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6 things you need to know before going to China for study

I can only speak from my experience at SHISU back in 2017.

  1. Your teacher will not necessarily speak English

If your university told you that your classes will be in English, they are probably lying to you because they do not know any better! If you start mandarin from scratch in China your teacher will speak English but if you start a level up your teacher will teach the whole class in Mando!

Is this totally annoying and inconvenient? Yep. Now that I have warned you, you will be prepared to have everything explained to you in Mandarin while using a blackboard. But do know this, the textbooks are translated to English!

Why don’t the teachers speak English? I went to SHISU which attracts many international students. I started in 初二 – beginner two level where I had an amazing diverse class but unfortunately, we did segregate into our nationalities or cultures. One third of the class was non-asian so we had Italian, kazakstan, morocco, and myself, an aussie on one side of the class. The rest of the class was Thai, Japanese, Korean, and Vietnamese. We did mix and talk during and outside of class but the desk mates were generally of a similar culture. I was the only native English speaker in the class, however quite a few people spoke fluent English in the class so I was relieved I could make some friends as English was the only language I could hold a conversation in, although the Italian, Marta (I love this name!) in my class was very impressed I could list many animals and colours in Italian. It was quite funny.

A few people in the class didn’t speak any or very little English so of course they need to teach it in Chinese, it helps with your understanding anyway. We had two people from kazakstan, one of which spoke fluent English and the other not a single word. By the end of the semester he could say hello, how are you, etc. which was nice but we tried to communicate in Chinese instead. During class there were times that he didn’t understand what was being said in class so the teacher would stop and the woman from kazakstan would explain it in their language.

Non-english speakers had to work twice as hard because they would translate the whole two chapters into their own language before each week.

I was very fortunate to have a lovely desk mate from Morocco who was able to translate things to me in English when I did not understand. Sometimes the teacher would also tell me things in English because I was too stupid to understand! But, just because my teachers knew English, doesn’t mean yours will!

I would strongly recommend learning the grammar before each lesson because you may struggle to understand if it is told to you in mandarin. I would also suggest previewing the new words which brings me to my next point.

My point is, don’t worry if your teacher doesn’t speak English, they need to cater to everyone and it will just push you to be better at mandarin. You will have nice people in your class that will help you, and if not, you need to knuckle down and study.

2. Placement tests are important!

I didn’t research university starting dates well enough, so I arrived too late to take the written test. Also, I didn’t even know we had to do the placement test that day! I thought there were two days you could do it but the first day was written, and the second was speaking. Look my home university wasn’t really helpful so they never told us these important dates and I did not research enough. I would recommend arriving 14 – 9 days before the start of the semester. Note you cannot arrive two weeks before the semester if you plan to convert your VISA into a temporary residency permit.

If you want an accurate placement I suggest that you receive a HSK level, however keep in mind that HSK is a standardised test so you should be learning vocab outside of what is required for the test to make sure you have a smooth transition into the classroom.

3. Class in China moves hella fast

In Australia we did half a book a semester. We are learning new chapters over two weeks and we are learning for 15 hours a week. In China it was very different. We learned for three hours each day, so still 15 hours, but we covered off two books in the one semester! We learned two chapters per week!

In order to retain the vocab you are learning I recommend purchasing graded readers – I just purchased my first one from kindle/ mandarin companion. Reading is the quickest way to revise previous vocab. It was only $8.

Link to a beginners’ book:

4. Just because you did a heap more work in China, does not mean your home university will appreciate it.

And just an FYI to the people who think that this equates to more credit points, you may be wrong! Well depends on your home university. When I was returning I was refused to skip one level in year two Chinese and after discussion over email, I was requested to take a placement test to prove that I could skip it despite having studied four times as much and living in china for 5 months. After arriving I met with people at the student central who still said I wasn’t able to enroll in the class at all, even with a placement test so I brought my two Chinese textbooks and the textbook I had completed when I left Australia to show them the comparison. They didn’t care and said I had to have a meeting with the head of Chinese and the dean for my area of study. I showed the head of Chinese my textbooks to which she replied “Oh my, this Chinese is harder than our the third year Chinese course” and I rested my case! Hahaha. I was able to get into the next class and although I didn’t learn a single thing the whole semester and studied for other subjects during my mandarin class, I wasn’t allowed to skip the class and go to the next level. Oh well! I got an easy peasy HD that semester and probably only studied for one hour a week outside of class time. It took 10 weeks to get my credit points for my Chinese classes. Although I learned Chinese that was harder than third year, I did have to study a lot and pay attention in third year.

