Chinese Corner: How to pass HSK test

As many of you know, this Autumn I have started working at a Chinese language center where we train Chinese teachers and offer tutoring for foreigners in Mandarin Chinese. Tomorrow night will be the first event I’m organizing and I wanted to let everyone living in Guangzhou to know about it.

onlineversionClick to view larger flyer

This event is all about the HSK test. Introducing the different levels of HSK, sharing tips on how to prepare, what to do on the exam and answer your questions about learning Chinese and testing your level. I will share how I learned Chinese and passed HSK6 and other students will share their own experiences.

You can register for the even on Guangzhou Stuff or sending me an email to sara (a) sarajaaksola.com. If you forget to register now problem, you are still more than welcome to join us!

p.s. I’m preparing a new blog post about cultural challenges you encounter even after several years in China. Please subscribe to my blog on the right sidebar to get new posts delivered to your email.


How To Apply For The Confucius Institute Scholarships


Today’s guest post comes from Emily who shares her experience and tips on how to apply for the Confucius Institute Scholarships and study in China for free.

I started taking Chinese classes at the Confucius Institute last fall, and after finishing graduate school and moving back to my hometown, Portland, OR, United States. I was already planning a trip to China, but hadn’t decided when to go when I learned about the Confucius Institute Scholarships almost by accident. Although it meant going to China later than I had originally planned, I decided to apply, and was of course very happy that I got the scholarship to study Chinese at the Capital University of Economics and Business in Beijing for a semester.

Applying for the scholarship was confusing and frustrating. In this post, I am going to give some advice for how to apply for the Confucius Institute Scholarships, based on my experience.

Keep in mind this is based on my experience applying for the scholarship in 2013. Things might have changed for this year.

What are the Confucius Institute Scholarships?

confucious_institute-logo2These scholarships are sponsored by the Confucius Institute Headquarters (so, indirectly, the Chinese government). There are three scholarships: for one semester, two semesters or for a two-year Master’s degree in teaching Chinese as a foreign language. The scholarship webpage is cis.chinese.cn.

The scholarships cover tuition, materials, on-campus accommodation, health care and insurance and a monthly allowance of CNY 1,400 for semester and year students, CNY 1,700 for the Master’s degree students.

When you apply, you can choose which university you would like to study at. Click here for the list of possible universities.

What are the requirements?

The requirements vary based on the study length.

For one semester of study, applicants have to have either taken and passed at least level 2 of the written HSK exam with a score of at least 120 and scored at least 40 on the elementary level oral HSK exam. Alternatively, people who have taken at least 60 hours of classes at a Confucius Institute are eligible. People aged 16-35 qualify.

For one academic year, applicants have to pass the level 3 written HSK exam with a score of at least 180 and score at least 60 on the elementary HSK oral exam, or have taken 120 hours or more of classes at a Confucius Institute. People aged 16-35 qualify.

The scholarship requirements for those who wish to get a Master’s in teaching Chinese are a little more stringent. These students have to pass the HSK level 5 with a score of at least 180 and pass the intermediate oral HSK with a score of at least 50. Also, you have to commit to teaching Chinese for 5 years after graduation, and you must have a letter of support from the school that you will be teaching in. People aged up to 45 are eligible.

Learn From My Mistakessara at sunyatsen university

1.    The Confucius Institute in Portland told me that I did not need to take the oral HSK to qualify for the scholarships. So I didn’t take it at the time I took the written HSK, and ended up having to scramble and take the oral HSK right before the scholarship deadline. I think the Portland Confucius Institute gave this misinformation to many people, because they added an extra HSK exam at the last minute.

I would recommend taking the HSK as early as possible, because it took two months longer to get the results than I was originally told.

2.    I had a lot of trouble with the essay – trouble that had nothing to do with the difficulty of writing a coherent, let alone eloquent, essay in Chinese.

First of all, I didn’t realize that I needed to write an essay at all until I started the online application process, which I should have started sooner. The instructions on the first page of the application very clearly said, in Chinese and English, that the essay had to be no less than 800 words. When I got to the box to input the essay, I got an error saying that the essay had to be between 100 and 800 words. I trimmed it and got it to 780 words and continued getting the same error.

Then I went to the Confucius Institute Office and they tried for me – and I discovered that Chinese computers count words differently than my Mac does, even when I’ve written using Chinese characters.The on-line application would not accept my essay until it had been whacked down to under 500 words, due to what I can only assume is a technical error. I was a little sad, because I was quite proud of my original essay.

