A lot of people are wondering where the best place to study Chinese Mandarin is in Beijing, China. Based off my experience studying in Beijing at various universities compared with other friends I know who have undergone similar ventures, my top pick is the Beijing Culture and Language University (BLCU). Below is a list of reasons why in terms of costs, education, classmates and overall campus environment, as well as some tips as to how you can save money during your studies.
A major factor for students is of course costs. A semester at BLCU, starting usually at around the end of February and going into June, costs about US$1,860 or CNY$11,600. That includes 20 hours of classes a week (4 hours a day) as well as textbook materials. This price is comparatively lower than other campuses and institutions in Beijing and makes it affordable to continue studying throughout an extended 4-8 weeks during the summer for about half the price if you feel like staying in China longer. For full-time education at BLCU from February-August before returning back home to begin the fall semester I spent about US$2,500 on tuition. Note, I applied to the university directly to get these fees and avoided going through a study abroad center, as the center was trying to charge about 4 times that amount.
BLCU is conveniently located about 5-7 minutes walking distance from the Wudaokou (五道口) subway station whereas other universities like Beijing University are nowhere near a station and inconvenient to get to. Being close to the station allows for students to get quick access across the city and like many other stations, they are surrounded by an assortment of restaurants, bars and nightclubs, department stores, clinics and convenient stores.
Wudaokou is also one of the few areas left in Beijing where housing still remains relatively affordable as of 2014 compared to what it was with other cities 5-7 years ago. Many students choose to get shared apartments, splitting them between 2-3 people at around CNY$1,500-4,000 (US$240-640) a person, and food there averages at around CNY$15-20 per a set meal such as fried noodles and curry dishes etc. If you choose to go to school in downtown Beijing you can expect to those prices to double/triple so don’t be fooled if the tuition prices are the same as you will pay for it by either living far away or paying much higher pricing to stay nearby.
Apartments have been discussed, but if you choose to live on campus there are some nice dorm rooms available. First off, there are many different dorm facilities at BLCU. Make sure when applying for dorms that you ask to get a room in a newer facility that was established sometime after 2006. The other older dorms are absolute garbage, just as they are with older facilities at other universities, and you will regret having gotten a room there. The older ones didn’t have heat and I froze my ass off during the winter before moving out. The newer ones all have heat, are nicely insulated and decorated, and are about what you would pay for getting your own room off campus.
Teachers and Curriculum
The teaching at BLCU is traditional and effective. Teachers range in age from 30 plus years old well into their 60s. They are all open-minded, nice, yet firm in their approach for teaching as a means to make sure their students succeed. They are not overly relaxed like teachers in Taiwan, but this is good as it gives students some pressure to succeed in class.
The books they use are actually the same ones used at most universities including Beijing University, so no need to think that other schools have some kind of magical curriculum that will allow their students to get better. In fact, the books were developed by BLCU so they have the longest history of using them in the classroom.
In terms of class times, there isn’t a lot of flexibility, which is the school’s downside. All of the Chinese classes start at 8am and run until noon unless you are in an intensive class in which case they run until 2pm. However, students can miss up to 1/4 of their classes without being ineligible for a degree so that helps a lot.
There are roughly 17-23 students per class.
The students at BLCU come from all over the world and it is no surprise as the school’s website is done in many different languages. Out of a class of 20 there were people from 15 different countries ranging all over the world so interacting with your classmates is incredibly educational and fruitful.
All of my classmates were there to study and make the most of their experience so it was a positive and challenging environment to be in that helped push up my Chinese skills. Many students fall to this if others are lazy but between the students and prompt teachers you learn well and fast.
Various kinds of language exchanges, clubs and campus activities that include local Chinese students are offered as well.
There are many extracurricular activities on campus including Taichi, Chinese opera, classical Chinese, painting, and even western sports if you miss being active, including basketball courts and football/soccer facilities. The school also has a gym and swimming pool.
Other things to consider around BLCU and Wudaokou
BLCU is just far enough out of the city center that it is relatively affordable for students to study yet close enough if they want to head downtown. There are great restaurants nearby including a famous “beer garden” near the train station that attracts many people year around, especially during the world cup. Banking, facilities are all readily available, food delivery, dry-cleaning delivery and pickup, as well as many bike shops where you can purchase cheap bikes. Note, make sure to take your bike inside with you as often as possible or get a lock from your hometown, as most locks sold in China are crap and can be broken easily. I had 5 bikes stolen within 8 months.
Financing your stay at BLCU
The best way to finance your way as a student is to teach language. Most English teaching schools offer part-time jobs to both non-native and native speakers of English, and don’t be surprised if you are approached on the street to teach. Of course, if this happens make sure to get a name card and play it safe.
There are also many agencies that set up teachers with tutoring jobs, which can easily be seen all over the city including Wudaokou.
One other thing I would like to emphasize is to not go through a study abroad center. If your school offers a program with BLCU or it sees it as an accredited university, make sure to apply directly and go through an “outside program” at your university, which will allow you to transfer credits back. The only thing you have to pay your university is the registration fees, so you will save a lot of money. Getting a dorm and tuition set up at BLCU is much cheaper than going through a host school and there are plenty of cheap travel trips provided as well, so don’t think you will lose out by going directly through BLCU. This can’t be emphasized enough, as you will save thousands of dollars and in fact the credit amount you can transfer back under the outside program is more than what the school offers through its arranged program.