Written by Mercedes Chen (The George Washington University), Student Correspondent CET Beijing, Fall 2019
Before arriving in China, I thought the time I’d spent working and studying in other countries had prepared me for the transition to student life in Beijing. However, in the first few weeks I struggled with the language pledge as an absolute beginner student and I had trouble accessing my Gmail and doing other things online because of the slow Wi-Fi and a weak VPN connection. I decided to write a list of places, strategies and activities that helped me get comfortable living in Beijing with the hope that it can help future students. If you’re still considering CET Beijing, I say absolutely go for it! My Chinese has improved more than I ever imagined it could in just three months and I’ve grown so much as an individual.
Here are my tips and recommendations for student life in Beijing:
1. Find your way around campus and the surrounding area in the first week.
A few of my favorite places near campus:
- The big 物美 WuMart has most things you need for daily life, school supplies, fresh fruit and veggies (~11 minute walk from campus). There’s also a small WuMart on campus that’s good for snacks and necessities.
- Lava fitness gym is well equipped and maintained. (~15 minute walk from campus) (bring your student card when signing up to get the student discount)
- TeaDeYa has strong and fast Wi-Fi. The seating area is rather small, but in the evening it’s not that crowded. (~12 minute walk from campus)
2. Learn how to use the metro and bus systems.
iPhone users can use Apple Maps which worked great for me. You can also download AMap or use Baidu if you won’t be using an iPhone.
3. TimeOutBeijing.com and Trip.com are both great resources.
- You can access timeoutbeijing.com with or without your VPN turned on and it has a lot of recommendations for Beijing.
- Trip.com is a great booking website for trains and other accommodations in China because you can use a foreign credit card and passport information.
4. Immerse yourself more in the culture, especially when you’re feeling like you don’t fit in.
5. Go to a nearby park.
Go at night for some exercise, fun, and language practice with locals.
6. Explore Beijing
This city is filled with popular spots and historic sites. You can use the commute time to practice Chinese by reading the signs and listening to the people around you. (always bring your student id for discounts and some places require your passport). Some of the spots I liked:
- Tiananmen Square (surrounded by: Mausoleum of Mao Zedong, National Museum of China, Palace Museum)
- Temple of Heaven
- Olympic Park
- Check out a hutong like Nanluoguxiang
7. Go on the free (!) CET trips and outings.
The activities will vary each semester, but this semester’s activities included:
- An overnight hiking trip to the Great Wall
- Beijing Opera
- Dumpling making
- Summer Palace
- 798 District
- Weekend trip to Xi’an
8. Explore on your own!
Once you get comfortable using the metro and paying for things, I suggest you try exploring for a day on your own. It’ll encourage you to interact more with locals and try new things.
9. Invite your roommate to do things with you and start conversations when you’re together.
My roommate and I went to Tiananmen Square, the movies and malls, and we often ate dinner together. In the first few weeks, she helped me setup my bank account and get comfortable taking the metro while going to pick up tickets at the train station.
10. Stay connected
Stay connected to friends and family at home, your classmates and teachers, and most importantly yourself and your goals.
11. Get into a festive spirit with CET for a few American holidays and traditions.
This made it feel like we had a little piece of home with us in Beijing. We had a costume contest for Halloween and students cooked their favorite dishes to share with everyone for Thanksgiving.
12. Try the extracurricular classes that CET offers.
This semester, CET had optional martial arts and painting classes. They each ran for 6 weeks and met once a week for ~2 hours. I did both and had a lot of fun!
13. If you like to start your day with a cup of coffee, Cheesefans is a great place to study in the morning before class starts.
It’s usually pretty empty and quiet before 8:30am. Bonus: The Americano is half price before 10am.
14. Prioritize your health and get enough sleep!
Keep hydrated, wear a pollution mask when you need to, and know it’s okay to take a break from the dining hall food.
- If you get tired of eating the dining hall food, you can use 外卖 (waimai) for delivery food. You can also find fresh fruit in stores very close to campus or try to cook veggies in the kitchen.
- I liked to buy some staple foods at WuMart like yogurt, instant oatmeal, peanut butter, and bananas.
15. There are several fruit stores in and around campus.
My favorite is around the corner from the small WuMart that’s on campus.
16. Be open to vulnerability.
Tips to motivate you through the rough days
1. Remember: It’s totally normal to have really good days followed by really rough days.
There will be days when you get frustrated with your Chinese or with the cultural differences. However, in general, your experience is going to be what you make of it, so be easy on yourself when you’re having a difficult time, but also try to think of the situation in a different perspective and get creative and adventurous with solutions.
2. At first, the intensity of the schedule might seem intimidating, but once you figure out the learning process and get into a routine it will get a lot better.
Trust the process, remind yourself why you chose this intensive and immersive language program, and stick to your goals. All the hard work will be pay off at the end of the semester when you see how much your Chinese has improved.