Academic experiences

Unlike many students who travel to China, I didn’t study Chinese.
The courses I took in Shanghai were all computer science courses taught in English. Although I was offered Chinese languages course by SJTU for free when I enrolled, I decided against taking Chinese on top of my other courses.
Contrary to UQ, courses at SJTU aren’t all worth the same amount of credits.
I took 5 courses; a combination of electives and core courses which fit my IT degree at UQ.
One of the major differences in the academic system is that courses were comprised entirely of lectures – no regular tutorials or practicals.
In general, the courses were far less interactive and required more textbook learning.
The class sizes, however, were much smaller, so the professors had more of a chance to get to know students, and attendance was compulsory for all classes.
This greatly irked most exchange students, including me.
If you failed to attend too many classes over the duration of the semester, you were unable to pass the course.
Another difference was the amount of assessable “homework” we were assigned, which was often just textbook questions.
The combination of these policies made me feel like I was back in high school.
Before I arrived, one of my major concerns was the quality of English I expected to find in the teaching.
When classes started, I was pleasantly surprised – all of my lecturers had good English, all assessment was done in English, and the textbooks were also in English.
There were no problems with communication.
Most of the students in my class were Chinese students taking the course in English for extra credit.
In all my classes, there were only 1-2 non-Chinese exchange students.

I was asked to co-host the SJTU Culture and Arts Festival. I had to speak both English and Chinese, including a bunch of old Chinese proverbs with difficult pronunciation. It was a lot of work but great fun.

Personal experiences

To anyone who’s considering going on exchange, I would say “do it”, without a moments hesitation.
I learnt many things (outside my courses) and had heaps of great experiences.
I’ve never lived in a college or student dorm before, so this was a lot of fun – although student dorms in China are quite different to here.
Most of the other exchange students at SJTU were European or Scandinavian Masters students, and I made a lot of friends.
I became best friends with a Swedish guy, Saiman, and I have no doubt that we’ll continue to stay in contact for a long time.
I’ve already resolved to visit Sweden after my studies.
Even in Shanghai, the most westernised city of China, it’s difficult to get by without picking up some Mandarin.
I had basic conversational ability before I went, and my speaking and listening skills improved so much just through talking to random people during day to day life.
It’s very easy to meet people, and other students are always friendly and helpful.
I was often approached and asked to join in activities or have a chat.
Living in Shanghai (or anywhere else in China) is totally different to living in Brisbane.
It requires some patience and resilience, things which I learned during my time there. Sometimes doing things, to which you wouldn’t usually give a second thought, can be quite frustrating with the language and culture barrier.
It often takes a while for things to happen, or to find stuff out, and there’s not much you can do about it.
I also became acquainted with the Chinese medical system during my time there – which I would not advise.
I recommend anyone who needs medical attention to speak to their insurance provider and go to an international hospital.

A view of Shanghai city during the day. The Bund skyline is visible in the distance, obscured by pollution.


SJTU has several campuses.
I lived in an “international” student dorm on Minhang campus, which was about 40 minutes’ drive from downtown Shanghai.
I really enjoyed the college aspect of life, and living on campus was very convenient.
There were shops less than 10 minutes’ walk away, and I bought a bicycle for about $50 and cycled to all my classes.
Minhang campus is much larger than UQ’s St Lucia campus.
I shared my room with a Vietnamese student - I didn’t have the option of a single dorm.
I originally couldn’t bear the thought of sharing a room, but it didn’t take me long to get used to.
Many exchange students moved into cheap apartments nearby or closer to downtown, but I didn’t bother.
My room had an ensuite, AC and a good desk, so I was pretty comfortable.
The worst part of living in the dorm was the 12am curfew, which was strictly imposed every night by the dorm “ayi”, who physically chained the doors shut.
It was possible to wake her up and get in after hours, but not advisable.
The other downside was that we lived so far from the city.
I went downtown often and spent many hours commuting by subway each week.

A typical sight in the streets near the Bund.


Living in Shanghai is very cheap compared to Brisbane.
Accommodation is inexpensive - my dorm cost about $1100 for the semester.
Transport is extremely convenient – Shanghai has an extensive subway network, and buses, subway and taxis are very cheap.
Food prices can range, but good food at small restaurants can be had for less than $5 a meal.
The campus cafeteria was even cheaper, but much less tasty.
I didn’t cook for myself at all – it’s more cost effective to eat at small restaurants for every meal.
Besides, the communal dorm kitchen was absolutely filthy – I was convinced that anything prepared there would induce food poisoning.
The things which will consume the most money are going out (to bars and fancy restaurants), and travelling.
The nightlife in Shanghai is great, but expect to pay similar (or often more) than you would in Brisbane.
Flights and trains around China aren’t cheap either, although well worth the expense to see other places.
I recommend travelling by hard sleeper.
During the course of the semester, I spent $8000 or less, which includes flights, insurance, visa, accommodation, food, travel, going out and everything else.

My girlfriend invited me and some friends over for hotpot at her place.

Academic development and employability

I think that experiencing education at another university, especially in a country such as China, has been an invaluable part of my education.
It’s given me an insight into the Chinese education system, and how different universities can vary greatly.
I now see UQ, my own education and the whole world from a very different point of view.
During my time in Shanghai, I had many positive and negative experiences, from which I’ve developed a number of skills and attributes which will be useful for the rest of my life, including in a work environment.
I also met many people, and made friends who will be great professional contacts if I want to work overseas in the future.

One of the small lakes in The Humble Administrator's Garden, the most famous of the gardens at Suzhou.


I met a local Chinese girl and we became very close during my time there.
One of the best parts about our time together was that I had opportunities to do many things that other exchange students didn’t experience.
I learned some of the slang and trends among young locals, which would otherwise have been inaccessible due to language barriers.
After semester, we went together to the wedding of one of her high school friends in a very small, poor town near her hometown in Zhejiang.
We went separately, and I took a train followed by a very long taxi ride to the middle of nowhere.
As a tall blonde, it’s not unusual to attract stares in China, but all the wedding guests looked at me like I was an alien as I walked in.
Although the newlyweds were poor, the food was good and I passed the evening having fun trying to communicate with her old school friends with the aid of bai jiu, Chinese rice wine.
The overall experience was slightly uncomfortable, but very interesting nonetheless.

Top tips

I would really recommend immersing yourself in the local culture, language and ways of doing things.
This applies to some countries more than others, but when you’re surrounded by other exchange students, especially if they’re friends from home, it’s easy to settle into a routine and let many new opportunities pass you by.
Make friends with locals and spend time hanging out with them.
I would also advise anyone who goes on exchange to travel, no matter where you are.
I’ve spent about 2 months just travelling around China, but feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface.
You’re already overseas, surrounded by a bunch of other travellers, so you might as well take the chance while it’s there.

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