Now I say this, but do not make the same mistake as me. I absorbed maybe half of what I learned in China and because I wasn’t interested in my class in Australia, I essentially put my Chinese on pause. Instead, I should have reviewed the textbooks I was given in China to practice.

5. The textbooks are different … well duh!

Although I did university in Shanghai, we learned Beijing style, but it was still Putonghua. So, at the end of many words we had to say and write (er) 儿。The textbooks are very thorough so even though you covered a beginner textbook in your home country, you may go to the next level and find out you are missing some words (e.g. I didn’t know east, west, south, north). What I would recommend is finding out which of your friends are in the class below you and borrowing their textbook, going to the back where the entire vocabulary is listed and photo copy it, highlight the words you are unfamiliar with and bring it to class for a quick reference. I didn’t do this, I got out my phone and used pleco which did not impress the teacher! Eventually my Moroccan desk mate brought in his two previous textbooks for me to look at.

I had to cover a huge gap and struggled. I could have gone to one class below after two weeks because they do an additional placement test, but I had a look at the textbook and I knew the half of it so I decided that I would stay in the harder class, and although I struggled and most of the Asians in class had a giggle at me like every single day, I was better off learning more right?

This might have seemed like a good idea at the time but when it came to taking the tests I struggled and only got passes and credits. You need to decide what you are aiming for. Are you aiming for a high score or are you wanting to learn as much as you can? Do you want to use your transcript to apply for jobs? Passes and credits will not look so good. Come the end of exam time I was very nervous I was going to fail. This bring me to my next point.

6. Exams are different

If you get an exercise section photocopy it on the very first day at least once. This way you can answer the same questions again when it comes to studying mid semester and final semester exams.

I would suggest taking a practice HSK exam to show you the style they use in China. During my first test I was mainly confused on the sections and what to do, let alone answering the bloody questions!

The first part is always listening. 听力 sends shivers down my spine. In my opinion this is THE WORST part of the exam because it comes from a CD while one of the characters speaks at a reasonable pace – the character is foreign and then the other character comes on who is native Chinese and blah blha blahdie blah blha blah. He speaks so damn quick! What makes it worse is that you cannot see their mouths moving. I rely on watching Chinese people’s mouths and expressions to understand what they are saying. If you don’t do this – do it! I had a friend in third year mando who was shy, so she didn’t look at the teacher while she was speaking. I said oh no, you should look at her and it will help you to hear what she is saying, so she did and she thanked me and said it improved her listening ability so much.

You will have a part that tests your vocabulary and ability to write Chinese characters. Although I sucked at just about every other aspect of Chinese, this was my strength. In the first test, so many people in class failed this section and in the other parts instead of writing the characters, they used pinyin. This wasn’t allowed but the teacher made an exception so half the class wouldn’t fail. I thought this was unfair because it was the only part, I was good at lol.

My teacher said I had the best character writing skills in the class. *hair flip*. I just has the worst grammar abilities hahaha.

Then you will have reading comprehension which will test your understanding of grammar and synonyms. Usually you will pick true/false or ABCDE. 

Then you will have fill in the blank for grammar, and ABCDE for using the correct grammar point.

The last part is usually freestyle writing and your teacher will hopefully give you a hint to what the topic would be. It will ask for 500 characters. I suggest that once you think it is 500, count the lines across and down and multiply them, do not count every character – that would be a waste of time! I urge you to keep it simple, write characters you know 100% and make sure every dian is in its proper place. If you want to use a grammar point but are not 100% confident you’re using it correctly, don’t use it, one thing out of place will mean lost marks.

