China has long captivated the imagination of the world with its rich cultural history. Experience the energy of its bustling cities as well as the beauty of its remote mountaintops. Discover imperial relics while also learning about modern China's dynamic society. There's something to interest everyone in one of the largest and most populous countries on the planet.



Languages Spoken:

Chinese (family), Mandarin, Cantonese

Education System

HIGHER EDUCATION

Competition to get into university is extreme. Students begin preparing for the gaokao (national university entrance exam) during their secondary education. Only a minority of Chinese students have the opportunity to pursue higher education.

Chinese student dormitories are usually kept separate from international student dorms. The typical dorm room for Chinese students holds four students and there are no coed dorms. These accommodations are very basic and cramped. As a foreign student, you will most likely be housed with only one roommate. While your room may not be up to Western standards, please be aware of this discrepancy when speaking with Chinese friends.

CLASSROOM

Typical Chinese classes are mostly lecture style. There are usually no presentations, essays or group projects required. Students are expected to do the homework and pass the exams. The grading scale is typically 0-100 with a minimum passing score of 60.

Visa and Residency

Visas must be applied for at the Chinese Embassy or Consulate in person. If a Consulate or Embassy is too far away to feasibly visit, a courier service may be used in your stead. This visa agent may submit your application to the visa office.

Visas typically take four business days, but may be expedited for an additional fee. A single entry visa for a U.S. citizen costs about USD $130. A single entry visa for a non-U.S. citizen costs about USD $30. Students on an exchange period for more than six months will apply for the "X1" visa. Students on exchange for less than six months will apply for the "X2" visa.

Please call or visit the Chinese Embassy Website or your local Embassy or consulate for the latest and complete information and forms.

IMPORTANT: Do not apply for a visa until you have received the official Letter of Invitation from the host Chinese University. Additional materials include the following:

  • Passport
  • Visa Fee for either US citizen or non-US citizen, in the form of a cashier’s check or money order made out to Chinese Embassy (personal checks not accepted)
  • One completed visa application form
  • Proof of legal stay (only for students living outside their country of citizenship)
  • One passport-sized photo (2" x 2") attached to visa form
  • Copy of admission notice issued by your host institution
  • Copy of round trip flight itinerary (visa will not be issued without proof of return flight)

Notes:

A physical examination record is only required for students staying in China for a full year.

In accordance with a 2014 U.S.-China visa arrangement, U.S. citizens may be eigible for a five-year multiple-entry visa.

Students staying in China for more than 180 days on the X1 visa must apply for their residents permit at the local public security authorities within 30 days of entering China.

Culture

CULTURE SHOCK

No student can entirely avoid culture shock when living in an unfamiliar country. China's political, social and cultural differences can cause an American student to feel puzzled and frustrated. One day you may be excited by the experience that you are having in China, while the next day you may feel frustrated and miss your friends and family. This is perfectly normal and happens to most students who go abroad for extended periods. It's best to mentally prepare yourself for a challenging experience before you arrive. While there, try to look for the good things in your environment and remind yourself that you can enjoy the familiar things when you get home. While it's important to immerse yourself, it's okay to occasionally meet up with a country mate and watch a movie in your native language, or go to a restaurant that serves your home cuisine. The key to "surviving" in China is to expect the unexpected, be flexible and view challenges with a good sense of humor and a positive attitude.

GREETINGS AND PERSONAL SPACE

Usually a handshake and slight head nod will do. Hugs are only for good friends and family.

It is common to see girls holding hands and boys with their arms around each other. It just means they’re good friends. For guys, don’t be surprised if your male Chinese friends show interest in your arm or leg hair. For girls, don’t be surprised if total strangers want to touch your hair, particularly if you do not have dark hair. In general there is less personal space in China – part of that has to do with the population size. It is a common experience to be in a very crowded area. A bus, subway or even grocery store can be an overwhelming experience for someone unaccustomed to dense crowds. Don’t let it faze you, just chalk it up to another great China story.

COMMUNICATION STYLE

Most Chinese speak in an indirect manner. Sometimes what they mean is the opposite of what they say. They tend to avoid making direct eye contact. You'll grow to understand them, however, you may be surprised at times when they are more direct than you would expect. They may be very blunt about your weight or your appearance or someone else’s. Just let it go – statements that originally sound off-putting will often are often just genuinely curious, and end with a good-hearted laugh.

