This week I got to Ask a(n)…International Student! I got to talk to my friend, and fellow student, TJ, about life as a student overseas. He’s originally from Zimbabwe and is studying here in Beijing.
So to get us started, TJ, can you tell us a little bit about your studies?
I am a Bachelor’s student studying computer science at Beijing University of Technology. It is a 4 year course and the course is completely in Chinese.
Computer science in Chinese…wow. Let’s just say I wouldn’t be passing those courses! What does life look like for an international student here in Beijing?
There’s a lot of academic pressure and it’s definitely not easy. A lot of people might disagree when I say that I think that it’s a good thing because I personally feel that anything that’s easy won’t really make you grow. One of the biggest problems though, is that it comes with a lot of stress. You’ve got to find different ways to cope like sports, clubs in school or just being with friends. One of the things I’ve noticed among the foreign students in Beijing is that a lot of them are involved in the night life. I mean going to clubs and the likes.
Coming from Zimbabwe—and really any other country—how does education here compare to education in your home country? What are some similarities and what are some differences?
I feel like there is a big demand academically on both sides. The passing threshold is roughly the same (the grade at which you have passed the exam). Workload is pretty intense. As for content I find that the knowledge the teachers expect their students to have from high school are all stuff I’ve learnt before. One of the differences I notice is how they solve some problems. It’s different to how I’ve learned.
I’ve also noticed the approaches to problem solving can be different from how I’ve been taught. So what’s something you wish someone had told you before matriculating as a student in Beijing?
I wish someone would have told me that Chinese people work really hard, and have a high expectations on their students haha. Also, people should know that a lot of services are blocked in China. Things like Google, YouTube, Instagram, Twitter; basically all social medias are blocked. So you need a good VPN.
On a practical note, then, what resources have you found to be helpful as a student in China?
YouTube is a life saver. It takes me so much time study because I first have to translate what I’ve just been taught during a lecture, understand it, and then translate it back to Chinese. This helps me so much with exam preparations.
I’m still impressed that you’re studying entirely in Chinese. Other than language, what else are some of the unique challenges you face as a student in a country that’s not your home country?
I feel like sometimes the school or the people work on assumptions a lot, leading to a failure in providing the necessary assistance a foreign student needs. I noticed it when I first arrived to Beijing. I went through the registration process and the visa application process with a lot of uncertainty.
Yeah, the initial adjustment to life overseas can be a bit rough. With that in mind, what would be some recommendations you have for any student preparing to study overseas, either here in China or elsewhere?
One tip I would give is to ALWAYS ASK WHEN YOU DON’T KNOW. As a foreign student there is no such thing as a dumb question. If you are shy and decide to remain in uncertainty you will be left behind and it is not wise to always rely on other peers to help. If you do get home sick, or are likely to, please make arrangements to take things that may help with you to your university.
Try participating in sports and different clubs in school and it is almost guaranteed you will make a friend there. Being alone all the time will drive you crazy. I’m an introvert, so I value my alone time, but I know if I was to always be alone I would be missing out on my University experience.
Asking questions has definitely proven helpful in my experience as well. You also mentioned homesickness, which I think is a very real thing for not only international students, but expats in general. So how do you combat homesickness?
I don’t get homesick much, but those who do tell me it helps calling family and friends back home. If they are able to send foods or something from back home please make it happen. Even listening to music from back home could help. I understand it might be difficult to be away from home for a long period of time. I notice that’s probably why people from the same country are usually all in one group.
I’ve often heard it said that community can help with homesickness since it helps you make where you are your home. What then are some ways you’ve found to build friendships and community with people both on your campus and across the city?
I found joining clubs and sports teams to be the absolute best way to meet people. Because most friendships are built on common interests it’s really important to display your interest and look for someone with similar interests. Outside of school, I meet a lot of my friends at church. I love the BICF City Church and its community.
How have you seen yourself grow/change throughout the course of your studies?
I feel I have grown a lot. As a student away from home you are probably the only person who takes care of you. So you’ve got to be mature in how you handle things. You’ve got to know which friends are good for you and which are bad. You’ve got to learn to budget, maintain good grades and enjoy your social life with a good conscience. I know people who were doing things they shouldn’t be doing and had to face the consequences including deportation. It’s unfortunate, but it’s also important to live responsibly as a student, especially in a foreign country.
To end off this conversation, I’ll go with the question every student is asked pretty constantly. TJ, what do you plan to do after you graduate?
I plan to further my studies and get a Masters degree. As for where I want to study, I’m still not sure.
Thanks so much for taking the time away from your studies for this conversation, TJ. China is becoming ever more of a hotspot for international students, so getting the chance to hear from the student perspective has been great!
Do you have any thoughts or questions on life as an international student? Post in the comments below and we’d love to get back to you!
Check out our next Ask a… post and if you have someone you want to be interviewed, send a note to firstname.lastname@example.org.