EXTRA HINT: make friends with people in the same level class as you but who have different teachers. Some teachers will give no hints. My teacher had us playing games two weeks before the games. I wrote down all the points and coincidentally all the points were in the exam! Other teachers will straight up tell you the exact grammar and chapter vocab you will need to know! So, my advice is ask around.

If I missed listing anything, or you have any questions, just comment below 😊

What to pack for a 12 Month Exchange in China?

I found this at a temple on an island we stopped of at along the yangtze river. I just wish I jotted down what the tiny island was called! I loved this – smashed up China given a new life as a beautiful mosaic art piece as the character 福 which means good fortune/blessing. It is very commonly used during Chinese New Year.

This guide will be for travelling into China’s winter/February as I have done before and was my plan for 2020 (thanks COVID). But China’s Autumn/ September weather is pretty similar to Australia so I will not have to worry about getting changed in a toilet cubical(thanks COVID).


  • Pocket tissues
  • Phone
  • Wallet
  • 1000 yuan
  • Passport
  • Sanitizer wipes
  • Earplugs
  • Earphones
  • Key to suitcase and/or backpack
  • USB with travel documents – (Scanned versions of official letter from university, JW201 form, VISA page, VISA application, birth certificate, Travel Insurance cover, passport, VISA or passport photographs, PDF of hotel booking confirmation, scanned copy of doctor’s letter)

BACKPACK (Going from Aus summer to China’s Winter)
You want to make sure you will be able to survive for a couple days without your suitcase and bring your valuables with you.

  • Medication & Doctors letter
  • Asthma spacer & ventolin
  • 500 yuan
  • Eye mask
  • glasses
  • Water bottle
  • Snacks
  • battery pack phone charger
  • power adapters
  • Laptop
  • Camera
  • Pyjamas
  • Photocopies of documents
  • WINTER PART: I planned to wear a comfy bra, sports top, lightweight sports shorts, and black runners to the airport. No I don’t care what people think, I just like to be comfy and practical. This clothing would be easy to change out of in a tiny airplane/airport toilet and fit easily into my backpack!
  • Warm Vest
  • Tracky dacks
  • Woolie jumper
  • Pink scarf (doubles as head scarf or shoulder cover when in a culturally sensitive of religious place)
  • Thermal Shirt
  • Thermal Pants
  • Beanie
  • Gloves
  • Winter Jacket
  • Knickers! 😮 just in case they lose your suitcase… or you wet yourself due to turbulence 😉



  • Toilet paper in the form of pocket tissues TRUST ME!
  • Socks
  • Underwear
  • Bras
  • Pads, Tampons, Diva Cup, whatever floats your boat
  • Sunscreen
  • Cap/Hat


  • Black Boot Heels
  • Birkinstocks
  • Winter Boots

Winter Clothes

  • Belt
  • Jeans
  • Farm/winter socks x 3
  • Thermal shirt & pants
  • 2 pairs stockings
  • Warm Vest
  • Rain poncho
  • Winter Coat
  • Winter Jumpers
  • Umbrella

Summer clothes

  • Summer Dresses
  • Shorts and Skirts
  • Button up shirt
  • Singlets
  • Crop Tops
  • You might also want to pack going out clothes


  • Framed pictures
  • Hot water bottle
  • Frank Green Coffee Cup
  • Tote bag (for groceries)
  • Handbags
  • Hair curler
  • Repellent
  • Vegemite
  • Tim Tams
  • Milo
  • Carmelo Koalas
  • Home-made apricot jam
  • Perfume


  • Make-up bag
  • Shampoo, Conditioner and hair treatment (you may not be able to find your regular one for a while. If you don’t want to pack these, take a photo of them so you can photo ID them on Taobao.)
  • Razor blades & Razor
  • Soap
  • Microfiber towel
  • Regular towel
  • Hand towel
  • Deodorant (this will be hard to find, you may have to go to carrefour to find it.)
  • Hair comb
  • Nail clippers and file
  • Tissues (I am repeating myself because tissue are important)

Now that I am going over at the end of the Chinese summer, I plan on buying most of my winter clothes in China because they will be suitable for the northern winter. This means I can pack many more cute summer clothes with me and store them at my dormitory. Once winter is over I can post all the winter goods back to Australia. You might want to do something similar. The cost may just be what you would pay for the overweight charge at the airport but it saves the guessing games and dragging heavy bags to and from the airports.