SOCIALIZING AND MEAL ETIQUETTE

Students socialize by playing sports, sharing meals and going to karaoke bars. Meals are very important in Chinese culture. To show appreciation, honor or repay a favor, it is expected that you will treat them to a meal. However, as a foreigner, you are considered a guest of all Chinese, so you may have a hard time persuading them to let you pay. It would be rude to not fight for the check. You will probably see people in restaurants physically fighting over the check – it’s mainly all show. In the end, the person who is supposed to pay usually wins the fight — 9 times out of 10 it will not be you. The Chinese would never split the check. The concept of "going dutch" (or AA as the Chinese call it) is an entirely Western concept. Your Chinese friend may offer to go dutch, but only because he or she is aware of the cultural difference. To show you understand the Chinese culture, you should pay the bill. When out with your foreign friends, if you don’t want to offend, have one person pay the bill and wait until you have left the restaurant to divvy up the check.

Some other tips:

  • Never stick your chopsticks straight up in a bowl of rice. It looks like incense sticks at a grave site. Never drum with your chopsticks. It’s the same sound made by beggars.
  • As dishes are never ordered individually, but rather shared, it is a sign of friendship to put food on your friend’s plate. It would be rude to refuse any food offered to you. Accepting it does not mean you have to eat it. Simply say thank you. You should probably try it, but if you don’t like it, just leave it on your plate. You will be surprised at the things you actually like. Dishes like tofu and eggplant have an entirely different taste than they do outside China, so it is highly recommend that you try everything, even the things you think you won’t like it.
  • When eating, it's customary to leave a little bit of food on the table by the end of the meal. Cleaning everything off your plate is usually a signal to the host that you're still hungry, and they'll order more, so just leave that last bite on the table.
  • The seat of honor is the one facing the door. At a special dinner, wait until the host indicates where you should sit.
  • It is common for there to be many toasts during meals. When toasting, clink your glass with the lip a little lower than the other person’s to honor them. The more you drink, the more you respect the other person, but among guys it’s a competition for who can drink the most. It's easy to get carried away in some drinking environments, so make sure to pace yourself if you choose to imbibe.
  • Most meat dishes, including fish, are served with the bones. You’ll learn the art of eating carefully. It’s perfectly acceptable to spit the bone out on the table. Just watch what the Chinese do and imitate.
  • When your Chinese friend comes to visit and you offer him or her something (to drink, to eat, etc.), they will usually refuse just to be polite. You have to ask three times and judge by their third answer whether or not they actually want whatever you’re offering.
  • There is no tipping in China. They are likely to misunderstand if you try to tip.

GIFTS

Always give and receive gifts or business cards with two hands. If anyone gives you something with two hands, always accept with two hands. Never show up to someone’s home empty-handed. Fruit is the most common gift to bring.

UNDERLYING CULTURAL DIFFERENCES

CONCEPT OF TIME: The Chinese have a long-term time orientation. There is not the urgency of now that is very common in other cultures. They value punctuality and diligence, but people and relationships are emphasized over deadlines. It is rude to be late; however, someone with a higher social or political status may be late to show how busy they are.

AUTHORITY: The Chinese have a greater tolerance and acceptance of authority than most Westerners. There is an understood and accepted hierarchy which they are unlikely to question.

AMBIGUITY: The Chinese have a high tolerance for ambiguity. Most Westerners are the opposite. Learn to adapt and be flexible and accept unclear answers. The reality is the person probably doesn’t have the answer or the authority to make the decision.

FACE: The concept of "face" has an enormous influence on Chinese behavior. Trying to "save face" can explain many confusing incidents. It’s related to avoiding embarrassment, but it goes deeper. If something occurs or someone responds in a way that doesn’t make sense to you, ask yourself if anyone was trying to save face, and that might help explain the situation. You can also "give face" by praising someone or making them look good. However, if anyone praises you, you should always deflect compliments or you might look arrogant. Humility is a highly valued trait. You may be surprised at the degree to which the Chinese will deflect a compliment. ("Your wife is very beautiful." "No, she is ugly.")

GUANXI: This term describes your network of relationships – who you know and what they do for you — and is a very important concept to understand and navigate. Chinese place an enormously high value on relationships and almost nothing gets done outside of relationships. If someone does you a favor, it is expected that you will return the favor. Some people will avoid permitting you to do them a favor because it carries with it the expectation of something in return.

