To best utilize time at Tsinghua, don’t focus on the courses here. Using UW Madison as a standard, the coursework at Tsinghua doesn’t come to par. It’s the connections with the people in Beijing, in Tsinghua, that is important. Unfortunately, Tsinghua doesn’t make it easy for that to happen. You have to make it happen.
This is speaking from the stand point of a journalism and East Asian studies major. Speaking to other international students, I do believe students of engineering or environmental sciences major may actually get something out of the academics here.
Making a life integrated into Tsinghua is hard. Most of the international students are tucked away in the Northeast corner of campus. Student services are nonexistent. Communication platforms within the campus are difficult to find. Student organizations almost exclusively speak Chinese. Catered opportunities for foreigners to travel, work, and meet people outside of Tsinghua are more appealing.
Trying to connect with Chinese students and professors here is even harder. Specifically speaking about Tsinghua, many students are in rigorous engineering programs that require them to take 25 plus credits per semester. English is often not their specialty. Naturally, courses taught in English (A.K.A. for foreigners) are avoided. Many of the students here have been integrated into Tsinghua with a tight network for 5+ years. Professors are often overworked and underpaid. Making time for international students comes last.
In other words, international students here are engineered to stay in a visitors’ bubble. It’s easy go through a semester in Beijing never connecting with the people here. But it’s those relationships that are, truly, most rewarding. I mean it in terms of personal growth and in terms of building a network for your future career.
A goal of mine in visiting Tsinghua was to get a scope into media in China. There isn’t an official platform for share ideas as a journalism student. But in my classes I do run into students that are planning to do research in mass communications. And outside of class, I reach out to UW alumni and friends of my professors to ask about their experience working in the field of journalism in China.
I actively ask my peers what it’s like to study mass communications in China in exchange for the academic theory and training I received from the U.S. I seek advice from the news professionals here to get a feel for the boundaries of journalism. Through our conversations, we created countless ideas for theses, research papers, and new ways to use different social media platforms, and introductions to job opportunities.
If Chinese isn’t your forte, and getting around Beijing feels difficult, it’s okay.
The students that are also on the study abroad programs at Tsinghua that often are fluent in English. The students here are making sense of the world. As an international student, you’re being submersed into a corner of the world where nations meet on friendly and open terms. Make sure to direct your time with them. Each individual person is a pocket full of a culture, ideas, habits, society of another nation. That is precious.
There are ample of opportunities in Tsinghua and Beijing, and they can be hard to get into unless you actively make them a part of your experience. With that regard, I do recommend people thinking to do this exchange program to break their perception of a normal study abroad experience, and actively search for opportunities in the city and with your peers.
Ask someone about the start-up scene in their home country. Ask someone about their education system. Ask someone about their day to day life. Ask someone about their career goals. Ask someone about their family. These sort of questions may seems obvious, but it’s about actively thinking about how to push them into a plan that shape some of the most innovative and creative ideas.
Study abroad doesn’t have to be just a study abroad experience. With a little effort, it can become a future career, a new company, or the start of lifelong friendship. More often than not, in Beijing, a cup of coffee with a new acquaintance has more value than a two hour lecture on Tsinghua’s campus.