Now that summer is officially over, I find myself back in the same place as university students all over the world – the classroom.
Five years ago, I officially graduated from university with a bachelor’s degree. At that point, I figured my academic career was over. I could check “attend university” off my list of Things Every Normal Person Should Do.
If you want to get technical, I didn’t take the “normal person” path to complete my undergraduate degree. I actually did all my courses via the distance learning method, where all I got all my books sent to my home and submitted assignments online.
Back then people would always ask me if I missed the university life of attending classes and making new friends. I usually gave a very Asian-like response.
“Oh, no! I like being able to focus on my studies!”
“I don’t need to attend a school to make friends!”
Though I don’t regret taking the unconventional path to education, I do admit that I missed out on a few things. Now that I’m back in school taking classes at a physical campus, I’m discovering so many great aspects of attending school in person. The fact that I’m a foreign student makes the experience that much more unique.
Being confused for a zhong guo ren (a person born in China) is probably the most consistent thing I experience on a week-to-week basis. Whether it’s a student, teacher, or security guard, everyone who sees me for the first time thinks I’m a local person. I usually have to tell Chinese people that I’m a liu xue sheng (foreign student) to help them understand the mystery that I am to them.
I can’t wait until the day that my Chinese is good enough that I can pretend to be a zhong guo ren who speaks really good English!
Making new friends is one of the best things about being a foreign student. Chinese students love being able to practice their English with foreigners. And even if you’ve only hung out with them a couple times, many of them will invite you to come visit them in their hometowns (which is typically anywhere from 1-2 hours away).
Another thing I love about being on campus every day is the accessibility to really tasty and inexpensive food. Cafeteria meals start around 10 RMB, which is less than 2 USD. There’s also a really great food street just outside the campus, where you have no end of selections to choose from! One of my personal favourites is this Muslim restaurant where they serve la mian (hand-pulled noodles).
Because I’m a foreigner, I don’t have to live on campus with the rest of the students. Instead, my wife and I live in an apartment complex about fifteen minutes away from the school. I’m especially grateful that we have our own place that’s spacious and clean. University dorm rooms in China usually pack anywhere from 4-6 students per room!
Studying abroad has taught me what a privilege it is to have this experience of learning Chinese in China. Though many university students here learn English, most cannot speak it very well because they don’t have native English-speakers with whom they can practice. Several students have told me that I have such a huge advantage over them because I get to study in a place where I’m forced to use my Chinese.
While I was working on my undergrad degree, I was definitely more concerned about my grades. But as a foreign student, I’m thinking way more about the culture here, and all the reasons why people do things the way they do it. I’m not only a student of the language, but also a student of the culture.
Ultimately, I love being a foreign student because I constantly get to be involved in the exchange of thoughts and ideas. I really value the relationships I’ve been able to form with students. In some ways we are so similar, and yet in other ways so different.
Have you ever studied while living abroad? What are some of your favorite things about being a foreign university student? Have there been any surprises along the way?