Studying Abroad in China: Why you should do it on your own

It’s more common-than-not now that every college you could get a 4 year degree at has some form of a study-abroad program. Out of all the options, you’ve decided to pick China. And you’re in luck, your college has a specialized partnership with a Chinese university to make it as easy as possible for you! And all it could cost you is 6 times the amount of money, and either a chunk of your GPA or all of your time for living it up in China…
Now before you leave an angry comment on my blog about this bait and switch, continue reading and thank me. It’s going to be a lot worse in real life when it happens to you.

My college will set it all up for me:
Yes, and for their troubles they’ll charge you the fee of being matriculated. You’re going to end up paying the Chinese university’s tuition along with your American college’s tuition. Any Chinese university worth studying abroad at will have its own method of applying, such as http://www.cucas.edu.cn, and most will charge only a fraction of an American college’s tuition. I went to a SUNY school so I got off pretty cheap when it comes to tuition. The Chinese college, Shoushida, that I attended still only cost a third of what SUNY charges for tuition. Now take that $1500 Chinese tuition and compare it to an American private college’s tuition… paying them to do some paper work for you is suddenly highway robbery.

But my school will count the credits towards my major:
This is where applying through your university could or could not be useful, though I’m assuming as I write this article that isn’t. If you are majoring or minoring in Chinese or linguistics, then I’ve assumed wrong and it’s worth it. For the rest of you though, let me continue on the reasons why it’s smarter to do it on your own. The international programs of Shoushida and multiple other popular foreigner universities in Beijing teach one course and one course only: Chinese language. Shoushida doesn’t even teach a culture class unless you’re matriculated in their 4 year program. You’re paying triple or more what you could pay for credits that are only going to count as foreign language credits. Throw that 4 credit language requirement into an easy semester back home and save yourself some money.

12 credits would get me closer to graduating, so why not?
Because having your GPA ride on these 12 credits is going to suck. A lot. Let me start by explaining a little bit about Chinese culture. The huge population creates enormous competition for students when it comes to college admissions and getting picked for jobs. Unlike America, employers aren’t concerned with experience or extracurricular activities. It’s a numbers game and the best grade wins. This has greatly affected the school system; my English students often spend their whole weekends and vacations doing homework and studying, just so they have an edge above other students when grades come in. A student who doesn’t care about school is unheard of, and skipping class doesn’t happen. A student who does do this is seen as throwing away their future and doomed to be homeless. In the eyes of the public, they have about as much hope for success as a drug addict in western societies. Bringing it back to why this matters to you: unless you are prepared to spend around 4 hours a day doing homework and cramming word after word, you probably aren’t going to do well in the Chinese university you choose to study at. Remember the anal teacher who graded really hard and never gave partial credit that you hated? She would be a slacker here. Sure you could possibly do quite well in the courses offered, but I can guarantee you will give up a large amount of your time to do it. And you’re here to explore and have fun, not slave over books for no actual reward to your American education. You’ll find when you get here too that there is A LOT of fun to tempt you with, so even if you’re a smart enough student to do well in these courses, you may not be able to be all that studious. Do you really want to chance crippling your GPA by taking on these 12 meaningless credits? Save yourself the headaches and stress, don’t bet on this horse.

A final word on classes: Just because I am highly recommending you take the Chinese classes independently of your American education, doesn’t mean I am saying you shouldn’t be productive. At this time the great firewall doesn’t touch college websites, so if you want to take a couple online courses feel free to sign up for them. It could be an easy way to clear some GenEds that have been piling up without having to juggle your Core courses around them. Word of caution though, my friend who did this consistently missed deadlines because of the time difference. While it was humorous to watch, keep it in mind

But this experience could really help my career:
I’m sure it could. It’s the experience that matters though, not how you signed up. You can always list the semester you studied in China on your résumé, and anybody who’s reading it won’t care what program you went through, just what you did. A can of vanilla coke is a can of vanilla coke, whether you buy it down the block or you drive to the next state and pay $20 for it. Enjoy it cheap and easy.

I don’t want to miss out on anything doing it on my own:
A lot colleges boast about providing experiences for their students while they’re abroad. Tours, special events, trips, things like that. This may be true, but each of the Chinese universities you could study at have their own department set up for this as well. And if you didn’t see it coming, none of the Chinese tours cost anywhere near enough to financially justify going through your American college so you can see the sites. Also, you aren’t the only newbie in China. Shoushida had a 12 story building devoted to housing foreign students with a revolving door that emptied it out again at the end of the semester. Three quarters of the students there are like you, only in China for a short term period like a semester and they barely know anybody. Besides that, if being foreign in a country you barely know isn’t a great icebreaker for making friends, then I don’t know what is. Friendships are made quickly, and after only 2 weeks of my stay, groups of newfound friends were already planning trips to scenic spots in Beijing or backpacking the great wall. You won’t be in short supply of people to do things with or ideas for places to go. Not to mention the countless online resources for expats that can point you in a good direction. Unless you’re constantly stuck in your room studying to academically stay afloat, I wouldn’t be worried at all about having a bad time in China.

My college won’t like it:
People take time off all the time for any number of reasons; financial, personal, a mental break, to work, for an internship. It won’t be a problem, and to conclude this article with a point which should be obvious by now; you’ll have a stress-free, fun time and save quite a bit of money doing it this way. I hope my advice helped, enjoy your time abroad!

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