Generally, the program consisted of Mandarin Chinese classes in the morning and excursions in the afternoon. There was also lots of free time to explore the area we stayed in. There are three Universities you can apply for with StudyChina and I chose Zhejiang, because it seemed relatively professional and also fit my end-of-term schedule quite well. And, indeed, the University did deliver!
WARNING: I have been made aware that my article might sound like I did not enjoy my stay. I hope that is not the picture I am drawing here! The experience was indeed very good. The time in China solved the riddle of my perspective of Asia in the most efficient way possible. Overall I recommend going to China as a "Westerner" for some weeks. But I think that, generally, there is only a small group of "Westerners" that will benefit from a long term stay there e.g. University or work. Only people that truly want to and are able to leverage their combined knowledge of Western and Asian knowledge will find "happiness" there. Anything else "does not make sense" as a Westerner you will benefit more from opportunities in the "West". I hope that makes sense!
We arrived on Sunday and had a campus tour in the dark on Sunday evening. Monday was the first full day on campus. We had an “orientation” in the morning. I think the key points were: do not get run over on the streets (Chinese traffic is VERY different to Europe/US traffic, I guess you can call it “Asian” traffic), do not leave the campus alone and make the most out of it! The traffic in Hangzhou, the city of Zhejiang University is basically suicide from 6am to 11pm, because apparently all Chinese cities (I saw Hangzhou and Shanghai) shut down after 11pm, so streets are empty.
After the orientation, we had our first language class in Chinese Mandarin. The 80 students of StudyChina were split into four classes and some advanced students were put into local classes (which apparently you are not allowed to even attend for the experience, I tried …). I was in class A and our teacher （老师）was called Tong Lin. She is a Masters student in Translation and apparently has never taught before, but still did a very good job. Unfortunately, as there were only three weeks, the courses focused on daily Chinese and omitted characters most of the time. This did not stop me from actually studying the characters. Some people say that if you do not get the stroke order right and all, then it is bad. I think, that for my needs, I should be able to get along by copying them just fine and multiple students have confirmed that, so I did study the characters on the side as well!
The classes usually ran for three hours and because I was still jet lagged I woke up at 6am during the first week and used the time to revise some Chinese. At 7am I would go for run to the hill nearby called Laohe Shan (老和山，I hope that is right!). This leads me to one of the main experiences of China: pollution.
Pollution in China is the worst. If you have only seen pollution on the TV you think “well, it is bad, but probably not that bad”. Well, it is bad. Really bad. The moment we left the air-conditioned Terminal in Shanghai we were hit by wall of pollution. You can feel and smell (ok, maybe I am hallucinating this) how bad the air is. If pollution is high you can barely see 500 meters. From our fifth floor skyscraper dorm room, at least on three days I was just about able to guess that there was a skyscraper on the other side of the road. It’s crazy and it’s true.
Oh yes, during the orientation, the Chinese volunteers which were supporting us during the three weeks were asked to open their mobile internet hotspots so we could let our parents know that we have arrived BECAUSE AT THE UNIVERSITY YOU HAD TO SIGN UP FOR INTERNET WITH YOUR PASSPORT WHICH LITERALLY TOOK DAYS, so we did not have a chance to phone back home and so parents called up the StudyChina office. Internet in China is not a sure thing and on top of that it is censored. Not cool, but I guess that is part of the experience!
Anyway, on Monday evening we had our opening ceremony with the Dean of the International College. There was some speeches including one by our program manager, Professor Minjie, who knows how to properly entertain! Afterwards, we had a buffet dinner with the volunteers and later went “downtown” to a bar which I guess was luxury for Chinese price levels, but about UK outside London bar levels, so we could liked it there. They had free Wifi as well, I think that is the main reason why I stayed.
On Tuesday, we had a trip to the West Lake, which is a scenic lake nearby the campus with lots of culture to explore. Unfortunately, I had an online exam due that day at 9am CET, so 5pm CTZ, and could not attend. During the exam I also had the best Internet for the whole trip, so I really was lucky there. The trip to West Lake was apparently a success and I was able to catch up all the things of that afternoon trip in the coming days.
On Wednesday, we had our first business culture class in the afternoon. A local Chinese businesswomen gave the first of three lectures on the how “business” is done in China. It is a different culture and differences are something to be expected. It is hard to express a summary of her classes diplomatically. I guess the best way is to say that they call tax evasion “saving money for your business”, bribery “business relationships” and corruption “being close to the government”. The classes on Chinese business were indeed interesting, but the conclusion I heard from many students was that they know feel even less confident in doing business in China. There is the law and there is what the people do and the former is just not enforced sufficiently enough, yet.
On Thursday we were able to choose one of four trips to local “businesses” organised by a government organisation called “ZAST” which supports (?) technology and science in the Zhejiang area. I chose to have a tour in each a robot and plane assembly facility and it was quite interesting, because it really was not that different from Europe. I think for the employees there, we looked like foreign investors or something, so when we came around they tried to look really busy, but I think they were not. I saw a group of 5 (!) Chinese workers standing around another worker turning a screw and pretending to focus on this incredibly hard task. It was a bit surreal, but I guess that is China. Overall, it was a great insight into a Chinese industry area. When we arrived back, we joined other students at a local restaurant chain called “Grandma’s” (?) which has UK level priced food which is really, really good. Really good.
On Friday, we visited the main campus of the five campuses of Zhejiang University. We were split into 8 or so groups and matched with the same number of Chinese students from that campus. For the whole afternoon (!) they had planned different activities such as going to scenic places of the campus, Kong Fu (?), shuttlecock “football”, calligraphy and more. During the activities on the walk to each activity we had time to chat with the students which is such a good way to understand Chinese better and where it is going. These students in theory are the indicator of China’s future as the government invests into them to build the future. Competition is apparently intense and they have a lot of exams (for me, this is always a useful indicator that quality is missing so all they can do is crank up quantity) In the evening, they gave a show with all kinds of societies from the campus. They stared with a very cool inlined-skating show, then some African music and dancing (haha, in China!), many music performances and also a very, very good magician. It was incredibly, except from that it was so cold. At 9pm, our bus shuttle took us back to the other campus and it was at that point that I started feeling sick.
Over the course of the weekend I felt worse and worse and on Monday I was in bed all day except for classes (of which there were three that day, but I did not want to miss them!). I do not know if I got sick because of the food, or the climate or the coldness during the show or something else. But I fell ill and it was not nice.
On Saturday, we had the opportunity to have a “authentic Chinese family visit” and Oliver, Rhys and I signed up for it. We were matched with a local family with a 9 year old girl called Mary who just did not stop talking Chinese to me despite me being unable to respond. I actually did pick up one or two words by the learn by pointing method! As Oliver and Rhys left for Shanghai at 4pm, our visit was cut short a bit and Fang invited us to go with him to a museum some other day (which we did!). That evening, many students were in Shanghai for clubbing while others including me stayed in Hangzhou and enjoyed the evening there, though I went to bed early, because I was just not feeling well.
On Sunday, I think I had a sleep in and in the afternoon cycled to West Lake with Grace, a local student, and Josh from Manchester University. This was my opportunity to catch up with all things West Lake. We went to He Fang street, some pseudo Chinese ancient street where you can buy a lot of Chinese stuff and street food (which maybe is what made me sick!).