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Cynthia Huang

SFU Student Undergraduate
Communication, Art + Technology › Communication › Publishing
Study Abroad › Exchange, Co-operative Education › Local Co-op

Home Country
I never really understood how much an exchange trip could change my perspective on myself and the world around me until I studied at Tsinghua University.
Experience Details
Introduction + Preparation

I initially wanted to pack light. Potentially one large suitcase, one carry-on, and one small backpack, so I would not have too many things to carry but still enough room for all of my essentials. It was not enough. My exchange trip to Beijing crosses into winter, and Beijing’s winter is different in comparison to Vancouver’s wet winter. I did some research before my trip to Beijing and found that the temperature goes below -15C, and there is rarely any rain. It is a dry dry climate with chilling winds. I recommend any students who will do their exchange in Beijing during the Fall semester come prepared with a big, thick, wind-blocking jacket. It is also helpful to bring thermal clothing and extra socks. Winter clothes take up more space than thin summer clothes, so do not be surprised if you end up with more luggage than expected. 

There are some hot days at the beginning of September. I suggest future students bring summer clothes so they won’t be sweating into oblivion in thirty-plus temperatures. 

Other essentials such as toiletries can be obtained in any one of the campus stores. It is cheap and good quality, so you don’t need to fill up your luggage space with toilet paper or tissues. Bedding and pillows are provided in the dorm. It is not necessary to pack it unless you prefer to. 

Travel and Transportation

Flights to China from Vancouver have been scarce and expensive since COVID-19. I took a flight with a stop in Japan to cut down the cost. It takes around eight hours to arrive at Japan’s Narita Airport and four hours from Japan to Beijing’s International Airport. 

There are different modes of transportation in Beijing. There is the metro, bus, and useful taxi services. For first-time visitors to Beijing, I would recommend students take a taxi through an app on WeChat called DIDI. There is an English version of the software, making it very easy to navigate for first-time travellers in China. After settling down in Beijing, the metro and bus are a great and affordable way to travel throughout Beijing. 

The two airports in Beijing are not very far away from Tsinghua University. By taxi, it is around forty minutes and thirty minutes without traffic. Students can set their destination as Tsinghua University North East Gate, and it will be a smooth journey from there. However, I must warn you about Beijing’s driving culture. It is a lot more lively than Vancouver. Sometimes you may feel like you are in Fast and Furious movies with the stops and swerves, but you will safely arrive at your destination on time, sometimes even faster, in one piece. 

Preparation Tips for Future Students

Your experience in China and at Tsinghua University can be immensely improved by the next two tips: 

  • DOWNLOAD WECHAT OR ALIPAY BEFORE YOU LAND! The majority of cash transactions, bookings, and communication in China are digital and through the app, Wechat or Alipay. Therefore, it is highly recommended for future students to download both apps before their trip. Cash is uncommon and while many stores still accept it, handless transactions are faster and more convenient. On campus, loading your meal card, using the laundry machine, and renting community bicycles, requires Wechat or Alipay. For future students, you can connect your credit cards to Alipay and use it for many transactions. 
  • PURCHASE A BIKE WHEN YOU ARRIVE ON CAMPUS! Tsinghua University is big. It is five times larger than Simon Fraser and walking anywhere on campus will require twenty minutes in comparison to an eight-minute bike ride. You can rent a community bike every day, but there might not be one available every time you need of one. Therefore, I recommend students purchase a bike for convenience. There are bike shops on campus that you can purchase from. If you wish to save some money, you can ask if there are second-hand bikes. New bikes cost around four hundred to five hundred yuan but old bikes can cost around two hundred yuan. 
During my Experience
Orientation and First Weeks

The first week of exchange requires many check-ins and getting comfortable. On September 17th (the day before the first official day of school), all exchange students are invited to attend a short orientation that gives a short yet detailed synopsis of the duration of our stays and the activities that will be present in the winter semester. Throughout the orientation, we will know the buildings and staff that can best assist with our present and future challenges. The orientation is informative and I recommend all students to attend.

