Welcome to Harbin
At CET, our goal is to make study abroad accessible for all. We believe that learning happens best when your class reflects the world around us—complex and diverse. So we work hard to create and maintain programs that support students of all races, religions, abilities, gender identities, and sexual orientations. No matter where you are coming from, we want you to have a successful study abroad experience.
CET makes every effort to offer accommodations comparable to those of your home institution. Disclosing early helps us to make proper preparations and work with you to determine if a program will be a good fit. We recommend that you use the following details to inform your decisions and conversations with your Student Services Coordinator.
Race & Ethnicity
The average Chinese person is not surrounded by the racial diversity that exists in the US and as a result racism in China manifests itself differently. You may hear racially insensitive comments or notice some staring, but these instances can mostly be attributed to the lack of knowledge about and/or exposure to people of other races and ethnicities. Students have reported being approached by strangers for photos, questions, and other interactions born of their perceived foreign identity. Students of color in particular have reported feeling that they are stared at or commented on by locals more than others in their cohorts.
In contrast, heritage students and others who may be mistaken for a local sometimes feel less welcomed than their peers with more obviously foreign features. Interactions with locals are typically initiated in Chinese and their language skills may be held to a higher standard. However, past students have reported this to be beneficial to their language learning and provide a living experience more similar to that of a local.
While homosexuality is legal in China, only heterosexual marriages are recognized by the government at this time. The local cultural climate is becoming more and more open toward LGBTQ issues and individuals, though it’s not yet on par with the US. In Harbin (particularly on campus), the spectrum of attitudes pulls more towards the side of accepting and knowledgeable, though can still reach over to the side of indifferent or uninformed.
Chinese culture is very gender binary. Though gender non-conformity is an emerging topic in other major Chinese cities like Bejing, many Harbin locals are likely unaware of it. A non-binary student would likely find it difficult to explain what being non-binary means to their Chinese friends. However, past CET Harbin students have not encountered major issues with the local cultural climate toward gender issues and/or non-binary individuals.
There are five religions officially recognized in China: Protestantism, Catholicism, Islam, Taoism, and Buddhism. There is little knowledge of or exposure to other religions in China. Chinese people—while not usually religious themselves—are on the whole very open to religion and generally interested to learn about different faiths. It is a fairly common occurrence for students to be asked about their faiths. Proselytizing is illegal in China, but personal religious observance and practice is fine for foreign students.
Cost of Living
Day-to-day cost of living in Harbin is generally cheaper than that of most places in the United States. Within China, Harbin’s status as a second-tier city means things are often cheaper than in Beijing or Shanghai but can still vary greatly depending on your lifestyle. Things like food, public transportation, and daily supplies are cheaper than in the US, while imported goods will often be more expensive.Check out a budget sheet to get an idea of what life in Harbin might look like financially for a semester or summer.
ACCESS in ACADEMICS
Students typically attend classes for 3 to 5 hours a day. On average, classes have between 1 and 5 students. For every hour of class, students are expected to complete a minimum of 1 hour of homework.
Available for students with documented need: low-distraction test environment; extra time on exams; modified deadlines and seating.
Most classes are held in classrooms on the upper floors of a multi-story building on campus, about a 3-5 minute walk from the dorms. Access to the classrooms require usage of the stairs as there are no elevators in the academic buildings.
CET occasionally plans mandatory academic activities and optional trips to nearby sites and other cities after class and on weekends. Excursions may involve urban walking, rural hiking, use of public transportation, and/or going up and down stairs.
Itinerary modifications and accommodations can be made for students with documented need. Transportation can be arranged as necessary, and excused absences are provided for mandatory excursions that are inaccessible due to a disability.
ACCESS IN HOUSING
Your Home Abroad
The dormitories are located on our host university’s campus, about a 3 to 5 minute walk from the classrooms. All CET students live on the third and fourth floors. Also on the third floor are a basic shared kitchen, the CET office, the activities room, and a study room. Laundry facilities are on the first floor. Because the dorms do not have elevators, all rooms and other facilities are accessed exclusively by stairs.
