each language class only has 3 hours of classes a week, which isn’t much compared to the 8am-12pm days of other universities. The economics courses followed a similar structure to UQ, but there were no tutorials. It was interesting to get a Chinese perspective on a lot of the material, which I liked. Many of the economics courses are intensive and can be completed within the first 10-12 weeks of class, so that is something to consider when choosing your courses as it means more travelling.

Personal experience

During my semester-long stay, I managed to visit 13 provinces. As long as you attend 66% of lectures you are free to travel as much as you want. The timetable doesn’t offer much flexibility – I was at university 5 days a week and some days was just for an hour and a half in the morning. By giving yourself a long weekend it makes travelling a lot more practical. I often took hard sleeper trains overnight so you would often arrive early Saturday morning and you could be back in Beijing on Monday morning ready to start classes.

There is so much to see so make sure you begin planning your trips as soon as possible (especially when there is a public holiday). I had a lot of friends who regretted leaving it all to the last few weeks. 

Accommodation

In terms of accommodation, I stayed on-campus, in an AB room. I had my own private room but was able to share a small kitchen and bathroom with another girl. Make sure you sign on to rooms early as they have been known to run out in less than a minute. Although it would have been nice to have a private room (same cost as an AB room), I liked being able to make myself breakfast and having a fridge and microwave. Bear in mind that you need to buy all of these kitchen appliances yourself (unless you happen to have a roommate who has been there a semester already), but it is easy enough to sell things at the end of the semester.

Budget

Living in China is so cheap. It is possible to eat for under $10 a day and cross the city by public transport for about $1, but travelling around by taxi and constantly eating western food will quickly add up.

It is very cheap to travel on slow overnight trains whereas travelling by plane is going to cost you a bit more when you don't have a spare 48 hours to spend on a train.

Professional development and employability

Living in a new country and experiencing a new culture was an eye-opening experience. It was great to practice Chinese on a day to day basis. Locals were very friendly and forgiving with my Chinese. I have decided to defer my next semester at UQ in order to stay for another semester living with a host family.

Highlight

I loved travelling around China via train and seeing all of the different landscapes. It was a great chance to practice Chinese and talk with locals – they were as interested in learning about my life as I was theirs!

Top tips

  • If you are looking for a Chinese language school I would recommend Purple Bamboo in Wudaokou. They offer individual and group lessons for a reasonable price and also organise social events.
  • Bikes are essential for getting around Tsinghua allowing you to sleep in a bit more of a morning – there are lots of different shops inside university as well as outside the main gates (ask around for the best price). Make sure you get in early if you want a second-hand bike. The cheaper ones cause problems so you may want to pay a bit more to get a better quality one. 
  • For a recommendation of where to eat there was a great alley filled with local street food outside the west gate. Turn right and keep walking until you see a row of carts selling food.
  • Sort your VPN out before you leave. I used the UQ VPN (which is free to download) and didn't have many problems. You can only use it on one device at a time though.
  • Download WeChat and follow Ctripdailydeals (for cheap flights) and Hiking-Bruce (for free volunteering weekend trips)
  • It isn’t necessary to get a Bank of China account, but I’d recommend getting a Chinese sim card.