Accommodation and Living

I stayed on campus during my exchange semester in the 20th Zijing International Building. I managed to successfully sign up for an AB room, which is a dorm with two separate rooms, a shared bathroom, and a common quarter. From my experience, the AB room provided enough privacy while having the ease of becoming friends with my roommate. My roommate was the first amazing friend I made at Tsinghua, and I wouldn’t have had the chance if I were to pick a solo dorm room. 


Learning and Adaptation

At Tsinghua University, I enrolled in four courses that consisted of two Chinese learning classes, one corporate communication class, and one philosophy class. It was not very difficult to adapt to these classes because they were mostly in English, so making friends and understanding the materials was not difficult. Class sizes were a good size of twenty to thirty people, except for my corporate communication class, which was a graduate-level course, that consisted of twelve students in total. The distribution of grades is not very new. It is similar to SFU. As long as you work hard, you will do well! 

Accomplishments and Challenges

My decision to attend Tsinghua University for exchange was to challenge myself and see if I could take a big step outside my comfort zone. I wanted to push my typically reserved personality. I wanted to practice my native language with confidence and become a person who takes the first step in introductions, and I am proud to declare that I might have met these goals of mine! Throughout the exchange, I made friends and actively signed up for school events or excursions that were planned for networking. I was rather nervous in the beginning, but over time I learned to love these events and meeting people in general. I may still stutter at times, but that is a small thing in comparison to the amount of wonderful people I met and learned from. I believe the opportunity to grow as a person is one of the most wonderful things in exchange. The opportunity to push ourselves in a new environment and meet open-minded and lovely people is something I encourage any student to experience, and Tsinghua University is a school that is perfect for this!

Social and Extracurricular Activities

Tsinghua University is a wonderful setting for social and extracurricular activities! I recommend any exchange students check out their club day and join any clubs that interest you! I joined the flower arrangement club and learned the intricacies of arranging a lovely bouquet and a centerpiece for a delightful garden party. If you are enrolled in classes that consist mostly of international students, clubs are also a great way to meet local students and learn more about Beijing! Don’t forget to explore Tsinghua’s landmarks. There is the famous gate and stone statue that is worth the sight!

Of course, there are also many places to see outside of school too! Beijing is a historical city with many monuments. I recommend the highly popular Forbidden City, the Temple of Heaven, and the Great Wall of China. These may seem like common sense places to go but it is a must! When you visit any famous attraction with historical significance, such as the Forbidden City, I highly recommend all students rent and wear hanfu to walk around! There are several dynasties of hanfus you can choose from and they are all beautiful. It enhances your experience and is great for pictures too! You can search for any hanfu shops on the app, 大众点评, or ask any local students and make an appointment from there. 

If you attend Tsinghua during the fall semester, you can go ice skating on the pond of the Summer Palace! It is a great experience to skate on the frozen pond under the beautiful blue sky with fascinating architecture surrounding you. The pond is frozen near the end of December and early January. If you are interested, check it out! 

Finally, for a nightly activity, if you love to sing, karaoke is so cheap in China! You can buy a karaoke package on the WeChat app, Meituan, for less than CAD 100 and have a karaoke room with included snacks for around three hours. There is a karaoke studio near the school that is only an 8-10 minute bike ride. 

Reflection & Tips

I will never forget my time at Tsinghua University. The exchange was full of self-reflection. When I first arrived, I was definitely a nervous and fumbling mess, but I left with a better and more confident version of myself. I realized how much my nerves would negatively impede my experience on the trip and I feared that more than the anxiousness. After recognizing this little trait of mine, I took my first stuttering breath and just winged it. I introduced myself to people and put myself into social situations that used to make my weak heart faint. After a few weeks, it dawned on me that this whole stepping outside my shell is not that hard after the first step. 

In all, there will be some anxieties in the beginning, but after meeting your dorm mates and your classmates, you will come to realize that you are not the only one with these worries. Everyone is nervous and everyone wants to make friends! You will not be alone at all, so strike up a conversation and the next thing you know, you will be laughing with your new friends while simultaneously stressing over an assignment that may or may not be due the next day. The first few days of nerves will be immediately forgotten and it will all seem like years ago.