Look! It's a Laowai! Past Review

By (Chinese Studies., Trinity University) - abroad from 01/10/2014 to 05/02/2014 with

Beijing Foreign Studies University: Beijing - Direct Enrollment & Exchange

What did you gain/learn from your experience abroad? Was it worthwhile?
The trip was an extremely worthwhile experience: I learned about China, and I learned more Chinese than I ever could at home. The experience taught me that I would not want to live in China permanently, but that staying in China even once is a necessary component to knowing the culture and the language.

Personal Information

How much international exposure did you have prior to this program? 2 weeks - 1 month

Review Your Program

* Overall educational experience

Academic rigor, intensity, resources, etc.

This program was quite intense: most of my time was spent studying and doing homework. That said, the level of work required never felt overwhelming, and I did really enjoy the work. I learned a LOT of Chinese, as well as a lot about Chinese culture I never would have known before. This program is definitely a must if you want to become more proficient in Mandarin.

* Host Country Program Administration

On-site administration of your program

I would have given 5-stars, as the staff--especially the teachers--were all very nice and understanding. The RAs were super nice, although they did enforce the rules extremely differently to the point that I had some confusion about the rules themselves. Different enforcement is not why I give this 2.5 stars, however: I personally do not think the director, Jeremiah, is very professional or understanding. Of course, he seems like a sociable, funny guy at first, so I doubt anyone reading this will believe me. But behind the closed doors of his office, he broke professional decorum by berating me, insulting me and my arguments, and trying to bully me into an argument--even though I had the most minor of problems with his rule enforcement and was professional about it the entire time. I am still troubled by the fact that he berated me for texting an RA about a problem: I legitimately only asked her several questions and tried to sort things out professionally and courteously between the two of us, and I had no hard feelings for her at all. The fact that he would berate me for going to an RA I had a problem with seems extremely childish of him, and I am disappointed in that regard. For some people, IES became their second family, and I am very happy for those people, but for me, IES never became that home for a reason.

* Housing:

How satisfied were you with your living arrangements?

I was a bit shocked/forlorn about the living arrangements at first. China is a still a developing country behind the U.S., and that definitely takes some getting used to. But once I settled in, it was easy to see that in America we take a lot of things for granted, and that in China, our dorms were very much a luxury. The IES center is extremely livable and even comfortable at times--once you get used to it.

* Food:

Oh man, I miss cheap, delicious pork dumplings and breakfast baozi and the sour-sweet plum juice like crazy. I don't know how you can dislike the food in Beijing: it is simply amazing, and I miss it like nothing else. Keep in mind that 90% of the food is super salty, oily, and generally unhealthy, and China doesn't really have healthy eating places. That said, it's easy to ignore since the food is just so tasty. Don't be afraid to eat street food from stands! Some of the best food I have had there was at popular stands down the street.

* Social & Cultural Integration:

How integrated did you feel with the local culture?

You're immersed in Beijing completely. Since you're living in the university sector, there's less of a presence of tourists/foreigners, so you're experiencing an area where few people speak English or have ever seen a Westerner in their lives. And it IS an experience. Beijing is so entirely different from the U.S.: it lacks the kind of massive consumerism, the people seem a bit more conservative and focused (I'm generalizing, I know), and their recent history still has a paradoxically profound and yet slight effect on everyday life. While I thought living in Beijing was often extremely difficult, and ultimately I decided I wouldn't want to live there permanently, Chinese culture is a complex, fascinating, and moving thing I will never forget. I am glad I experienced it for myself.

* Health Care:

How well were health issues addressed during the program?

I never had a problem with being so sick that I needed to go to see a doctor, but the program definitely had that option available. That said, I have a minor heart condition that will act up suddenly every once in a while, and the "you cannot miss class without going to the doctor and letting a teacher/RA/somebody know before class" rule didn't work well for that. But it was a sort of minor issue, and I doubt everybody has the same condition I do so they probably aren't going to encounter the same difficulties.

