Discovering China: my summer school experience

Final year Management student Ana-Maria Milescu shares her experience of taking part in the Study China Programme in summer 2019.

Studying abroad is an eye-opening experience. I still think about how excited I was to apply to the Study China Programme and finally get out of Europe to explore another culture. After finishing my year-long work placement in the Language Centre at the University of Leeds, I decided that it was time to do something different – to study abroad! I would have never imagined that I would study abroad, least of all in Shanghai!

The Study China Programme is a three week summer school managed by the University of Manchester and sponsored by the British government. The programme consists of 40 hours of Mandarin classes, cultural workshops, trips and a visit to a local family. The universities which offer Mandarin courses are based in some of the biggest cities in China: Beijing, Shanghai and Hangzhou.

Here are some thoughts and learnings from my experience that I hope would be useful for anyone wanting to travel and study in China.

1. Never say never!

Mandarin is not impossible to learn, it is just unusual for Western people to learn this language. Having four hours of Mandarin classes a day, daily homework and cultural workshops helped me learn more quickly than I expected. I have proudly finished the programme with distinction. At the same time, I am grateful for the advanced language translation apps which helped me communicate with the locals. I must admit that it was challenging to communicate most of the time through sign or body language, but everything is possible. It is also fascinating how technology can connect people and how it can help them overcome the bridge between different cultures through the help of language translation applications.

2. China is a cultural treasure with big differences between the rural and urban areas.

If you visit China, make sure you get to see both sides. The programme allows time for everything and you can't miss the opportunity to see such a futuristic city like Shanghai. For example, in Shanghai, you can see everything from skyscrapers which seem like they belong in a sci-fi movie to young adults walking their alpaca pets in the parks, whereas in Guilin, you can see everything from dozens of people having dinner at 12am in the corners of the streets to people paddle boarding at 2am in the morning on the lake in the shining rays of the moon. Both areas have something special to offer.

3. Don't be afraid to try new challenges.

Travel, talk to new people, don’t be afraid to negotiate, try new food and learn about different cultures. To practise speaking the Mandarin language, I went shopping. What I have learnt the most from the shopping experience is to negotiate and get a bargain out of anything. When I visited the Fake Market, one vendor lowered the price of some luggage from 500RMB to just 90RMB to try to persuade me to buy it! Bargaining was one of my guilty pleasures and if you travel in China, be prepared to bargain wherever you go. The food is cheap and flavourful and not all the food is spicy. If you are not a fan of Chinese food, you need to choose the familiar food options or have the patience to translate the menu. Generally, in the busy places you will find menus written in English. There are also fast food and Western restaurants.

The Study China Programme and the experience are a fantastic opportunity and I highly recommend it to anyone interested in discovering China. One more thing to mention:

If I could do it, you can do it too!

Current students at the University of Leeds can find out more about opportunities to study abroad here.