Beijing Normal University, China
As one of the first students to come to Beijing Normal University, I had little to base my expectations on other than a book my father gave me when I traveled here called “Mr. China.” I knew I was coming to one of the largest cities in the world and one of the best universities in China but other than that I was excitedly clueless. Having traveled in China before I was not worried about culture shock and I was banking on my guinea pig status to help me through the rough institutional adjustment parts.
I have three classes. Roughly translated they are listening, conversation, and reading. Each class is an hour and a half three times a week with a five minute break in the middle. We have two classes a day except for Wednesdays when we have one class and an optional “tutoring” class with the homeroom teacher. You have the same students in every class so you really get to know them well and hang out. I somehow ended up class co-president and my partner is having me help her set up a lunch with the whole class to a restaurant she knows. There is also an optional writing class on Tuesdays for the beginner students that teaches stroke order, radicals and some extra information about the writing system. There aren't any classes in English so if you want to take courses related to your major try to see if UNCG offers them online, but more than one would likely be too much since there's plenty of language homework to be done.
For accommodations I was picturing something like “Mr. China,” so my baseline was an AC unit and a hot shower. Once I got here I was pleasantly surprised to learn that every day they clean the room, take out the trash, and do your bed. I live in the International Student Dormitory No. 2 and the rooms are almost like a hotel. The internet is as fast as back home but some American websites like Facebook and the Daily Show take a while to load. You can get an apartment off-campus easily but unless you know what you are doing chances are you will pay too much for it. If you aren't used to having a roommate just log in early and get a single room. One of the great things about China is that space is used very efficiently. The building has a tiny convenience shop in the first floor so buying a little Nescafe can and some croissants on your way to class takes no time at all. Best of all, the international student dorms are all no farther than the length of UNCG’s College Avenue from where you have classes.
Beijing has anything for anyone if you look hard enough. I play Magic: The Gathering, Dungeons and Dragons, and I listen to Ska and I've been able to find all three within a month of getting here, something I struggle to find in North Carolina at all. There are bars, parks, tourist sites, and malls to satisfy any urge you may have and a bus and subway system to get you there easily and cheaply. If you are brave and athletic you can buy a bicycle to get around even faster but only do this after you get the pace of the city. There is also an English corner where you can meet local Chinese who want to practice their English and can help you learn Chinese. Any time you are not doing homework there are plenty of people, movies, or events to keep you entertained.
Travel is extremely inexpensive. It's possible to have weekend trips to Shanghai, Tianjing, Qingdao and several other cities. You can stay at hostels for less than twenty dollars a night and sometimes you can stay with friends that you meet in Beijing. The closest countries are Japan and Korea so if you have the money for it they are good destinations for visiting during the school breaks.
I plan on continuing to learn Chinese independently. I've been introduced to several computer programs for learning here that should be enough for me to improve. Plus youku.com is filled with free movies and TV shows to practice with. I will also keep in touch with all the people I've met here thanks to Facebook, Skype, and e-mail.