* Safety:

I have never felt more safe to be a young woman than in China. I could take a walk--go anywhere--at 2am and not be constantly worried about attackers or clutching to pepper spray. The Communist party has cameras and security EVERYWHERE, and while it can feel suffocating sometimes, it has resulted in an extremely safe environment for its citizens. Coming back to the U.S., I had to readjust to the troubling state of our crime. I can no longer walk alone at night or ride the bus without fear of harassment. THAT SAID, while I was in China, the country sustained a three major terrorist attacks, the first being the Kunming train station attack, in which 33 people died and 143 more people where injured. Let me put this into perspective: IES was there IN Kunming station two weeks prior when we were departing from our long trip. I feel worse for the actual IES Kunming program, which was present in the city at the time (no one from IES was injured, thankfully). The second terrorist attack was the hijacking of the Malaysian airlines plane, which one teacher had almost planned to go on a week prior before deciding against it. The third was an attack in Urumqi (far west China in the Xinjiang province. I don't mean to alarm anyone, as I felt totally safe in China and there was never a threat against my personal life. I can say with absolute certainty that China is more safe than the United States, even with these terrorist attacks included. However, I strongly advise that people going to China GET A VPN AND KEEP UP WITH UNCENSORED NEWS. It is important to know where attacks have happened so you can avoid these areas, and it's important to know about the quickly escalating conflict between Han Chinese and the Uyghur minority. As I have understood it, IES has forbidden travel to the Xinjiang region where the largest population of Uyghurs is and where tensions have continued to escalate. So while in China, or any foreign country for that matter, you must stay informed about national news, and IES can help you with that.

If you could do it all over again would you choose the same program? Yes


* Money: How easily were you able to live on a student's budget?

(1 = not very easy/$200+ on food & personal expenses/week, 2.5 = $100/week, 5 = very easily/minimal cost)

One of the things I most miss about Beijing is that everything is extremely affordable. As long as you don't get kaoya dinners in the tourist sector every week or buy tons of Western-imported goods, you should be fine.

Not including program expenses, about how much money did you spend on food and other expenses each week? Less than $100
Do you have any general money-saving tips for future study abroad participants? If you want to buy something specific, like American snacks or even milk, use taobao.com!!! Taobao is amazingly cheap!


* Did your program have a foreign language component? Yes
How much did the program encourage you to use the language?

0 = No encouragement, 5 = frequent encouragement to use the language

How would you rate your language skills at the beginning of the program? Beginner
How would you rate your language skills at the end of the program? Intermediate
What was the highest level language course you had completed prior to departure? Fourth-Year Chinese I
How many hours per day did you use the language?
Do you have any tips/advice on the best ways to practice the language for future study abroad participants? Some people used their roommates to practice, but my Chinese roommate was extremely shy, and I think a bit frustrated by my flubbering Chinese. If your roommate is receptive, speak ONLY Chinese with them. Otherwise, I can't stress how helpful it is to follow the language pledge when it's not interfering in a game or other difficult activity.

Other Program Information

* Where did you live?

Select all that apply

  • Dorm
* Who did you live with?

Select all that apply

  • Local Students
* Who did you take classes with?

Select all that apply

  • Americans
  • International Students
About how many local friends did you make that you will likely keep in touch with?

A Look Back

* What did you like most about the program?
  • Classes/learning
  • Long trip/hiking activities
  • Chinese cuisine
* What could be improved?
  • Administration
  • Methods of rule enforcement
  • Resources for activities/spaces/etc.
* What do you know now that you wish you knew before going on this program? Staying in China for four months without my friends, family, or boyfriend was a LOT harder than I thought it would be, especially being apart from my boyfriend. It's important to think critically about your relationships before your leave, and to recognize that they WILL change when you get back--for better or for worse.

Reasons For Studying Abroad

To help future students find programs attended by like-minded individuals, please choose the profile that most closely represents you.
The Academic or Linguist
You went abroad with specific academic goals in mind; the program credentials and rigor of your coursework abroad were very important to you. You had a great time abroad, but never lost sight of your studies and (if applicable) were diligent with your foreign language study. Good for you!