I’ve received quite a few emails from readers about BLCU (Beijing Language and Culture University), and many people ask me about my exchange experience in Beijing… And then I got an email asking: “Was it worth it?” It wasn’t the first time, so I fell right into my automated response talking through rose-coloured glasses. But whilst writing a response, I had to stop when I realised that I wasn’t being objective enough.
Most people ask me about my experience in Beijing:
“Did you enjoy yourself?”
“Did you learn anything?”
“Would you go back?”
“Is it safe?”
And my automated response is a big “Yes!”, without a doubt I loved every moment I had in Beijing. From the smelly torrential rain, to the street vendors and even the kids pooping/peeing in public. There’s no doubt I have very fond (both good and bad) memories of Beijing and my student life at BLCU.
Now, back to the question at hand: “Is it worth going to BLCU?“
Well, if I look at the question objectively… there’s just no way for me to answer it because. First of all it depends on the expectations of what you want to get out of the experience, for example if I expected to speak like a pro Beijinger at the end of the trip versus expecting to meet all the wonderful people and learning about the differences in drinking cultures of other students. Secondly I (sadly) don’t have any student exchange experience to compare with.
What I can say is what other students have told me about their experiences and my personal observations…
The teaching style in Beijing/China seems pretty standardized with slight variations depending on each teacher. The style, although standard to many of the Koreans and Japanese students attending classes as well, is definitely not what a western educated person like myself is used to. To be quite honest, during the short 6 months I spent studying at BLCU, it was probably the hardest I have ever studied in my lifetime.
A typical class at BLCU would consist of:
- The teacher randomly calling students up to the front of the class to do dictation or write sentences on the board.
- Everyone was expected to read the new chapter and be able to recite it at the end of class, sometimes even performing the dialogue in front of classmates.
- 综合 zonghe (comprehension) taught us new chapters, new words, new gramma, new exercise and more homework.
- During 口语 kouyu (speaking) we would take turns to tell the class a story
- 朗读 Langdu (tones) involved reading and reciting famous literature slowly but very accurately (to the point we would be repeating the same tones over and over… and over again),
- 听力 Tingli (listening) had us in a daze struggling to listen to recordings and attempting to answer questions which we couldn’t even understand.
- Dear old 语法 yufa (gramma) bored us to tears with exercises like fill-in-the-blanks and crosswords.
In regards to the campus life, I’m quite sure many universities around Beijing and even China are all quite similar.
- Attend classes with fellow international students
- Socialise and explore with fellow international students
- Eat with fellow international students
- Get drunk with fellow international students
- Sleep with fellow international students
- Sleep at the dorms for international students
Okay I admit, I might be generalising a bit… I know that there are international students who befriend many local students (vice versa) and it’s not rare to see a local and foreigner couple together.
BLCU is actually the smaller university in the Wudaokou area so there’s a lot less students and amenities compared to the other universities (especially Peking and Tsinghua). The one time I went to Beida (Peking University) left me at awe at what an amazing campus it was. The buildings, Weiming lake, pagodas, bridges etc made you feel like you were in city of its own.
I have to admit that it was the massive Weiming lake in the middle of the Peking campus that caught my attention, but the traditional style of their campus buildings were also just as impressive. Beida is definitely the more elegant (almost regal-like) campus compared to BLCU.
Tsinghua on the other hand, although just as impressive as Beida, has a more modern/westernized style of buildings. I can’t say too much about Tsinghua, but like BLCU, it is much closer to the Wudaokou area and subway line (which in my opinion is a huge advantage over Peking campus).
Wudaokou is well known as being the international students hangout, and regardless of which university (Peking, Tsinghua or BLCU) you attend, you will be surrounded by foreign students when in the area (refer to above: campus life).
It’s difficult to say what proportion of the population is foreign and from which country (the university website might have some statistics though). And from my experience, international students don’t interact much with local students (except the canteen) because class times are different and in different locations on BLCU campus.
At the end of the day, if I was to go back to Beijing to study again, BLCU would definitely be on the top of the list. What I like most about BLCU is that it’s extremely convenient because of the location (even if you have to walk a bit to get into Wudaokou), but mostly because the campus is quite small, you always end up seeing familiar faces and bumping into fellow students around campus (takes the edge off the loneliness if you don’t know anyone there).
It would also be pretty interesting to go to Peking or Tsinghua just to experience a different campus, and I’m quite sure that Peking and Tsinghua will be a little less ‘dodgy’ than BLCU because they seem to be a lot more established and are much larger institutions than BLCU.
So was it worth going to BLCU? Yeah definitely, I fulfilled my expectations and more! And the main reason for that was that I actively went out and made sure I fulfilled them (plus it helps not to have high expectations~).