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Studying abroad in China is one of the most challenging and rewarding experiences you can have during your academic career. Whether you’re coming to improve your Chinese, experience the cuisine, or finally become a master at using chopsticks, it’s all here waiting for you.
China can definitely be an extremely intimidating place in the beginning, especially with the cultural and language barriers along with the relatively fast pace of life. However, coming to China as a student is the best way to get acquainted here. You’ll have access to new (and local) friends at university as well as cheap food and accommodation. You’ll get Chinese holidays to explore outside of your campus. Whether you have a semester, a year, or a few years here, you’ll never be bored!
One thing you will need to do is apply for a student visa.
After you’ve received your visa and after you've arrived, the first thing that you’ll want to do is open a bank account and download WeChat (the No.1 China social networking app that also allows for mobile payment).
Getting started with mobile payment will allow you to order food online, use a shared bike, and pay for almost anything without ever having to reach into your wallet.
The next thing you’ll probably be concerned about is where to live. Most Chinese universities offer international dorms. These range in quality but you’ll almost certainly be living with people from all over the world.
If you’d prefer to live off-campus, you can find apartment sharing opportunities on your city’s expat websites or on 58.com (China’s version of Craigslist).
Your amount of free time (and the amount of free time of your Chinese peers) will largely depend on the ranking of the university where you are studying. Generally, the higher ranking the university (Chinese universities are split up into tiers, like cities are), the heavier the workload. For Chinese language programs, you’ll generally be spending a lot of time on homework.
From ordering food online to interacting with locals, learning Chinese will help you delve deeper into the culture and better navigate life here. Learn about 10 Top Schools for Learning Chinese in China.
If you’re already in a language program, keep it up! If you’re looking for opportunities to learn, check out classes at your local university, at language training centers, or self-study! For practice, check out language exchange events in your city.
Your university will have plenty of activities you can join, including basketball, swimming, etc. Try to get involved as a de-stress after spending hours reading or studying Chinese characters.
Your city will also have different kinds of social clubs you can get involved in. Depending on the size of the city (and the vibrancy of the expat community), these can range from writing circles to cross fit crews. Also, try out new hobbies, like karaoke, mahjong, or badminton!
Most likely your classes and dorms will be all within one campus. Getting around can be as easy as walking or hopping on a shared bike (Mobike & ofo are the most popular ones right now).
To get around your city, the subway is a good option. Subways in China are usually well-connected, clean, and easy to navigate (with English signs). Rides are usually around 3-6 RMB (less than 1 USD). If you read Chinese and its not rush hour, public buses are also a good option.
Taxis are also pretty affordable. The Chinese version of Uber (Didi) is also extremely useful when you’re having trouble finding a taxi during peak hours.
Nightlife largely varies depending on the size of the city. Most Chinese cities have several bar areas that you can check out. Nightlife can range from bumpin’ dance clubs to chill microbrew pubs. (Micro-brewing is getting quite popular in China. Even some of the least well-known cities outside of China, like Wuhan, have their own microbreweries). See e.g. our Shanghai Nightlife page.
Nowadays, most young Chinese people go out for yexiao, or late-night snacks. Shaokao (or Chinese barbecue) is a crowd favorite. From 10 pm until around 2-3 in the morning, small tables are set up outside on the streets, where people can choose from an array of barbecued veggies and meat to eat.
There’s a reason why Chinese food has taken the world by storm. It’s delicious, cheap, and extremely diverse. It’s broken up into 8 regional cuisines: Guangdong, Sichuan, Anhui, Shandong, Fujian, Jiangsu, Hunan, and Zhejiang. This also doesn’t include the cuisines with heavy minority culture influences, like Tibetan, Xinjiang, and Mongolian cuisine. Challenge yourself to try all of them!
Your campus will have a dining hall that offers a variety of choices for a very low price. Most campuses also have a plenty of restaurants or small hole-in-the wall restaurants right outside. On a Chinese campus, you’ll never go hungry!
In addition to your brick-and-mortar shops, China also has a really developed take-out (waimai) culture (with the help of apps like Meituan or Eleme). If you can dream it, it can be delivered to you, including groceries, pizza, and even medicine.
If you’re eating Chinese, you won’t have to spend too much. A meal at a mom-and-pop restaurant will rarely cost you more than 20 RMB (~3 USD).
For older generations, parks are the center of social life. Parks in China are usually extremely clean and very well-maintained (great for runs or a picnic). In the evenings, you can check out (or join in) guangchangwu, or Chinese square-dancing. In the daytime, you can check the marriage market, where mothers and fathers try to find appropriate marriage matches for their sons and daughters.
If you’re looking for something a little more wild or adventurous, China also has a lot to offer with its geographic diversity: you can find grasslands, mountains, deserts, and glaciers.
In a country of over one billion people and 3,000+ years of history, you’ll never be bored when it comes to the shorter breaks you get for Chinese festivals or the longer breaks you’ll get for Chinese New Year & summer. Use this time to explore this amazingly vast and diverse country!
In Shanghai or Shenzhen, you can enjoy and explore the conveniences of modern China. In Nanjing, Chengdu, or Beijing, you can better understand Chinese history. In Guangxi, Guizhou, or Yunnan, you can get out into nature and become familiar with the 55 minority groups that are living in China.
One of the best ways to get around China is train travel. With the high-speed rail system, you can get from Beijing to Shanghai in about 5 hours. Perfect timing for a weekend getaway.
If you’re looking for a slower way of traveling you can also opt for an overnight train. Leave on a Friday night after classes, and get to your destination on Saturday morning (and save on one night’s accommodations). The open-format of hard-sleeper train also allows you to mingle with the locals: play cards, bond over instant noodles, chat about your home country…
You may be worried about costs of your travel around China. One great advantage of being a student here is that you also get access to student ticket prices at a number of tourists sites with your student ID.
As a student in China (and a student of Chinese), you’ll have plenty of know-how to visit the most popular tourist destinations in China.
If you want to go to Tibet, or other more remote destinations, having local experts to plan and guide can help you save time and help you dig deeper into local culture. Get a group of friends together or let us help you plan a tour for when your family or friends visit. All our private tours are fully customizable.
For weekend getaways, check out our shorter trip ideas.