I arrived in Beijing in the middle of September 2014 full of promise and expectation for the semester at Tsinghua University to come. Whilst travelling from the airport to Tsinghua in my university-organised car, I stared out the window in awe at the sheer size and bustle of Beijing. The city sprawls out almost endlessly and I have yet to even scrape the surface when it comes to exploring the behemoth. Compared to little old Adelaide, Beijing is a whole different animal.
As the car turned down a road I saw a sign proudly emblazoned with ‘Tsinghua University’ and the majestic main building. I had finally arrived, or so I thought. It came as quite the surprise when the car then travelled a further ten minutes before stopping at its destination. Puzzled, I stepped into the registration building to fill out my arrival forms. As I finished at the reception I was handed my room key and a map of the campus. It only then dawned on me that the campus was almost half the size of the Adelaide CBD! And a truly beautiful campus at that too. The university campus is a cross between a university and a botanical gardens with wildlife, ponds and sculptures scattered between teaching buildings, facilities and apartments. It even has its own waterfall!
Needless to say I have been extremely impressed with Tsinghua University. My classes have been well organised with excellent professors passionate about student learning. A wide range of subjects are offered in English, particularly for those students studying in Law, Economics, Management, Engineering or Sciences. The library facilities and online learning tools have been designed to greatly benefit students and the campus Wi-Fi is strong in most places. There is also a myriad of sporting facilities which students are encouraged to make use of in their free time including multiple courts, fields, pools and the gymnasium. The local students and staff have also been helpful in pointing me in the right direction the numerous times I have been lost and the students seem to take pleasure in the chance to practice their English.
For prospective exchange students I feel obliged to provide some advice that will make your time at China’s equal highest ranked university even more enjoyable. Prior to arriving one should enrol in one of the student-buddy programs that can be found online as having a local student to help you settle in and find your way around is priceless in the early weeks. Downloading a Virtual Private Network is also advisable as you may not be able to access essential websites due to the government firewall, including Adelaide University Gmail accounts.
Whether you are a student of Chinese or not, making an effort to learn basic parts of the language and culture can only aid your experience, with cheap classes being available in the nearby suburbs. I highly encourage you to live in one of the student apartments on campus. Though far smaller than you are likely used to at home, living on campus will make mixing with other international students far easier as you will be in close proximity to each other. Forming friendships makes settling into the Tsinghua lifestyle much easier as you all will need to find similar offices and buildings across the massive campus as well as necessities such as the supermarkets and cafeterias. Student hangouts such as the bars of the Wudaokou area will begin to feel like a second home. This also makes exploring Beijing and China easier and more enjoyable in a group with there being so many sites to see, for example the Great Wall is less than two hours away! Arriving at Tsinghua University at least one week early will give you even better opportunity to become familiar with the campus and make friends and even get some early exploring in. This is especially important for the Fall Semester students as the degree of cold and pollution will make exploring far less appealing as deep winter sets in. Finally be prepared to ride a bicycle, everywhere. Bicycles are a Tsinghua student’s best friend and can be cheaply bought on campus. In fact, most things are cheap in Beijing so look forward to eating like a king in the cafeteria for $5.
Overall, for those seeking study experience in China I truly believe one cannot look past Tsinghua University as it will provide you with both world-class education and a wealth of good times.