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Alexander SartoreAlexander Sartore
Beijing Normal University, China

How it Started
I chose to go to Beijing Normal University (BNU), because I wanted to get better at speaking Chinese. I felt that being immersed in a country that spoke Chinese would be one of the best ways for me to learn it. I was right, becauseI went from not knowing how to say the word "homework" in Chinese to being able to hold a conversation by the end of my semester in Beijing.

The accommodations at BNU were superb. There are three dorms (called "Student Apartotels") that international students can choose to live in. I lived in Student Apartotel No. 3, which had maids who came in every day to clean our rooms. I personally really appreciated this aspect of my accommodation. I would practice my Chinese with them, and they were very nice about it. On the first floor of my building, there was a McDonald's for those of us who had a late night craving for some Western food for a change. There was also a massage shop on the basement floor that was my favorite place to go after a hard workout in the gym. It was less than ten dollars for an hour of traditional Chinese massage. I had my own bedroom, and I shared a living space and a bathroom with my Korean suitemate. The rooms came with a refrigerator, a couch, a television with mostly Chinese shows, a bed with sheets and a water heater, among other things.

There were a few trips that BNU prepared for their exchange students during my stay, and one of the trips was to the Great Wall. A lot of my friends were going, and it was free, so I decided to go. There were nine huge buses full of students that traveled to the Great Wall that day, so it was a great opportunity to be able to meet other students from all over the world eager to learn about the Chinese culture and language. It was a beautiful day. The sky was blue and the mountain air was fresh and crisp. We could not have asked for a better day to take a trip to the Great Wall. It was an amazing experience to be able to walk along the path of such a historic monument that dates back for thousands of years.

Everyday Life
My favorite thing about my study abroad experience in Beijing was the everyday life that I had there. I loved being a part of the city. I loved interacting with the people of Beijing, practicing the new Chinese words that I learned that day. I loved being a regular at restaurants where the servers recognized me and asked me how to say words in English. I loved working out in a gym along side other Chinese people listening to American pop music. I loved drinking tea and conversing with a Chinese cashier at an on-campus grocery store. I loved going to coffee shops with other exchange students and studying Chinese with them. It was an amazing experience being immersed in a city so rich in culture and hospitality.


  • Don't be shy! I learned a lot more Chinese because I went out and practiced speaking with the locals in Beijing. You'll be surprised how willing and helpful people are.
  • The Student Apartotels in BNU are only for international students, so if you want to meet other Chinese students, you have to make an effort to do so. A lot of my friends in BNU found Chinese students who wanted to learn English and they helped each other in learning their respective foreign language.
  • Buy a public transportation card. It can be bought in the subway stations, and can be used for the buses and the subways within the city. Using these cards instead of cash is less than half the price and really convenient.
  • Get to know a little bit about Beijing through some reading online or a book. “Insider's Guide to Beijing” is a great book to get you started!

Page updated: 06-May-2010

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