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!

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.

16 Things You Must Do Before Your Exchange to China

I was on exchange in Shanghai, China two years ago so please learn from my experience and hindsight!

If you are going when not on exchange with your university please see if you are eligible for the Chinese Government Scholarship, Australian Govt. New Colombo Plan Scholarship or other scholarships. Once arrived your university may offer scholarships for good grades and 100% attendance.

1) Sort your finances. Tell your bank you are going overseas and for how long. Order travel cards from your bank or they are available at the post office – they have a specific one for China. Convert your money before you leave Australia! Even better if you can get cash before you go. You might not have wifi access while you are in the airport. Many public wifi connections only work if you have a Chinese phone number and other stuff which was too complicated and probably not worth it for me to go through the process. The fun bit which caught me a lot is your money doesn’t convert on weekends! Also pretty much no where accepts card, especially foreign cards. REMEMBER that the ATMs in China will take your card unless you tell the machine to give it back after taking your cash. If it takes you card, immediately go to the nearest bank which is the same company of the ATM. Explain what happened and you will have to show your passport, your name match the card, or in the instance of the post office card put it into an ATM at the bank and show that the PIN is correct. Do this ASAP because otherwise your card might end up in a bank an hour away. The currency in China is RenMinBi, RMB, CNY, kuai, qian and other confusing names. I doesn’t really matter what you call it. Just remember that HongKong and Taiwan have their own currencies!
2) Get a passport – duh. As soon as you get accepted by your home university I suggest applying for your passport. I was waiting until the host university accepted me and then I was in such a rush to get my passport so I could fill in the form and send it back. Accommodation comes as a first in best dressed basis so I missed out on the cheaper room for the semester because I hadn’t got my passport sooner.
3) Research which visa you need –X1 VISA is for going to study 6 months plus and X2 is less than 6 months. You can enter on an X2 and your university may (SHISU did) have a program to change it to X1 so that you can visit other countries in the semester holidays while you are there. Hong Kong and Taiwan are considered separate to mainland China so you will need to upgrade to X1 or visit on your way over/back. To get the X1 visa extended to that 180+ days you will have to get a medical done and fill out a JW202 form. You must do this WITHIN 30 days of arriving in China so DO NOT fly in and travel before your school semester. Allow maximum two weeks before your semester starts.
4) Get your VISA – this will require getting a Chinese visa photo taken, filling an application, getting foreigner medical examination for X1 VISA. You can only apply 3 months before you intend to arrive! If you try to be organised and get it done 5 months in advance you will be rejected! I made it all the way to Sydney only to be turned back and hop on a train back to Wollongong because I thought I had to get it done sooner that three months rather than after. Because I was living back in my hometown I used the service the post office provides which got my Passport safely to the Chinese Embassy in Sydney and back with my VISA on it.
5) Think about if you will need vaccination… what do you want to go see? Piggery, rice, fresh waters etc. I did not get any vaccination before I went because as much as I wanted to see the rice fields, it was not in season while I was there. This time I will be getting Hep A, Typhoid and Malaria vaccinations so I can eat worry free and enjoy the rice fields. use this as a resource for yourself.

This was the first time for me seeing the Bund. I think it was my third day in SH and I was in complete culture shock for my first week.