3.    The first page of the on-line application provides an extensive list of the documents you will need to fill out the application – scanned copies of your passport, your transcripts, your signature (to sign the application digitally), your HSK results and your essay.

It made no mention of a recommendation, so when I got to the last page of the application, the day before it was due, and discovered that I needed a recommendation letter from my Chinese teacher, I was extremely dismayed – especially because my Chinese teacher was on vacation in China at that moment. Luckily the Portland Confucius Institute helped me enormously and wrote me a quick recommendation – otherwise my application would have been doomed.

4.    If you have ever studied in China before, you have to submit a scanned ‘proof’ of that study. I did a five-week course in Chinese in Beijing in 2007, and miraculously I had my certificate from that program handy. If I hadn’t, I’m not sure what I would have done.

Although my Chinese is good enough that this wasn’t a problem, keep in mind that the application’s drop-down menus (to choose things like the Confucius Institute you are applying through or which university in China you want to study at) are in Chinese only.

sunyatsen university

Things You Need To Know If You Are Applying

Based on my experiences, to apply for the Confucius Institute Scholarships you need the following documents scanned into a digital format:

  1. Your passport
  2. Your HSK results – written and oral!
  3. Your transcripts or diploma from your highest-level degree.
  4. If you have every studied in China, some sort of document or certificate to prove it.
  5. An essay about your experiences learning Chinese and why you want to study in China
  6. A LETTER OF RECOMMENDATION from your Chinese teacher – I got the impression that if this letter of recommendation carries a bit more weight if it comes from a teacher at a Confucius Institute.
  7. Two letters of recommendation / support from the place you plan to teach Chinese after graduation if you plan to apply for the Master’s Degree program in teaching Chinese as a second language.
  8. A scanned copy of your signature.

The whole process has to be completed fairly quickly, as well. The Confucius Institute in Portland sent out the announcement about the scholarship on March 19th, and the application was due on April 1. That is less than two weeks to get all of your documents, recommendations and essays ready!

My understanding is that you do have to apply for the scholarship through a Confucius Institute. I don’t think you must have taken classes at the Confucius Institute in order to apply for the scholarship, but it certainly doesn’t hurt.

The scholarship winners are supposed to be notified by July 1st. I found out that I had been awarded the scholarship when one of the Confucius Institute teachers told me in mid-July, and I got the official notification at the end of July. There was only one problem: I had applied for spring 2014, and I was award the scholarship for the fall of 2013. A couple of frantic e-mails later, the university agreed to change the dates to spring, as I had originally requested. I am still waiting for the new paperwork (which I need to apply for the visa!).

I should also mention that I did not originally apply to study at the Capitol University of Economics and Business – I applied to two other Beijing universities, but not that one. I didn’t really care which university I studied at, and I am very glad that one accepted me. I don’t think there was a limit to the number of universities you could apply for, so if you don’t care, it might be a good idea to apply to a large number of universities.

One last wrinkle to be aware of: My husband is planning on coming with me to China and I was hoping that we would both be able to stay in the on-campus accommodation that the university provides. Unfortunately, I asked the university and they said that is not possible, so we will have to find some other place to live when he is there.

I am hoping that there won’t be any more complications in the process. Now I am just looking forward to going to China next spring!

If you have questions about the scholarship application process, please leave a comment and I will do my best to answer them.

Emily Liedel is a writer, translator and polyglot. She has lived in Switzerland, Russia, Spain and France and speaks German, Russian, Spanish, French and (a little) Chinese. She writes about language learning and living abroad at The Babel Times. She lives in Portland, Oregon with her husband and two chickens, and is eagerly preparing to go to China!


Move to China and become a celebrity


If you are a white foreign woman like me, or otherwise different from the Chinese because of your appearance, be mentally ready to turn into a celebrity. Not that you would get movie roles as you get off the plane, but you might be much more noticed on the streets than you were back home.

First you will hear those whispers (or more like shouts) around you: “看,是外国人!” “kàn, shì wàiguórén” “Look, it’s a foreigner!” Chinese people seem to make a hobby out of pointing out all the foreigners they see on the streets, restaurants and public transportation means. Two words for foreigner you hear the most are 外国人 wàiguórén  and 老外 lǎowài.

