Being an exchange student at Fudan University in Shanghai, China was an incredible experience. I went in the final year of my Bachelor of International Studies (International Relations/Mandarin) program.

Fudan is very different from UQ. My four courses were on the European Union, Asia Pacific security, Chinese demography and East Asian economics. The Asia Pacific course was fantastic. Studying politics required the same amount of research I would do in Australia however I had to learn a new library system and expectations held of me by new professors. The Fudan system merges lectures and tutorials together. Initially I felt uncomfortable with this, but by the end I feel I gained more from this system because it forced me to speak up in front of more people. I was also worried that I would not understand the professors’ English, however in my experience all my professors were 100% fluent as well as kind and accommodating.

Living in the dorms provided a lovely social environment. The first night I arrived, there were twenty of us going out to dinner together and we remained friends since day one. Often I would be in my dorm and hear a knock on the door, which was a friend dropping by to say hello or ask to hang out. It was definitely an unusual mix of people and there was a high boy to girl ratio which I didn’t expect.

My most intensive travelling time was the last three weeks of being overseas, just before the UQ semester began. Beijing, Chengdu and Guangzhou were full of interesting things to do. The Great Wall was even more breathtaking than I expected. I found youth hostels to be convenient and the staff usually really helpful. Travelling by train is a quintessential Chinese experience. I underwent a great deal of cultural education on the tracks, such as how to eat watermelon seeds properly.

Going to China was also challenging. On an almost daily basis I had to embarrass myself by pairing rudimentary Chinese with odd body language in order to get what I needed. At times this was particularly frustrating; the staff at the dorms do not speak any English. There are many things in Chinese culture that I found confronting but had to hide these feelings. My exchange was certainly fun, yet far from easy at times. I learnt how to be more patient as well as more critical and able to speak up when I felt it was needed. Everyone should go on an exchange to China!

5 TOP TIPS:

  • Don’t fall into the taxi trap just because they are so cheap. It added up very quickly for me!
  • Use the weekends to your advantage. Public holidays are few and far between. Go to Hangzhou and Suzhou for the weekend, they are nice cities not too far away from Shanghai. Visit Huangshan, a mountain nearby.
  • Rent a fridge from the dorms. There aren’t too many breakfast joints in China and you’ll miss your milk and weetbix eventually!
  • Go to Helens and other student bars in the area, it’s a great atmosphere and so easy to meet people (often in the long line for the restroom).
  • Be brave and order in Chinese, chat to the street vendors and speak to taxi drivers in Chinese (be sure to know the words for koala and kangaroo in this case). Once I got over the fear of awkwardness I was able to learn a lot more useful Chinese this way.

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