08/10/17

So how easy is it for foreigners to study in China?

Sun Yat-Sen University North Gate

Recently Lena from Lenaaround shared an interesting article on Facebook: White Privilege as a Western Student in China. The article shares the experiences of foreign students and what privileges they felt they got during their studies, just because they were foreigners.

I’ve done my university education in China first as an exchange student, then as a bachelor and master’s degree student. Did I get privileges as a white foreigner?

As an exchange student

Back in 2009-2010 it was easy to come to Guangzhou as an exchange student. My university in Finland had cooperation with Guangzhou University, but no one wanted to come. Officially you could stay for 1 semester with free tuition (pay for accommodation and living expenses), but I managed to stay for 3 semesters because no one else wanted to come.

Because Guangzhou and Tampere (city in Finland where I studied) are friendship cities, everyone coming from Tampere got a big scholarship each year. I don’t remember how much it was, but it must have been at least a few hundred euros.

As a language exchange student all of my classes were with other foreign students and the teachers did check our attendance. In the end eveyone did pass their exams one way or the other. But it’s quite relaxed for non-degree students no matter which university.

As a bachelor degree student

Back in 2011 I got into Sun Yat-Sen University and their bachelor degree for foreigners simply by applying and paying the tuition. There were no scholarship for the BA available. I have heard that they are making it a bit harder to get in these days, because they are losing reputation as as the 10th best university in China if they let any foreinger in.

Again I was studying with other foreigners only and our attendance was strictly monitored. But just getting in to Sun Yat-Sen University so easily can be seen as white privilege as it’s very difficult for Chinese nationals to get in through the official exams.

As a master’s degree student

Again it’s easier for foreigners to apply and Confucius Institute offers good scholarship espeically for my degree, Teaching Chinese as a Second Language. They want to educate more foreigners to teach Chinese.

Getting in definitely took more effort than for the BA. I had a HSK6 already so that wasn’t a problem. Then I needed recommendation letters from my professors. As I was a good student during my BA, the teachers had a good impression of me so they were very helpful in getting me in for the MA degree. The final confirmation came from the Confucius Institute and I received a full scholarship that included free tuition, free dormitory (which I didn’t take) and monthly pocket money (first 1700rmb and later 3000rmb per month.)

This time I was studying both with foreign and Chinese students. Compared to my Chinese classmates, I definitely got in easier and I received a big scholarship which made it sometimes a bit embarrassing to mention to my classmates.

During our courses I didn’t feel that it was easier for me to pass them as a foreigner, I was a good hard working student in any case. I know other foreign classmates failed some of their exams and had to take them again, the teachers didn’t let them pass based on the color of their skin.

Outside the campus

In the original article they mention other privileges outside the campus like free entrance and drinks for clubs. It is true that as a white foreigner in China, I do have some things easier here, but that is for another blog post. Stay tuned for more!

08/1/17

First day at Japanese Daycare in Guangzhou

Today was our daughter’s first day at daycare in Guangzhou, a big day for all of us. The past year she has been at home with a full time nanny, but now it was time to join the kindergarten.

Why Japanese daycare then? In Guangzhou, perhaps China in general, finding a good daycare isn’t easy. First of all you need to consider if it’s safe, unfortunately violent punishments  might still happen in some daycares. On the other spectrum there are paradise like kindergartens that cost 1000 euros per month!

For us this daycare combines safe environment, nice teachers, good location and in our budget. We also had a strong recommendation from a friend of mine. 

We dropped Anna off around 8am (which requires us to get up at 6.30am). She cried when we left but soon stopped. For newcomers they appoint a designated teacher that takes care of him or her. Anna was in a close distance with her teacher the whole day, often in her arms. 

During the day we got 5 short video clips from the teacher to assure us Anna is doing okay and safe. To make us nervous parents to feel a bit better.

Unfortunately Anna wasn’t comfortable enough to nap there so she was very tired when I picked her up at 5pm. She fell asleep in the car on the way home.

At the daycare each child had a notebook where teachers will write what happened that day. It’s in Japanese, but luckily my husband is fluent in the language. (The teachers do speak Chinese too.) They also record body temperature, food eaten, bathroom visits and nap time. I believe Finland has a similar habit in the kindergartens though not necessarily recording so many details.

The teachers send daily video clips to the parents so moms and dads know what happens in the daycare. That’s especially important as our daughter can’t yet explain or tell us her self. I like to go over the day during or after dinner with her.

First day was quite nervous was us all, but we are still happy with our choice and think Anna will enjoy the daycare soon.

12/21/16

Choosing a Chinese teacher

Striving to be the best Chinese teacher

Choosing the right Chinese teacher isn’t always easy. 

I recently found an interesting article on the issue on fluentinmandarin.com. They created a checklist of things to look for when looking for a good Chinese teacher.Here is how I’m striving to be the best teacher on their 8 criteria.

1. Somebody who really knows their stuff

I’ve been learning Chinese since 2008, I have the highest certificate in Chinese (for foreigners) which is HSK6 and I have a Master’s Degree in Teaching Chinese as a Second Language.

More than that, I’ve made countless of mistakes during the years and learned from them. You don’t need to make the same mistakes.

2. Somebody knows the ‘why’ and can explain things

I’ve learned Chinese from zero as well. I had to go the hard way and memorize characters, pinyin, times, grammar rules and so on.