6) Travel insurance. If your home university doesn’t already cover – get travel insurance. Also your uni might have dodgy travel insurance so actually research what it covers. Your Chinese University might also require you to take out your own health insurance and there might be a small insurance fee when you arrive to your university. In my experience my home university was not a source of information and was not helpful in telling any of this information, or about VISAs, VPN etc. You may have to do all the research yourself. I recommend reaching out to others who are also going on exchange because two brains is better than one! I will be going with my health insurance as my travel insurance, although a bit more expensive they cannot argue with themselves. You may find that if something goes pear shaped your travel insurance and health insurance will fight relentlessly trying not to pay.
7) Book your flights Cheap flights in Mid Feb! You get to go over for just $595 right now with Qantas! What a steal. Fun Fact: You do not have to book your return flight home at the same time or prove it to anyone when you enter China. I would recommend not booking your return flight so far in advance. You might forget to factor in picking up your academic transcript or saying goodbye to the good friends you have made. You might also have some money left to travel a bit before you go! Or the opposite.. you run out of money! Just remember how many days your VISA permits you to stay in China! Do not get caught out!
8) Register your trip with your country – In Australia this is “smart traveler”. It will give you insight about anything that might affect your trip or safety. Make sure you update it if you go travelling after the semester and input the address of hotels you are staying at.
9) Educate yourself on the university, living area, region, culture etc. If you cannot speak Mandarin please learn Hello, Thank you, Sorry and counting to 10 with your hands in Chinese and remember to be patient when you cant find anyone who doesn’t speak English because you are in THEIR country. China is unlike Vietnam and Thailand, not everyone is going to speak English for your convenience. Do your research! Please I cannot stress this enough. The more research you do in your home country the more you will understand while you are over there, and the less frustrated you will be. There are funny things you need to learn about the lack of cold beer and water, pedestrian crossings, and Chinese people giving you directions, etc. which all come from some small cultural lessons.
10) If you want to use the internet for literally ANYTHING, get a VPN. It is outstanding the amount of people who do not do their research or who are just plain ignorant about China’s political system. A VPN is an app (I recommend express VPN which you pay for) which tells your server that you are in another country, thus getting over the whole great firewall of China thing. China is constantly cracking down on VPNs so do your research before downloading a VPN. The paid ones are better – trust me. But I did survive with the free VPN for five months last time because I tried to stay off socials and enjoy the experience in China. PS: Make sure you log onto Facebook every now and then so that your paranoid parents don’t think you have been arrested or in a ditch somewhere lol. I hadn’t logged onto socials for a week and because of the need for VPN I didn’t get any notifications or messages and so of course being dead was my parent’s conclusion. I logged on and to my surprise I had like 50 messages and some missed calls to which I had to respond “I am alive, stop over-reacting!” If you do not want to download a VPN and engage more in life than on the tech, encourage your friends and family to download WeChat so you can have ease on communication.

Prayers at the temple

11) Download wechat – you really don’t have a choice with this one. It is really the only form of social communication in China. Wechat can be used as Facebook, messenger, translator of any language, twitter and cardless cash – no fancy chip in your phone needed.
12) Download Pleco, but if you speak Mando you probably already have this. This is a super cool translation app which can use typing, writing and speaking to translate from English to Chinese. It works offline too! I don’t think the speaking part works offline.. This app will also tell you how to pronounce the words and has a lil voice button you can press to play to Chinese if you cannot pronounce the word.
13) Download an app called airpocalypse. It will give you updates on the amount of pollution in the air. It will say when it is okay to exercise, you should wear a mask or it might recommend you stay indoors that day. I am an asthmatic and I didn’t have any problems with the pollution as such, keeping in mind I was there from Feb-August. I did suffer from worse Hay Fever than usual. Funny story – Chinese don’t think hay fever is an actual thing, you are instead just sick. It was quite interesting to hear them say it was a western concept that they learned in UK.
14) If you don’t have apple maps, download baidu maps (it is all in Chinese so good luck to you!) which will help you navigate and tell you which bus to catch etc. OR if you are a completely directionless noob like me follow a friend who has the app! Unfortunately my sense of direction didn’t improve much.
15) Stock up on Tim Tams, Milo, Vegemite, Caramello Koalas and other Aussie (or your home country) treasures before you go. I didn’t think I would need to because I was so pumped for the food but the truth is, you will get sick of eating Chinese and Asian food. You will get homesick and you will want to stuff your face with comfort food you are familiar with. If you run out, you can order these things on an amazing website called Taobao but you must have a Chinese bank account with Chinese card to do so. PS Tim Tams cost me $20 AUD a pop on taobao but it was totally worth. There is an amazing international community with great foreign food but you will need something from your home country. Oh and PS it is so so so hard to find any Aussie food in China! I found lots of Aussie wine, but that was no use to me!
16) Dump your boyfriend. Get rid of that excess baggage. Do I even need to explain this?

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