Dealing with the Chinese Education System – Going to school in China

I’ve now been studying my master’s in China for a few months already. This is not the first time I’m at a Chinese university so I feel like I have enough experience from different places and schools in China to share my experience with you guys.

About my first time in China

My first encounter with the Chinese education system was when I arrived in China in the summer of 2011 to teach in a boarding school in the southern part of the dragon country. I was determined to work hard and learn as much from the experience as possible and I did. It was hard work but so rewarding as well. I was working every day from morning to evening and the children loved playing with me during the oral English classes I was teaching.

During my time in Guangdong, I learned that the Chinese education system is very different from the Danish one. If the Danish education system is the South Pole, then the Chinese one is the North Pole. This is how different they are from one another so you can imagine when I came there to teach I was shocked by many of the things they did. One thing I still remember very clearly is the grades on the wall-system. Your grades are public and everyone can see how good or bad you are. It is through competition, the Chinese students study and I found that very weird because in Denmark we don’t give grades out before eighth grade and it’s very private and won’t be shown anywhere unless you want to tell other people. So working in a school in a country so culturally different from my own was one of a challenge but I grew with it and I’m sure it shaped me in some kind of way.

I believe all experiences in life does that to you. You might not notice it in the moment but along the way you’ll realize that you now suddenly react or behave differently than before. If you’re wondering what I’m talking about then let me give you an example. There are many people in China so when I was teaching I had 40 students at once. It was a mess and I was about to break down a few times during the five months I was teaching there but I didn’t and I believe that my patience grew for every moment I stayed in that school, for every moment I taught and through every moment I didn’t break down. That’s an experience I took with me when I moved back to Denmark again after my first stay in China.

After going back to Denmark, I wanted to go back to China again as soon as possible. When arriving in the Danish airport, I was actually already ready to leave again so I found a job and started earning money for my next adventure. After six months working hard in Denmark, I jumped on a plane back to Beijing and took a train to the northern province capital called Shenyang. This was when my second experience with the Chinese education system happened and it was a mess!

cat cafe

How can you not love China? They have cat cafes! 😀

Big mess at the local university

I remember that my ex boyfriend and I went to the local university to sign me up for a language program. We asked around and nobody knew where the international office was located. We followed a bunch of Korean students while hoping they would go to the international office but they were going out for lunch so we had to find another way to find the office. After looking for a long time, we finally bumped into it and I signed up. I started my Chinese language program but hadn’t paid anything because the Chinese staff told me that I could do it later on. I just nodded and left because I was tired of fighting them and thought okay whatever, I’ll just save the money for later(Funny fact, I never actually paid the tuition fee because I left in anger from that university and they never asked for them).

The classes in the north was again very different from what I’d tried at home. I had Chinese oral class but nobody wanted to say anything. My classmates were mostly Korean students and they seem to study in the same way as the Chinese. No talking, just memorizing and writing down. They were usually late and when they were actually in class, they were super tired and lazy. I was frustrated because I had a bunch of questions I wanted to ask the teachers but they seemed to avoid me when I put up my hand once again to ask how to use the grammar or word correctly.

I didn’t quite understand why but soon learned that Chinese teachers are used to teaching the students by just talking straight from a PPT. Students aren’t interrupting and that’s how it goes. After months in that kind of atmosphere I was fed-up with being the only one who wanted to actually learn something in class and I left straight after I’d received my certificate for finishing the semester. I took the exams but I failed all of them because it had nothing to do with what we had learned (the teacher had given us a test to memorize before taking the real test).

I later learned that the Korean students were studying a semester there because of a university cooperation so the teachers didn’t let anyone fail, no matter how good or bad they did in their test. I was furious and yes, then I gave up and left because you can’t change people’s way of thinking and way of doing things so it was better for me to give up an leave. This was my second encounter with the Chinese education system.

Chinese food

You can practice your Chinese while eating out, how cool is that?