During my studies I’ve asked countless of “why” questions and still strive to find the answer to any question my students have.

3. Somebody who can engage you and make Chinese interesting

Studying needs to be interesting otherwise students will soon give up. With every student I try to find out what makes them click and use that to motivate them.

Group lessons and great for motivating to study! HSK tests are also good goals and getting that shiny certificate for your wall will make miracles for your confidence.

4. Somebody who can think logically and teach in a structured way

I will teach Chinese from the Western point of view and use teaching methods I would enjoy my self too. The Chinese educational tradition might be too different for us, so I will combine the best of both ways in my classes.

For structure I mostly work with a good textbook or create an outline for course based on research. I did my MA thesis in textbook design.

5. Somebody who can encourage and motivate you (but also give you useful feedback)

Motivating students is one of the biggest challenges in my job, but I have a few aces in my sleeve to get people excited of learning Chinese! 

But good feedback is important as well! I will keep on correcting your biggest mistakes so they won’t hinder your communication.

6. Somebody who is passionate about their subject

I have made Chinese to grow from hobby to major to my career, hard to find anyone more passionate about Mandarin!

I love reading about learning and teaching Mandarin, trying to stay up to date in the newest books and apps.

7. A good Chinese teacher needs to be patient

If you ask my students, they can vouch that patience I have plenty! Slow and steady progress is often much better than trying to rush things without learning them well.

8. Somebody who you get on well with

Well this last one is personal and hard to answer my self. I see me as an easy going person, but I’d rather let you decide it!

So why don’t you meet up with me for a cup of tea (offline in Guangzhou or online on Skype) and find out. You can reach me on the contact form here.

12/16/16

Easy study tips for the holidays

The holiday season is starting, Christmas, New Year, Chinese New Year and other festivities are on their way. Many go back home to visit family, other’s travel abroad for an escape holiday trip. No matter how you spend your holidays, studying might be the last thing in your mind. But taking a long break from classes is an easy way to forget some of the vocabulary and phrases you have worked so hard to learn.

Here are some relaxed study tips you can follow to both enjoy the holidays, but also keep on learning Chinese.

Listen to interesting podcasts

While you are laying on the beach in Thailand or on your couch in front of a fireplace, plug-in your earphones and enjoy a short podcast lesson in Chinese. The good thing about podcasts is that they are easy to study, but also a great way to practise your listening skills. You might enjoy these Christmasy podcasts from ChinesePod: Spending Christmas in China and Christmas Dinner. (Affiliate links)

Tips: Listen to one podcast per day, for example before going to bed, in the car or when taking public transport.

Watch movies or video clips

Watching Chinese movies can bring you the language environment while also relaxing on a vacation. If you are inside China, you can find a large variety of movies on Youku.com. For beginners I recommend the original Happy Chinese series that consists of short episodes geared towards foreigners learning Chinese. I used to binge watch it during my first years in China.

Tips: When you aren’t in the mood for real studying, relax with the right language environment and hop on to Youku and its endless options of video entertainment. Perfect for lazy days on the bed.

Chat away on WeChat

WeChat is the hottest and biggest app in China, combining features like WhatsApp, Facebook and many many more. It’s an educational tool as well! I have set up a group for Chinese discussion where you can practise your Mandarin by typing pinyin or characters. You can also send voice messages to practise your spoken skills. The fee is only 100CNY per month and if you want to join us, just send me an email!

Tips: Besides joining my discussion group, you can also follow many other learning resources and Chinese articles on WeChat. Try to chat or read a bit in Chinese every day.


All of us enjoy some time off work and studies, but there are easy ways to keep Chinese in your life even on a vacation. Find the way that suits you the best or try different things according to your mood of the day.

11/30/16

How to remember Chinese words

After starting Chinese lessons with full energy, you will soon notice that it keeps getting harder and harder to remember the words you have learned as new words are coming your way every lesson. It’s time to create a system for reviewing and remembering words!

Chinese textbook

Chinese textbook

Reading textbook dialogues

One easy way to review is to read the textbook dialogues out loud, even better if you do it as listen and repeat after the textbook mp3. By listening you will hear the correct model audio and by repeating you will practise pronouncing the words in a correct way and review vocabulary at the same time.

Tips: Read out one dialogue per day. At first you’ll be reading the same dialogue between your first lessons. Later when you progress you can choose which dialogue to read out loud as you have many to choose from those you have studied already.

Chinese flashcards

Chinese flashcards

Making paper flaschards

Flashcards are a great way to memorize and review vocabulary. By making your own flashcards you will get an extra strong review while you create your cards and a second review when you go over them. Put your cards in two piles, answered correctly -pile and answered incorrectly -pile.

Tips: Review the correctly -pile once per week and incorrectly -pile once per day.

Skritter

Skritter

Using Skritter app to review

You can also go modern and use Skritter electronic flashcards (affiliate link) on your phone, tablet or laptop. After you have purcharged a subsription (totally worth the investment!) browse word lists and find your textbook. For example for most of my students you should go to browse published lists and find Our Chinese Classroom 1 made by xuefang.

Tips: Use Skritter for 5 minutes every day. It will choose for you what you need to review so your job is to make the time for it.