You will hear kids and adults all shouting “hello” or more like “halou” at you where ever you walk. It’s fun when they are kids with cute smiles and I usually wave my hand and greet them back. But when it’s an adult and a total stranger, I often just ignore them if the situation feels a bit uncomfortable. I totally ignore them if they shout something like 洋妞 yángniū foreign babe at me! (Really, this happened once in my home village.)

If you know Chinese you might hear full  conversations about you being discussed around you. Just two days ago I was walking home from the bus stop and passed by a group of young men. There isn’t many foreigners living around here (perhaps just three on this island) so there is a chance that I was the first foreigner those guys saw around here. They started discussing about me in Cantonese, but unfortunately my Cantonese wasn’t good enough to understand that much.

One step closer to stardom is having your pictures taken, with or without permission. Nowadays everyone has a camera on their phone and there are probably more photos of you out there than you even realize. I’ve had my photo taken in the Forbidden City, on a beach in Hainan island, in a metro with my boyfriend and tens of times more in other places. I rarely deny if someone asks to take a photo of me as they usually ask nicely, but I don’t like having me captured without permission.

You might also notice that when you move to or travel in China, everyone wants to be your friend. I get asked of my mobile phone number, QQ number or WeChat account on almost on a monthly basis on metros, busses, at the gym etc. I never give my phone number to strangers, but sometimes I give my QQ or WeChat if I find the person interesting and would like to make friends with them. But very often it’s just an awkward “no” when I don’t want to see that person again and they insist on having my contact information.

So moving to China will have a huge impact on your privacy and the way others react when seeing you. It can feel funny at first, but you might grow tired of it after a year, and a two, three, four… Just remember that the Chinese don’t do this to annoy you, it’s just a totally different culture down here.

Have locals taken pictures of you too in China? Share your experiences in the comments!


Going to the gym in China – wearing a miniskirt!

Going to the gym in ChinaPhoto by HealthGauge

I went to the gym today with my boyfriend and even though that is quite the news, I used to almost hate working out, but there was something much more interesting in the gym than my red face. As it was a Sunday afternoon, there weren’t that many people on the gym that is located at the Guangzhou University in Higher Educational Mega Center.

I’ve heard about this kind of thing happening in the gym before, but hadn’t witnessed it myself before. So I almost didn’t believe my eyes when I saw this girl on a treadmill. Her body was like from the pages of a fashion magazine. She was wearing leggings, leather miniskirt, high-heel sneakers and a small top that didn’t cover her stomach. She was walking on a treadmill with a mobile phone on her hand!

So how do you actually work out in a leather miniskirt? For her working out seemed to mean walking slowly and showing her body off to the guys lifting the weights. The way she was walking, like on a runway, it was quite clear she wasn’t there to get sweaty.

Sure I have seen girls and guys working on their jeans and stuff, but leather miniskirt girl was totally something special. Have you encountered something as strange in a gym somewhere in the globe?


Living and having fun in Guangzhou

Living in Guangzhou

I’ve been living in Guangzhou since March 2010, have been to many places and noticed that there really is much to see and do here in Canton! Sure I have heard how others love Hong Kong, rest of them swear by Shenzhen, but I’m sure that’s just because they haven’t really seen what Guangzhou is like.

So you are out and about in Guangzhou, where do you go? In this post I will introduce a few great websites that will point you to the next best restaurant, bar, event or an ancient village to explore.

City Weekend Guangzhou

If you’ve been to Beijing or Shanghai, you might have seen their magazine, but even though we don’t have anything on print here in Guangzhou yet, their website is still full of great recommendations. And new ones coming up all the time!

Check out what to eat and where to drink and party in Guangzhou.

Guangzhou Stuff

What’s going on today in Guangzhou? Check out the events in Guangzhou Stuff and plan your day of fun! This is where I heard of the German Chamber of Commerce’s Students and Young Professionals events for the first time, they are organized once a month and an amazing way to meet new faces.

eChinacities Guangzhou

For sightseeing and places worth visiting you should check out Travel & Outdoors section over at eChinacities. They have great recommendations for cultural and historical day trips as well, featuring many places that are on my wish list.

the nanfang

For interesting news from Guangzhou (+ Shenzhen +Dongguan) head to thenanfang.com. They for example reported how Guangzhou is banning the favourite pastime of middle aged women in Guangzhou, at least in some areas. Oh and if you really want to see some dancing, be sure to visit the North Gate of Sun Yat-Sen University after 6pm. It’s packed every night!

Did I miss a website that should be on this list? Please let me know in the comments. Also share with us what you do for fun in Guangzhou.