Muirgen - Shanghai Jiao Tong University

B. Arts/Laws
Semester 1, 2018
Studying law in China has expanded my understanding of different countries’ legal paradigms.

Academic experience

I studied five law courses at Shanghai Jiao Tong University – Environmental Law, Foreign Investment Law, Foreign Trade Law, Chinese Administrative Law, and Law and Development. All of my classes were taught in English and, while I’m still an undergraduate student, they were technically Masters subjects. The classes actually had no local Chinese people in them, but there was a real mix of law students from all around the world. Many people were already practicing lawyers in their home country and were doing their Masters in China. It was very different from how law courses are taught in Australia. Per subject, our assessment was generally a mid-semester group presentation and then a final paper between 4000 – 6000 words. This was challenging but the classes finished four weeks before the papers were due, giving you time to write the papers.

The enrolment/registration process is really challenging. I found that there was no point where the enrolment process was clearly explained to me. You just have to work it out as you go along and rely on messaging lecturers/school coordinators over WeChat!

Personal experience

My exchange to SJTU is my second exchange. I went to University College Dublin, Ireland in 2015, so I had already experienced an exchange and thought I would be prepared for the experience. However, SJTU was a lot more challenging and I think I’ve learnt a lot more as a result.

The biggest learning curve for me in Shanghai has been learning Mandarin. Before coming to Shanghai, I had done a three-week intensive Mandarin course. I was totally unprepared and, at first, it seemed like nobody spoke English and that my Mandarin was never going to improve. However, while my Mandarin is definitely still a work in progress, it has got better. Most importantly, my time in Shanghai has encouraged me to keep studying when I return to Australia.

Accommodation

SJTU has two campuses – Minhang and Xuhui. The campus you study at depends on your subjects. However, the Xuhui Campus is quite close to the city and a lot smaller. In terms of proximity to the city area of Shanghai, Xuhui is definitely the better campus. 

I lived on the Xuhui Campus in the Lianxing Building so I had my own room and my own bathroom. The university accommodation can be a little bit of a shock when you first arrive as the kitchen and bathroom are probably not what we are used to in Australia. For example, it took an hour for the water in my room to heat up. I also couldn’t have any other electricity running in my room during that hour or I would overload the circuit. However, I believe they are renovating the international accommodation currently and, regardless, you quickly adapt to these small inconveniences.

Also, importantly, when you first arrive, the university accommodation does not provide you with internet access. They provide you with an IP address and you need to go buy a router and set up the internet yourself. I would definitely suggest buying a sim card at the airport. I didn’t do this because I thought I was going to have internet at SJTU. Trying to translate a router instruction manual in Mandarin certainly challenged both my language and technology skills.

Overall, I’d recommend living in the student accommodation. The major drawback is that you don’t get immersed in the culture as much and it makes it harder to practice Mandarin. However, if you really want to improve your Mandarin, I recommend looking into homestay options. I did this later in Beijing and really enjoyed it.

Budget

Elephant Rock on the Northern Coast
Zhangjiajie Glass Bridge.

There is a real range for the cost of living in Shanghai. If you eat at the cafeteria, you can buy a meal for under $2AUD and a standard Chinese meal around the university is probably less than $8 AUD. However, Western food is usually more expensive. Ignoring rent, I would spend between 500 – 750 kuai ($100 - $150 AUD) in any given week on all my living expenses.

Travel in China is quite expensive, particularly flights. I would definitely recommend doing travelling as much as possible, but it requires budgeting.

Challenge

My biggest challenge while living in China was language difficulties. I didn't speak any Mandarin when I arrived and this made basic communication hard. Even when my Mandarin improved, there were still situations where my lack of understanding caused confusion. However, Mandarin lessons and an amazing tutor really helped me to develop basic Mandarin skills which made living in China much easier.

Professional development and employability

Studying law in China has expanded my understanding of different countries’ legal paradigms. I really valued being taught about Chinese law by Chinese law professors from their perspective. I think this will assist me professionally to help clients from non-Australian backgrounds in their interactions with the Australian legal system

Highlight

My highlight in Shanghai has been the people. I’ve made amazing friends, both international students and locals. They have made my exchange really memorable.

Top tips

Firstly, you can still come to Shanghai if you don’t speak any Mandarin! When I first arrived, it seemed like nobody spoke any English and I really struggled with basic communication. However, particularly compared to other Chinese cities, lots of people do speak at least a little bit of English and are willing to help you out! 

Secondly, apps are an essential part of living in China. WeChat is probably the most commonly used app in China. It’s a Facebook/Instagram mix. I cannot overstate its importance. For example, my lecturers would send us our readings over WeChat. Also, people don’t use bank cards, so I would recommend setting up a bank account and then linking it to Alipay and/or WeChat Pay. You should also download the Uber equivalent, Didi!

Muirgen - Shanghai Jiao Tong University