Frequently Asked Questions about Life and Study in China
1. I have heard that China is dangerous – is it true?
It is a common misperception. I have been living in China for five years now and have not felt in any danger during that period. It is safe to walk around after dark. Security is tight, with police stations every several hundred metres and security guards at the entrances to campuses and apartment blocks.
There is a big problem with pickpockets, especially on public transportation. You may also see an occasional fight in clubs and bars, but these are often caused by foreign students rather than local Chinese. Overall, I feel safer in China than in any other countries I have visited with the exception of Japan and Korea.
Having said this, basic common sense should be used. Female students should use properly registered taxis when traveling home alone late at night. It is not a good idea to use unregistered taxis or motorbikes, even if they seem cheaper.
2. Can I access the internet in China?
Access to some foreign sites is restricted in China at many levels. Wikipedia has only recently become accessible, and at the time of writing the BBC website is still unavailable. At HYCC we find that it is easier and faster to access sites from Dalian than from the more inland cities like Harbin or Jiamusi. There are a lot of proxies that can be used to get around these restrictions.
You will not have any problems sending and receiving emails, accessing Facebook and anything else that is not political or controversial.
3. Do you recommend living in a dormitory or off-campus?
If you are intending to study for just one semester or for an even shorter period we would suggest you choose to live in the student dormitory. Landlords don’t generally want to enter into four – five month contracts, and you will not save much money by doing this. However if you intend to stay for longer we usually suggest that you rent or share an apartment. It is cheaper than a single dormitory room, gives you more independence and you can really feel you are living in a Chinese community.
4. What are the advantages to living off-campus?
Students are often hesitant to live outside the dormitories when they first arrive in China. Here is a quick summary of the benefits and drawbacks to renting your own apartment.
Advantages for students living off-campus include:
--- An apartment is usually cheaper than living in a dormitory, especially for students staying longer than a semester
--- Students enjoy more comfort and privacy than in the dormitory
--- Living in the middle of a Chinese community helps students improve their level of Chinese more quickly
--- In the evenings you can return home as late as you like
--- It is easier to cook for yourself when you have your own apartment
--- You can share with friends to reduce the cost further (however you need to rent together with those friends, otherwise landlord may refuse to register them at the police station)
Disadvantages for students living off-campus include:
--- Certain apartments can be less safe than living in a foreign students dormitory
--- The apartment may be further from the teaching building than the dormitory
--- There is always the risk of problems with the landlord (for instance landlord refuses to return the deposit). Please be aware that such problems are common because the landlord knows foreign students cannot easily go to the police for assistance.
The most important problem to overcome for students looking to rent an apartment is finding an appropriate one and negotiating a reasonable contract. HYCC China can help. Click here to see details of our find an apartment service.
5. How much can I expect to spend per month apart from my tuition and accommodation costs?
This really depends on whether you will be cooking for yourself, eating at the local Chinese restaurants (very cheap) or going to western restaurants / bars on a regular basis (not cheap). As a rough guide I would say that if you are spending on average over 100 RMB per day (about US$15 / EUR 12) then you are living a very comfortable lifestyle. If you avoid the clubs and bars it is quite possible to spend less that 50 RMB per day on average.
Therefore we estimate that a good budget for disposable income is between EUR 220 / US$250 per month to EUR 350 / US$400 per month depending on your requirements. Please note this will change if the Chinese RMB appreciates in value compared to the US$ or Euro.
When you travel in China you should expect to spend more. HYCC has lots of tips and advice on how to save money during this period, and we are happy to share it with our participants.
6. Where in China should I study?
This is a straightforward answer, and it is one major reason why all the universities we have selected are located around northeastern China. Here are four specific reasons:
The locals speak Putonghua, the most standard form of Mandarin learnt by Chinese all over the mainland. Therefore what you learn in class you will hear outside in the local community. If you study in the south of China, even in places like Shanghai, you will find local people talking to you in their own (completely different) dialect. It slows down the learning process and confuses students.
Most of your classmates will be Koreans, Japanese and Russians. You will have to speak with them in Chinese, as most of them cannot speak English well. This helps students improve quickly. Studying Chinese characters in a class full of Koreans and Japanese is a challenge for western students!