COVID-19 Ruined my Year’s Plans; a lesson in uncertainty and seeking opportunities.

It was early February and I had practiced packing my suitcase and decided exactly what to take and what to leave. I had an excel document outlining what I had spent my money on, I had my passport and visa ready to go and it was even packed in my bumbag with a bit of yuan. I had photocopied and scanned all my documents to USB, left an emergency folder of information for my parents and I was just about to leave my internship in two weeks.

But I had been watching closely on the statistics around a thing they called corona virus and I was becoming more and more anxious. I wanted someone to tell me not to go so that it wasn’t my decision to ruin a year’s worth of planning, a years plan and a scholarship. Mum and Dad still wouldn’t tell me what to do, then one morning I got into work and jumped on to look at the stats only to see that a 28 year old with no pre-existing medical conditions known of had died. As a 22 year old with a medical condition, that scared the shit out of me. That is when I decided to cancel my trip but the issue was, the Australian Government did not update their travel advice yet.

I began contacting my airline, the hotels I booked and my travel insurance for refunds. Thankfully, I got just about all my money back. I emailed my university and thankfully I could defer my placement to September. I told my boss that I cancelled my plans and thankfully she really liked my work so my contract got extended for a couple more months.

Between then and now little did I know that this virus would spread to all the corners of the world and reek havoc, even in Australia. So now its May and I am now unemployed but lucky for me I am very good at saving money and I have parents that are willing to let me live with them for three months.

I was feeling very lost for a little while there but now I have re-grouped and instead of dwelling on the fact that my plans were on hold I started thinking about what achievements I could make between now and then instead of wasting my time.

I set a few goals for myself:

  • Study my butt off and get back into the swing of writing Chinese
  • Go get my HSK 3 and achieve a score above 95% (something I should have done a while ago)
  • Study for the HSK 4 and my goal that I have set right now without knowing where my level is really at is to achieve 85% plus so hopefully I will grab a High Distinction.
  • Revise the books I completed three years ago while in Shanghai as I assume they will be using the same books. I will need to really concentrate on all the grammar points they cover off.
    (my English grammar is not spectacular either!)
  • I want to do all of this to guarantee that I will be placed in an intermediate level class when I take the placement tests in SH.
  • Complete one of my marketing classes between June and September. Fingers crossed exams don’t interfere with flights.
  • Get a part-time internship at one of the wineries that export to China nearby so that I can still have professional experience while studying. (I have landed an interview at one of them!)

This is how my brain needs to deal with uncertainty (post-melt-down because my brain thinks that is necessary), I make lists. Lots of them! I need an entire new plan and I need to set new goals because otherwise I would feel totally lost and like I am achieving nothing. I think that this will actually benefit me in the long run because now I have time to study up and make sure I can make the most of being in China. If my goals are achieved, I will finish my Chinese proficiency level at the highest level of intermediate going onto advance. After that, who knows what will happen after July 2021!

I might stay in China even longer for study or work! I haven’t thought that far ahead which can be a little nerve wracking at times for me but the investment I am making for my education should stand out on a resume right? Surely, I can land a job in marketing or sustainability following my China en-devours. I dare say the world is going to change drastically in the next ten years towards a more sustainable future as I form the foundations of my professional career. I’m excited!

I love Shanghai 我爱上海

Nine reasons why I loved SH so much I am going back in Feb 2020 for a whole year.

