A Semester in China: ITMO Student Shared his Impressions

Maksim Ivanov, Master’s student of the Faculty of Technological Management and Innovations, spent the last semester at the Beijing Institute of Technology. He talked about his extraordinary experience in such an unusual country, its culture and people and said why he’d like to connect himself with China. A list of prejudices and lifehacks is attached!

What impressed you most of all?

China is like another planet. When coming here, many Europeans cannot adjust themselves for a long time. The small things make living in this country very unusual. Texts are written from top to bottom, people count using hundreds of thousands as opposed to billions, they sell tea in 50 gram packs and fruits in 500 gram packs, they use only chopsticks, and they use different clothing sizes. When we look at these differences separately, they seem negligible, but together they are components of an extraordinary world view, which takes time to comprehend. During my first few days in China I couldn’t have a normal lunch — I didn’t know that you can only have lunch according to a strict timetable. If you don’t have lunch from 11.30 till 13.30 on campus, you will stay hungry. It is impossible to find an appropriate meal at another time. I had to learn how to have meals, visit the library and even take a shower according to the timetable! For example, if you want to get some water from the shower, you have to use your key card, which is also a pass into the campus. I was impressed that everything is at such a grand-scale, for instance, the university where I studied has 30,000 students — its enormous lecture rooms are impressive.

What are the main advantages of Beijing Institute of Technology?

It has a very strong chemistry department. There are modern and well-equipped labs — the government of China invests a lot in education. I visited several of them, and despite the fact that I am not a science person, I appreciated the infrastructure of the university and opportunities that it gives to senior students.

It also has lots of extra-curricular activities, so you will never get bored there. We were treated like children which was very good. For example, when we were going to have an excursion, we were supervised so nobody would get lost.

There I met many students from different countries like Kazakhstan, Middle Eastern and African countries. There are many international students in Chinese universities thanks to its generous investments. China is interested in getting high positions in world university rankings. That is why they give students from overseas an opportunity to live for free in comfortable dorms and provide various scholarships.

Please, tell what accommodations did you have when living in the dorm?

I can talk about dorms for international students, I lived in a new one, which was built several years ago. I shared a mini studio apartment with a mate — it was about 20 square meters. We had space-saving furniture and had no kitchen at all. There were no issues like noisy parties that are common for student life in Russia. The Chinese are well disciplined — their visits are no longer than a few hours.

What did you learn when staying in China?

How to be practical. Chinese are very practical in every aspect. They are also very friendly and bonded together. Now I am not as picky about food as I was before. It is true that Chinese eat everything that flies except airplanes, everything that swims except submarines and everything with four legs except tables. They are also ready to help when necessary. If you just start speaking Chinese, people always try to help you.

How do you plan to use this experience?

I’d like to continue to work with China. When I was choosing my major, and thinking about which country I could study in order to have a great bonus for my CV and an international experience, I decided that China is worthy of the attention. Not that many people can say that they have studied or worked there. That is why it is very beneficial for a candidate to speak Chinese and be versed in its culture.

Maxim Ivanov gave several lifehacks and dispelled some myths about this country.

Tips for those who plan to go to China:

  1. You will definitely need indigestion medication

It is not easy to eat fried and spicy Chinese dishes. Sometimes your organism requires medications with absorbent components.

  1. Download WeChat

Twitter, Facebook and Google don’t work in China (however, you can use Yandex browser). Inform your relatives and friends that the only service for communication in China is WeChat. Chinese Internet works well, but if you want to make contacts with somebody from another country, you will meet some problems.

  1. Study Chinese

Outside of the airport English language loses its power. Even some hotels have no English-speaking staff. Cafés, restaurants and hotels focus mostly on the residents — they may have no menus in English.

  1. Learn how to use chopsticks

You will have to eat all dishes using chopsticks. Food is prepared in such a special way — Chinese don’t cut chickens into fillets, legs and wings, they chop it so as to make it easier to eat using chopsticks.

Tips for living in China

  1. Make a Chinese friend

Don’t try to learn everything yourself — use the assistance of all the friendly Chinese. Find a friend who will open this extraordinary world of the Celestial Empire.

  1. Need something — use Taobao

The Chinese youth is a generation of online shopping through Taobao. They use it to buy everything like cookies, fruits, clothes, household items. They visit shops to try on clothes and then make an order through Taobao. Delivery services are fantastic! There are several types of delivery. The most popular one looks like that: packs are delivered somewhere in a car, then they are put on a sidewalk. Everybody can show an employee his or her order number and take one’s things. Before that, one gets a notification message in Chinese. Even if you speak this language, it is not always obvious where the car is. Here you can use the help of your Chinese friend.

  1. Never be surprised

It is easier to adapt when you are ready for anything.

True or false?

Chinese speak English badly

I cannot refute this because it is true. Chinese pass English language tests well, but they cannot speak. Students often cope with Advanced level tests but speak as beginners. Even in elite areas of Beijing you may never meet someone who speaks English. It is completely different on campus, as lectures at university are in English. However, the language is affected by Chinese influence. The people here try to study English but it is very hard for them. It is caused by the structure of Chinese language. Chinese think in a completely different way. It is easier for Europeans who already know several thousand words, as they are borrowed. The word computer, for instance. Chinese have to translate every word.

It is impossible to study Chinese fluently

It is not true. During four and a half months in China I’ve trained my skills, so I would survive in this country now. It took a month and a half to learn how to ask the way and how much something costs. Now I can haggle. It is not difficult to say something in Chinese, it is challenging to understand what one responds. We learned the Beijing dialect, which is the official one. All foreigners learn this. However, in other cities people may not understand you. There was a situation when I learned some phrases in Shanghai, and then people in Beijing corrected me when I repeated them. These cities are neighbors but people there speak differently. It is true that many Chinese don’t understand each other. But I think in the future, dialects will be erased. These days written Chinese is a solution, as hieroglyphs are similar.

Studies in China give a background that gives an opportunity to build a career only in this country.

It is 50% truth. It depends on the language of your course. If you want to study engineering, you have to study Chinese and then other subjects. It means you will spend at least five years there. Economics, marketing, chemistry and math for foreigners are taught in English. In this case you can apply your knowledge wherever you want. However, if you study such specific things as public administration, calligraphy or scientific communism, they can be useful only in China.

Special inspection measures for foreigners

I never dealt with this. On the contrary, requirements for Chinese are stricter.

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