Compared with studying in Beijing or Shanghai there are far fewer foreigners in the local community. You will be forced to learn to speak Chinese in your general life.
Living in northeastern China is cheaper than further south. Accommodation and other living expenses will all be lower.
We can’t think of a good reason why a student would choose to study in any other part of China.
7. OK, I am convinced that northeastern China is the best. But which city?
Each city has its own character, and you should match it with your own objectives and personality.
Dalian is a very nice place to live. It is international, modern and vibrant. The winter is a lot warmer than the inland cities further north. Students here really have a good time. However it is not representative of a typical Chinese city. If you are self-motivated and can study despite the various temptations provided by the city then Dalian is a good choice for you. It is a dangerous choice for those that are easily distracted from their studies. Living costs are also a little more expensive than in the other cities in the northeast.
Shenyang is a large industrial city. It is a great place to learn the history of China and understand its current society. It is also a good base from which to travel to other cities in the region and indeed all over the country. It has a growing foreign community and some bars and restaurants catering to these residents. The main difference between Shenyang and the other cities in the northeast is its size. On the negative side, Shenyang is not the cleanest or the most modern city in China.
Changchun is like a smaller version of Shenyang. Further north, it experiences colder winters. There is a smaller foreign population, but the universities there have a relatively large number of foreign students. This is because the locals in Changchun speak an extremely pure form of Putonghua Chinese. It is cheaper to live here than in Dalian or Shenyang.
Harbin is different again. It is more influenced by Russia to the north, and in that sense is more international than Changchun. Harbiners also speak a very standard form of Putonghua. Harbin is generally cleaner than Changchun and Shenyang, but further away from the rest of China and even colder in the winter.
Jiamusi is a smaller, more remote city. It is suitable for students that really want to immerse themselves in Chinese language study. It is a very typical Chinese city, so students here get a deeper understanding of Chinese society. Jiamusi represents a side of China that students in the large cities cannot see so easily, and we include it on our network for this reason. Studying in Jiamusi is suitable for the ambitious, adventurous and inquisitive type of student.
Overall, we would say that each of these cities has something special to offer students. Our participants have enjoyed their experience in all of them, but will have taken very different impressions of China back home with them.
8. How easy is it for me to change universities after I arrive in China?
It can be organized. For instance it is possible to study at one university for a semester, and then attend another university for the next semester. HYCC can assist participants to do this.
9. Can I find western food in northeastern China?
You can, however it is not cheap. All of the major cities have supermarkets like WalMart, Carrefour and Metro that stock western food. The only exception is Jiamusi, where availability of western food is much more limited.
There are also restaurants serving western food. The five star hotels are usually good but expensive. There are some good western restaurants in each of the cities where HYCC is working with universities, and we are happy to provide this information to participants. Unsurprisingly, Italian is the most popular.
10. What if I get sick in China?
China has good hospitals and bad hospitals. HYCC can introduce you to the good hospitals which have English speaking specialists. Although they are expensive by Chinese standards, they still seem cheap to western patients.
Pharmacies sell a wide range of both western and Chinese medicines. If you use the HYCC Basic or Comprehensive services we can show you how to purchase the specific medicines that you may need.
11. Should I buy medical insurance?
We recommend it. Although treatment in Chinese hospitals is cheap and you will be unlikely to claim on any policy you take out, a full-coverage medical insurance policy purchased abroad usually includes an “emergency repatriation” service. This means that if you become seriously sick or injured while in China the insurance company will organize to bring you back to your home country and treat you. This can be very expensive if you do not have insurance.
As the costs of treatment in your home country can be very different the premiums for such insurance are also different. We suggest you contact a few vendors in your home country for quotes, but make sure the policy clearly states that the service includes emergency repatriation (and under what circumstances they will agree to repatriate you).
As for local medical insurance, universities are now starting to enforce a rule that students studying for more than six months take out a policy here in China. We have included this in our database of costs which you can access here. We believe it is of limited use to foreign students.
Please note that we will help students using the HYCC Comprehensive service if they need to visit a hospital or are involved in an accident. However HYCC will not pay for the medical expenses involved. Our role will be limited to coordination between the student, university and hospital. We will also keep in touch with family of the student abroad if requested.