  1. International community – Your university will have so many people from countries you have never heard of (or at least not me because my geography is terrible) and people from all walks of lie and stages in life. I was 19 when I went and frinds with 17-27 years olds and my best friend was and still is two years older than me. I call her my jiejie and she calls me her meimei. You will never feel too far from home in Shanghai because going on exchange you will make so many friends and share in their culture.
  2. The food is amazing and you have the option for foreign food. You will be able to find your pub feeds once you become familiar with everything and there are international supermarkets to comfort you with western food. Australian food is a little harder to find but stress not because taobao will be your savior. In Australia and in my hometown we are so multicultural and share in this amazing food together so going to the french concession for Italian feels just like going out for Italian in my home town.
  3. Dogs… Spot the dog with the cute little booties it will make your day! They also have this dog meeting spot near the plaza which is pretty good for the socializing and getting a weekly dose of doggo.
  4. The transportation is so super efficient but I guess that applies to nearly everywhere seeing as I am from Australia…They have relatively cheap taxi, super cheap train, even cheaper for the bus! And my favorite option with a hint of adrenaline is riding a bicycle in SH! To do this you need a Chinese bank account linked to your phone using QR codes.

5. There is always more to see. Just when you thought you have done and seen it all in SH, you have not! No wonder I am going back. I am excited and nervous to see how much has changed in three years.
6. SHISU – This university is located pretty well, a short walk to metro lines 8 & 3, short walk to the plaza, carrafoure, many option for dinner – my favourite, Japanese near the train station.
7. East meets West – You will learn so much about cultural nuances and we be a master of cultural code switching after your exchange in China. Make the most of this learning experience even if is seems hard a frustrating at first!
8. You can live on a super budget or you can live the high life OR you can be so strict with your spending during the semester and once holidays roll around you can travel and splurge
9. Social life – everyone always want to do something! except.. like if they are hungover which for me was the case with a lot of my friends.

I believe in aliens

Applying for Chinese Government Scholarship

If you want to study overseas in Feb 2021, you need to have all your stuff together in Feb/March 2020! I found the process very confusing and long so here is a step by step guide:
Vital info for applying:
• You can apply if you just want to study the language, nothing else.
• Book a doctor’s appointment – you will be required to have a blood test, ECG, and a chest X-Ray. The cost adds up to about $400 AUD. Make sure you allow enough time for this all to happen.
• You can apply if you do not have a passport
• You must be very well organised!
• You should (optional) scout out someone you know who is a justice of the peace.
• I hope you know at least two professors (that actually like you).

Ellyse’s head at Tianzifang – One of my favourite places in Shanghai. It is filled with nice pubs, signature dumpling places, foreign food, and the main attraction – Art.