My third experience was better

My third encounter was much more positive and rewarding. I was back in Beijing a few years later for a study abroad program through my Danish university and I was so ready to learn even more about the Chinese history and culture. The registration went smooth because they were used to receiving international students and I had nothing to complain about. I started my classes and I enjoyed them. The professors had all been studying abroad and they were open-minded and ready to discuss. They talked about Chinese society’s problems and nothing was hidden or blocked. In the Chinese classroom, there’s always a camera recording everything so of course we didn’t discuss the most sensitive issues in contemporary Chinese society but we still talked about many very interesting things and I learned a lot from this experience.

One issue when it comes to Chinese schools is that as a foreigner you are separated from the Chinese students. We live in different dorms and have different classes. Not speaking Chinese makes it difficult for many foreigners to meet locals and make new Chinese friendships and I don’t like that because I believe that it is impossible to fully understand a culture if you don’t know any locals. When becoming friends with Chinese, I always learn more about the Chinese point of view on things, Chinese slang and Chinese things which aren’t in the official Chinese learning books which is why I encourage everyone around me to learn Chinese as fast as possible.

Another thing I don’t like about being a foreigner in a Chinese university is that we always have very few classes compared to the Chinese students. Every time I start university in China I’m so excited to start learning but I always discover that as a foreigner I only have a few classes a week compared to the Chinese students who literally study all the time. Now you might think, why would she complain about this? Well, if you like to sleep and be social, I get it, it’s nice but I’m very eager to learn so lack of classes make me kind of unmotivated if that makes sense.

Of course, I could study my master’s in Chinese and I would have classes all the time but that’s too much as well. You know, it seems like it’s either or here, haha, nothing in between. I don’t know, now I found an internship so I have something to do and a place to learn new things so that is good. Now you know that if you’re thinking about studying in China, be prepared. If you choose a degree in English, you won’t be busy at all but is it in Chinese, you’ll run around and try to keep up with the intense studies.

Okay let me try to sum up all the things I’ve just been talking about.

  • Chinese and Western education is very different from each other so be prepared and open-minded when they do things, you wouldn’t do
  • Chinese universities are used to receiving many foreigners but the teaching style in many towns outside of the main cities, Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou, are still very traditional Chinese so you might have to change the way you’re learning or make up your own plan on how to learn more after class (I felt like I learned more when I did my homework with Chinese friends than in class)
  • If you choose an English degree, be prepared that you probably won’t have too much to do. The level seems to be quite low for foreigners. I have a feeling that it is because they don’t want us to leave (culture shock can be too much for many foreigners coming here)
  • If you choose a Chinese degree, the classes will be many and you have to work hard. You might think some of the classes are a waste of your time (I hear some professors just talk nonsense) but it’ll improve your Chinese language efficiency very fast so it’s not a total waste of time

Chinese birthday

Celebrating birthdays in China with good friends is the best!

It’s not all bad

Furthermore, let me just add that life on a Chinese university campus is great. Everything is nearby and your life can be super comfortable. I have bar, cafes, restaurants and my classroom just outside of my door. The metro station is near my nearest gate and I bike to work. It can’t be more convenient.

If you’re interested in going to China, there are different options.

  1. Are you ready to do it all on your own, check out the Chinese universities on websites like Cucas
  2. If you feel like I did that it is too big of a challenge to prepare and arrange everything on your own, I have a discount code LENA50 for my friend’s agency which gives you 50 Dollars off the program fee (They helped me come to China the first time as well). They are amazing, so helpful, check them out here: Immerqi

I hope you got some useful information out of this very long post about going to school and university in China. If you have more questions, please leave a comment below. I’m here to help.

xx lingling

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  1. I am a chinese boy ,I watched your youtube videos,and I like it too!I like you,your passion with China!Simply good!I also want to learn English,so I think may be we could make friend.In the end,it is near chinese new year ,I give my best wished to you!happy new year!新年快乐!

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