Students are typically assigned to housing by gender. However, arrangements can be made to accommodate gender non-binary students if notice is provided in advance.
Rooms and bathrooms are typically shared, but a room without a shared bathroom may be arranged for students with documented need if requested in advance.
Newer parts of the city offer curb cuts and elevators/escalators for subways, but some sidewalks in these areas may still present difficulties. Some sidewalks have bus stop posts and trees planted in a way that could make it uncomfortably narrow for a wheelchair to pass through. In the city center, curb cuts are less common and sidewalks are often uneven. Students will also find many gates that prevent the passage of motorbikes and bicycles into certain areas and buildings—these gates would require students in wheelchairs to use an alternative entrance.
Health & Diet
Health & Medicine
HIT has a small, GeoBlue-approved hospital (5 to 10 minute walk from the dorms) that is suitable for minor situations like a common cold, stomach bug, fever, etc. For medical needs that can’t be met on campus, CET recommends a larger hospital (also approved by GeoBlue) about a 15 to 20 minute drive from campus. There are some prescription medications that are not accessible in China—students should do their research beforehand and ensure they bring their prescription and the necessary amount if in-country refills won’t be possible. For example, birth control pill brands in China differ from those in the US. Students can store any medication that requires refrigeration in the CET kitchen.
Keeping Fit in Harbin
Our host university, Harbin Institute of Technology (HIT), provides many campus amenities, including outdoor basketball, tennis, and volleyball courts and a track and field. Students can also make use of the ping pong tables and badminton courts in HIT’s athletic center for a small fee. Some students opt for a gym membership at a nearby fitness club for access to workout classes.
Managing Mental Health
Mental health resources in Harbin are limited and often only offer services in Chinese. There are a few online resources that may be available to students seeking mental health services.
Special dietary needs can be accommodated in China, but require patience and persistence as many local people are not used to the idea of dietary restrictions or severe food allergies.
Vegetarian students have found Halal restaurants to be more receptive to requests like not adding meat. Vegan, soy-free, and gluten-free students must be patient and clear when ordering food in China. Students with stricter dietary requirements are recommended to consider cooking their own meals in the dormitory’s shared kitchen.
Resources from Alumni
These are alumni-written essays that reflect upon how their own identity affected their time abroad in China (both good and bad) and what it was like to navigate another culture in their position. We encourage you to read these to better understand what studying abroad in China could be like for you or your future peers.
- Navigating China as a Black Woman: The Blacker the Berry the Sweeter the Juice
by Denise Jackson, CET Beijing | Fall 2019 & Janterm 2020
For “Students of color”
- CET Shanghai: Heritage Essay
by Anonymous Contributor, CET Shanghai | Summer 2019
- Support at CET Harbin
by Tatiana Wade, CET Harbin | Fall 2018
For “Students of color, low-income students, and those who want to go to China”
- Black in Beijing
by Minnie Norgaisse, CET Beijing | Spring 2018
- Japanese-American Experience in Shanghai/China
by Anonymous Contributor, CET Shanghai | Summer 2018
For “Japanese (Japanese/American) in China”
CHINA Alumni Insight
In final evaluations, we ask students how their identities affected their experience abroad. The following are a few select quotes from recent program evaluations to help you understand what life in China may be like for you or your future peers.
TALK TO ALUMNI
Chat with alumni about their experiences abroad. Once you start an application, your online CET account will give you access to the following resources:
- Alumni Support List: A directory of students who have volunteered to chat about their experiences abroad in Harbin.
- Identity Abroad Support Network: A group of students who have volunteered to discuss their identity-related experiences in Greater China. This is a volunteer-based program that started in 2019. Volunteers can also opt to have their contact information kept privately by CET staff and only shared when certain lived experiences are asked about.
Don’t see anyone listed for the Identity Abroad Support Network? Call CET for more information and resources. Consider joining after your program to support other minority students abroad.