1) Using above link Scroll down slightly on the home page and click “Scholarship application for students”.
2) You will come to a login page. In the top right hand side, there is a red button with says “CREATE AN ACCOUNT”
3) Enter all your details as normal and proceed. NOTE: “”Creating an account with Gmail or Yahoo email address may cause failure of receiving verification email from the application system. Thus, you are suggested to use other email address for the registration.”” HOWEVER I did not see this at the time and used gmail and did not experience any issues – up to you.
4) You will have to confirm email address etc.
5) Go back to the home page using above link again. Scroll down slightly and click the same link “Scholarship application for students”.
6) Follow the login prompts and proceed. You will come to the home page with instructions on how to apply but I found them a little confusing. Still use their information tho!
7) Click on “online application”. THE MOST IMPORTANT part of your application is ‘program category’ and ‘agency number’. Program category is to do with the type of study you will be doing so there is a guide to help you – make sure it is correct! I cannot stress the importance of agency number enough. You must call the Chinese embassy relevant to your country and speak with several different people to finally a) get someone who knows what you’re talking about, b) forward you onto someone who knows the number and c) you understand each other! Call the embassy well in advance because the different types of workers work on different days. Communication – they may not understand what you are saying in English, so I and one man explained ourselves in both English and Chinese back and forth. Now do not get frustrated, just be calm and by the tone of the voice and picking up parts of the words you will eventually understand each other. If you cannot speak Chinese, ask if you can email them directly or they can email you. The agency number is make or break. If you guess, make it up, get last year’s etc. your application will not even be read
8) Filling out your application – tip: do not do autofill just because it is quicker. I accidentally submitted that my religion was the area I lived in. They do not ask you anything difficult – ensure you have your passport number ready to go.
9) They will ask you three preferences for your university. Do not pick any university in Shanghai or Beijing just because you want to be in a major city. Pick your university wisely and do your research on the surrounding area of the University and town! I regret having picked SHISU because I have already studied there for 5 months. I wish I had picked elsewhere to challenge myself more.
10) If you just want to do the Mandarin language course study over in China select “Literature” for “discipline applying for” and “Chinese Language and Literature”.
11) Last part: Supporting documents aka “pain in my ass” – TIPS: you will be asked to upload pics and files to the supporting documents part and they have to be under a certain size. So for your passport pic (which must be scanned!) open it up in or other free app on your PC and shrink it like by 10. As for your medical reports just upload the foreigner medical examination document – don’t bother putting the rest in. Instead you can try put it in “other supporting documents”.
12) Supporting document #1: Chinese VISA photo (compulsory). I recommend getting this done at a camera house place – not the post office because: no appointment required, quicker and cheaper. Scan the photo, shrink and upload. If its too big just keep shrinking and try again.
13) Supporting document #2: Your degree, High School certificate, etc (compulsory). I uploaded this just as is, but the man I did my interview with suggested I get it signed by a JP/Justice of the Peace in order to improve my application.
14) Supporting Document #3: Transcript of highest education (compulsory):
15) Supporting Document #4: Study plan (compulsory): This is the most important aspect of your application! Do not take this part lightly!
16) Supporting Document #5: Two Recommendation letters (compulsory): These must be in one document, so I suggest you print them then scan them back to your computer in one document unless you are a super smart tech wiz and have some other way. These can be both in English or Chinese and must be issued by professors.
17) Supporting Document #6: Passport Wallet (optional): You may have to shrink this image too.
18) Supporting Document #7: Foreigner physical examination Exam document (compulsory). Now this is the most difficult part. you will be required to have a blood test, ECG, and a chest X-Ray. The cost adds up to about $400 AUD. Make sure you allow enough time for this all to happen. You must keep all the weird attachments for future reference if you are asked to provide them. It was pretty awkward going to get a blood test for syphilis but anyway gotta make sure I am healthy! Make sure that if you do now know your blood type, you ask for it to be done in the blood test.
19) Supporting document #8: Language qualifications (optional): upload your HSK test results/certificate.
20) Other optional document: If you are going over for honors or post-grad study I think you have to upload heaps of other stuff plus your study plan must be very detailed and much longer. You can also upload music pieces or art if you are applying for something in that field. But I am not the person to ask about these ones!
21) Proofread & submit. Download your application by pressing “print the application” to proofread again. Sit back and wait for a phone call in about one to two weeks after submission deadline. Good Luck!

If successful you will be asked to have a face to face interview in Sydney. This was very difficult for me living 6 hours away but I got there. They were understanding and offered to adjust the interview day because I lived so far away and working full time. Due to delays I was 2 hours late! What a nightmare. But my interviewer was aware and was very understanding. The interview is a mere formality so do not be nervous! They will ask you about why you want to go to China, what you like about China, what your career aspirations are, what you have studied/studying and where you work. Very Basic. At the end they might tell you straight away if you are successful and they will tell you what improvements you can make to your application.

The result about whether or not you have actually received the scholarship will be received in July. If successful you will receive paperwork from Beijing. – Visit back here as I update this post with my experience with the Scholarship.
This link will show you which degrees cover what kind of scholarships in Yuan.

Feel free to leave any comments if this was helpful. If it was confusing or overwhelming and you need some clarification on some things – I am happy to help, I am your laowai guide to China.