MISCELLANEOUS NOTES

The ground is considered very dirty. This is why people spit and babies urinate in the street. This is why you should remove your shoes before entering a home, never put your feet up and never sit on the floor. If the bottom of your shoe accidentally touches someone’s pant leg, they will give you a dirty look and brush the dust off.

Daily Life

CULTURE SHOCK

No student can entirely avoid culture shock when living in an unfamiliar country. China's political, social and cultural differences can cause an American student to feel puzzled and frustrated. One day you may be excited by the experience that you are having in China, while the next day you may feel frustrated and miss your friends and family. This is perfectly normal and happens to most students who go abroad for extended periods. It's best to mentally prepare yourself for a challenging experience before you arrive. While there, try to look for the good things in your environment and remind yourself that you can enjoy the familiar things when you get home. While it's important to immerse yourself, it's okay to occasionally meet up with a country mate and watch a movie in your native language, or go to a restaurant that serves your home cuisine. The key to "surviving" in China is to expect the unexpected, be flexible and view challenges with a good sense of humor and a positive attitude.

GREETINGS AND PERSONAL SPACE

Usually a handshake and slight head nod will do. Hugs are only for good friends and family.

It is common to see girls holding hands and boys with their arms around each other. It just means they’re good friends. For guys, don’t be surprised if your male Chinese friends show interest in your arm or leg hair. For girls, don’t be surprised if total strangers want to touch your hair, particularly if you do not have dark hair. In general there is less personal space in China – part of that has to do with the population size. It is a common experience to be in a very crowded area. A bus, subway or even grocery store can be an overwhelming experience for someone unaccustomed to dense crowds. Don’t let it faze you, just chalk it up to another great China story.

COMMUNICATION STYLE

Most Chinese speak in an indirect manner. Sometimes what they mean is the opposite of what they say. They tend to avoid making direct eye contact. You'll grow to understand them, however, you may be surprised at times when they are more direct than you would expect. They may be very blunt about your weight or your appearance or someone else’s. Just let it go – statements that originally sound off-putting will often are often just genuinely curious, and end with a good-hearted laugh.

SOCIALIZING AND MEAL ETIQUETTE

Students socialize by playing sports, sharing meals and going to karaoke bars. Meals are very important in Chinese culture. To show appreciation, honor or repay a favor, it is expected that you will treat them to a meal. However, as a foreigner, you are considered a guest of all Chinese, so you may have a hard time persuading them to let you pay. It would be rude to not fight for the check. You will probably see people in restaurants physically fighting over the check – it’s mainly all show. In the end, the person who is supposed to pay usually wins the fight — 9 times out of 10 it will not be you. The Chinese would never split the check. The concept of "going dutch" (or AA as the Chinese call it) is an entirely Western concept. Your Chinese friend may offer to go dutch, but only because he or she is aware of the cultural difference. To show you understand the Chinese culture, you should pay the bill. When out with your foreign friends, if you don’t want to offend, have one person pay the bill and wait until you have left the restaurant to divvy up the check.

Some other tips:

  • Never stick your chopsticks straight up in a bowl of rice. It looks like incense sticks at a grave site. Never drum with your chopsticks. It’s the same sound made by beggars.
  • As dishes are never ordered individually, but rather shared, it is a sign of friendship to put food on your friend’s plate. It would be rude to refuse any food offered to you. Accepting it does not mean you have to eat it. Simply say thank you. You should probably try it, but if you don’t like it, just leave it on your plate. You will be surprised at the things you actually like. Dishes like tofu and eggplant have an entirely different taste than they do outside China, so it is highly recommend that you try everything, even the things you think you won’t like it.
  • When eating, it's customary to leave a little bit of food on the table by the end of the meal. Cleaning everything off your plate is usually a signal to the host that you're still hungry, and they'll order more, so just leave that last bite on the table.
  • The seat of honor is the one facing the door. At a special dinner, wait until the host indicates where you should sit.
  • It is common for there to be many toasts during meals. When toasting, clink your glass with the lip a little lower than the other person’s to honor them. The more you drink, the more you respect the other person, but among guys it’s a competition for who can drink the most. It's easy to get carried away in some drinking environments, so make sure to pace yourself if you choose to imbibe.
  • Most meat dishes, including fish, are served with the bones. You’ll learn the art of eating carefully. It’s perfectly acceptable to spit the bone out on the table. Just watch what the Chinese do and imitate.
  • When your Chinese friend comes to visit and you offer him or her something (to drink, to eat, etc.), they will usually refuse just to be polite. You have to ask three times and judge by their third answer whether or not they actually want whatever you’re offering.
  • There is no tipping in China. They are likely to misunderstand if you try to tip.

