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!


Survey for international women living in China

At the moment I’m in the process of writing my master’s thesis. My research plan was approved and I’ve started to gather replies for my survey. Finding enough people from my target group hasn’t been easy, and I’m still looking for more expat women to answer my short survey.

This survey is for:

  • foreign expat women living in Mainland China
  • stay-at-home women like housewives and trailing spouses
  • haven’t studied Mandarin at all or have studied less than 1 year
  • is not married to a Chinese national

If you fit all these criteria above, it would be a huge help if you could spare a few minutes and answer to my survey here. (http://www.wenjuan.com/s/QVbE7vD/)

Or if you know expat women fitting the demographics, please share the survey with them!

Thank you everyone for your help and support!


Writing a Research Plan in Chinese

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Now that my bachelor’s thesis seems like a faded memory, it’s time to start my master’s thesis! I’ve finished my fist year of graduate school and all of my courses expect thesis writing that will begin next week. Of course I’m being optimistic and hope that I have passed all the courses I took!

Back in 2013 I wrote about writing a thesis in Chinese and then defending it in Chinese. For a master’s thesis the process is similar:

  1. Write a research plan (开题报告)
  2. Research plan is evaluated by your teachers (one or two that are supervising your thesis writing) [End of August]
  3. Make  changed if (when) necessary
  4. Present the research plan in front of three teachers who will ask questions and offer valuable feedback (开题报告会) [Mid-September]
  5. If necessary come up with a new topic (if the first one didn’t pass), or make changed to your research plan according to the advice
  6. Write a first draft of the thesis
  7. Send the first draft to your supervising teachers for feedback [Around Chinese New Year 2016]
  8. Write your thesis again according to the feedback, write the final draft
  9. Present and defend your thesis in front of three teachers, pass and get a grade or if unlucky (your supervising teacher didn’t warn you) you get back to the drawing board [Around May 2016]
  10. Make final corrections and print your thesis

Originally the deadline for the final draft is around the Chinese New Year next year, but because I happen to have a baby deadline coming in the beginning of November, I’m planning to get my first draft done before that as well.

Right now I’m in the process of reading research papers and theses around my topic, making notes and papering the theory section of my thesis. Before the end of the month I also need to make an outline for my thesis as well as a schedule how I’m going to finish my thesis in time. Basically I have to write the beginning of my thesis from Introduction to Research methods.

Luckily together with my supervisors I came up with a great topic for my thesis that I’m very excited about. I can use the knowledge I’ve gathered for my graduate courses, the experience from teaching my students and hopefully write something that will help me a lot in the future with my students.


Busy Autumn Continues


Finnish Booth During Culture Day

It’s been over a month since my last post, the busy life of a graduate student in China, because I’ve truly been that busy with lectures, homework and teaching. Today I wanted to take the time to relax and update my blog that has become way too quiet since I started my master’s degree.

Some of my classmates, especially the locals students, stay up until after midnight writing homework or planning events for our department. I’ve been lucky to be able to sleep well, only a few times staying up until 1am. Because of all our courses are done during our first year, its gets very hectic and many of my classmates have complained the department, now the teachers are actually giving us a chance to voice our opinions anonymously.


The cat’s aren’t happy that I don’t have enough time to play with them

I’ve been mostly enjoying the busy life since doing nothing for half a year, challenging my self with studies has been great. I’m reading a lot more in Chinese than I ever have, we also have plenty of opportunities to practice our spoken language during class, group discussions and presentations. Once I mentioned during class that I didn’t learn pronunciation properly during my first year of studies in Finland, after that the head of our department always corrects my fourth tone when he gets the chance! I was a bit annoyed first, but now just take it as a chance to improve.


At taiji class

I got excellent thesis supervisors, one energetic and excellent younger teacher with a lot of passion. Another one is bit older and in charge of us graduate students, one of the most important teachers at our department. This first semester is mostly for study and reading tons of research to pave the way for thesis writing next year. One of my supervisors hinted that I could do something related to vocabulary, especially synonyms, but I also have others interests that I would like to pursue.

Me and my husband Alan are staying in Guangzhou for the foreseeable future, but you never know if we at some point find out selves in Finland. I’ve slowly started to understand the current state of Chinese teaching in Finland, connecting with a few great teachers that has been so kind to share their experiences with me. It’s very interesting to see how Chinese teaching and learning continues to grow in Finland, it’s already grown so much since I was studying Chinese at Tampere.


Only some of the books I’m reading this Autumn

I don’t often do “this is what I’ve been doing” posts, but as you all know, being a student means a lot of time at classrooms, lecture halls, libraries and having my nose buried into books. It’s very interesting, but doesn’t leave much time to explore anything else. Thank you for still being here with me along the journey!

I almost forgot, we booked tickets to Malaysia for our honeymoon in January! First we will be spending a week at Kota Kinabalu and then two nights at Kuala Lumpur. It’s going to be the ultimately best way to end our first year as a married couple, and also my first busy semester as a graduate student.


Busy Life of a Graduate Student

Sun Yat-Sen University

It’s been a busy start of the semester, but finally I found the time to share my first thoughts and feelings how it’s like to be a graduate student in China. As most of you know, I did my bachelor degree here at Sun Yat-Sen University first, and continued to the master’s this August. Doing the undergrad was more like going to high school: go to lessons, do your homework, take exams, just with an added bonus of writing a thesis in the end.


Doing a master’s in Teaching Chinese (or International Chinese Education as we call it), is something totally different. My studies consist of following elements:

  • lessons
  • individual homework
  • group projects
  • reading articles, research papers, books
  • writing project reports and course papers
  • listening to experienced teachers teach
  • teaching simulation
  • internship at Chinese Teaching Materials Base

My current courses can be seen on the schedule above, later this year two courses will be added to the mix. Next year Spring and Summer semester will continue more or less in a same way, leaving the teaching internship and thesis writing for the last year.


Studying a graduate degree in a second language is always a big challenge, what makes it a bit easier is that in our class of 63 students, we have 22 foreign students from all over the world. We come from different cultures, but also have similar challenges in studying a degree in Chinese. It means a lot to have this support group.

All of our courses are of course taught in Chinese and I can follow the lessons well. I can see that some teachers are still a bit unsure in which way their teaching can keep both the foreign and Chinese students happy, but in general it’s us foreigners that need to keep up with the Chinese.

Reading a lot of material in Chinese is also a challenge at the moment, but at the same time a good way for me to improve my reading skills and speed. I will be reading papers mainly on teaching, psychology and culture fields, using digital versions on my iPad whenever possible.

Later on writing course papers will present another challenge, I need to improve my written Chinese and avoid too colloquial expressions in my writing. I believe reading a lot helps with writing skills as well.

A good choice

I’ve been very happy that I got the scholarship and the chance to continue my studies here at Sun Yat-Sen University, during the years it has already turned into my home university. I just got the news that the supervisor teachers I chose also chose me, so I will be doing my thesis next year in a good company.

This is just the beginning of my degree, there will most probably be sweat and tears along the way, but hopefully also feelings of success and happiness. I will keep you posted!