GIFTS

Always give and receive gifts or business cards with two hands. If anyone gives you something with two hands, always accept with two hands. Never show up to someone’s home empty-handed. Fruit is the most common gift to bring.

UNDERLYING CULTURAL DIFFERENCES

CONCEPT OF TIME: The Chinese have a long-term time orientation. There is not the urgency of now that is very common in other cultures. They value punctuality and diligence, but people and relationships are emphasized over deadlines. It is rude to be late; however, someone with a higher social or political status may be late to show how busy they are.

AUTHORITY: The Chinese have a greater tolerance and acceptance of authority than most Westerners. There is an understood and accepted hierarchy which they are unlikely to question.

AMBIGUITY: The Chinese have a high tolerance for ambiguity. Most Westerners are the opposite. Learn to adapt and be flexible and accept unclear answers. The reality is the person probably doesn’t have the answer or the authority to make the decision.

FACE: The concept of "face" has an enormous influence on Chinese behavior. Trying to "save face" can explain many confusing incidents. It’s related to avoiding embarrassment, but it goes deeper. If something occurs or someone responds in a way that doesn’t make sense to you, ask yourself if anyone was trying to save face, and that might help explain the situation. You can also "give face" by praising someone or making them look good. However, if anyone praises you, you should always deflect compliments or you might look arrogant. Humility is a highly valued trait. You may be surprised at the degree to which the Chinese will deflect a compliment. ("Your wife is very beautiful." "No, she is ugly.")

GUANXI: This term describes your network of relationships – who you know and what they do for you — and is a very important concept to understand and navigate. Chinese place an enormously high value on relationships and almost nothing gets done outside of relationships. If someone does you a favor, it is expected that you will return the favor. Some people will avoid permitting you to do them a favor because it carries with it the expectation of something in return.

MISCELLANEOUS NOTES

The ground is considered very dirty. This is why people spit and babies urinate in the street. This is why you should remove your shoes before entering a home, never put your feet up and never sit on the floor. If the bottom of your shoe accidentally touches someone’s pant leg, they will give you a dirty look and brush the dust off.

Health and Safety

https://www.isepstudyabroad.org/guides-and-tips/health-safety

Currency

MONEY MATTERS

China's monetary unit, the Renminbi (RMB), translates to "the people's currency." A unit of RMB is called "yuan," or "kuai," colloquially. Find up-to-date information on the exchange rate.

Currency can be exchanged at airports and some banks. ATMs may now be found in several locations throughout China. You will likely be able to withdraw money from your home bank account, but you may have to try a few ATMs to find one that works. There will certainly be an automatic fee for doing this, however, it is convenient. You should notify your bank before you leave so they know to expect international transactions. When traveling to smaller cities, be sure to bring enough RMB to cover expenses.

Most restaurants, shopping and tourist vendors only accept RMB. Only a few locations in Beijing or Shanghai will accept credit cards.

Sources of Information

LINKS

http://beijing.usembassy.gov/
Embassy of the United States in China

http://www.china-embassy.org/eng/
Embassy of China in the United States

http://www.edu.cn
China Education and Research Network

http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/
The China Daily

BIBLIOGRAPHY

*All links below will take you to the Amazon.com Web site for content and purchasing information.


Guides

China - Culture Smart!: a quick guide to customs and etiquette (Culture Smart!)

Lonely Planet China


Literature

Chang, Jung. Wild Swans : Three Daughters of China

Hsueh-Chin, Tsao. Dream of the Red Chamber (translated from 18th century work)

Ha, Jin. Waiting: A Novel

Buck, Pearl S. The Good Earth (Oprah's Book Club)


Culture, History, and Politics

Nathan, Andrew. Great Wall and the Empty Fortress: China's Search for Security

Mann, James. About Face: A History of America's Curious Relationship with China, from Nixon to Clinton

Lieberthal, Kenneth. Governing China: From Revolution Through Reform, Second Edition

Gries, Peter Hayes. China's New Nationalism: Pride, Politics, and Diplomacy (Philip E. Lilienthal Books)




Traveler's Health

International Travel Health Guide

CDC Health Information for International Travel 2016

Staying Healthy in Asia, Africa, and Latin America

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