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Peeter

Finished my high school exchange year in Shenzhen, China

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Peeter

Dear fellow admirers of Chinese culture,

From July 2007 to August 2008, I visited Shenzhen as an exchange student, through a high school exchange program (YFU). Before the exchange year, I asked for advice and information at chinese-forums.com and I got what I needed. I truly appreciate that.

My year abroad proved to be as vivid and brimming with extremities as I had expected it to be. Generally speaking, I tended to have quite mixed reactions regarding China and whether or not I'd like to continue my studies there, but my conclusive verdict was that China is definitely worth revisiting. I was, however, thoroughly displeased with the program, as many of its conditions either failed to be met or were lousily organized. I was also in contact with other exchange students of the same organization throughout China and I can say that YFU China made enemies of most of us!

I must admit that the uniquity of Chinese culture is also partly to blame in our failure to communicate - seeing as the Chinese concept of 'honesty' is altogether different than it is in most other cultures. Lying as means to 'save face', gain an advantage, help others or whatever reason seems remarkably commonplace in all types of relationships, whether it be parent-child, friends with each other, manager-employee or anything else one could think of. In spite of the problems it caused, in the end it served to intrigue me - how interesting it is that a people can think so differently on something so basic. :D

Other points of interest:

Chinese people are sooo sociable! Whereas in China, it is impolite to show negative feelings around strangers, but people still love to express themselves, in my country, it is considered improper to show any kind of feelings at all around people you don't know. So making Chinese friends felt great for a change.

School life in China really is SCHOOL life. Activity in areas that bear no relation to curricula is strictly regarded as a hindrance unless, of course, it serves to achieve something in a competition. High school students rarely get time to relax and once they do, they don't really know what to do with it (except go to KTV, which is my favourite pastime activity; but even KTV sometimes has a bad rep among students). That's why quite a few of my friends were actually people who never went to high school.

At first I couldn't get into Chinese food (it's undeniably something completely different than what is offered in Chinese restaurants outside of China!) and I couldn't stand the weird stuff such as red/green bean desserts, 芝麻, curious animal body parts and so on, but I gradually began to really enjoy most of it. Especially the bits of Sichuanese cuisine I could get every now and then. A bowl of 酸辣粉 for 五块 was always a good idea when visiting Dong Men. :wink:

I must admit, Chinese is really really really hard. I've studied some Japanese, but soon after starting off with Chinese I became convinced that the latter is far more difficult. Discerning all those weird consonants in everyday speech (xi, qi, ji, shi, zhi, ci, si, zi, chi in particular), coping with the funny 普通话 accents in Shenzhen (as many of the inhabitants come from any part of the country) and juggling with the four tones seriously made Chinese seem like an impossible language to learn. I started picking up after the first three months. Chinese doesn't seem so impossible anymore - it merely requires a lifetime of commitment and motivation. :lol:

When I think of anything else I just have to discuss, I'll update this post. Either way, China was awesome. One day I'll go back there for sure. :D (As far as my current plan goes, I'll pursue my Master's Degree there, so, 3 more years to go)

Edited by Peeter

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roddy

Thanks for the follow up. For anyone who's interested, Peeter's original questions are here.

Would be interesting to know what specific problems you had with YFU - what conditions weren't met, and so on. Despite the issues it sounds like you had a good time - would you recommend it to others?

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Meng Lelan

I think YFU has been around for over 20 years, because when I was in high school in the 11th grade, the YFU sent over a girl from Sweden.

The girl from Sweden, I remember her being from YFU. She was always asking me what grade I got on the most recent exams in our classes. Of course I wouldn't tell her any of my grades because I considered grades to be private information and that I didn't think she was sent all the way from Sweden to spy on my grades.

So I thought it interesting you said that YFU was making enemies. So I'd like to know what you thought of YFU too.

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Peeter

Well, the program consisted of two components - the first one being a month of Chinese studies and lots of extracurricular activities, such as practising kung fu, learning calligraphy, visiting a manhua factory of some sort and so on, the second one was the exchange year in the assigned school.

The first month really blew, so we got off with a bad start - a local English teacher (with horrible pronunciation in English) was paid to teach us Chinese and one of the exchange students from Germany (whose parents are from Beijing) was shocked at how many mistakes she made in Chinese (all concerning tones and pinyin, I believe - since her putonghua had a very strong local accent). Also, the three 2-hour courses of calligraphy actually became one-n-half hour of brushing characters without any instruction. Regarding the visit to the manhua factory, the organizers (as we later found out) couldn't find their way there, so we went to a manga shop. A number of the activities we had in the schedule didn't even take place.

When we our schools were chosen, then four of the exchange students that were put in the same school were told that they would be put in middle school, not high school. Of course, the students were strongly against this decision and called YFU to say they would NOT be ok with that, after which the matter was dropped. The only explanation for YFU wanting to put them into middle school is that in China, high school costs money and middle school does not. So they wanted to evade paying for what had been included in the program's expenses.

We were supposed to have a three-day all expenses paid trip to another city, whereas in practice, they took us to Hong Kong, rented us rooms for 2 nights in a shabby hotel (which even had a brothel on the upper floor) gave each of us 150 HK dollars and told us to "do what we want".

During our paid trip to Guilin, I recieved a "YFU Warning Letter" because I was spotted drinking Chinese beer on our ship tour through the mountain valleys. Drinking any alcoholic beverages during the exchange year is, of course, prohibited. However, considering the circumstances - all beverages on the ship were highly priced, except for that free bottle of beer, which was opened for me and put in a glass on my table without any questions asked and that I was 19 years old at the time - it was a rather ridiculous situation. As soon as the YFU henchman spotted me, he called the YFU and Beijing and said that I had violated the rules. A report of the occasion was also sent to YFU Estonia and my natural parents, without any of the details. This little situation definitely diminished my respect for the organization, although, one *could* say they were right to do that, since I actually did break the rules, strictly speaking.

There were also quite a few issues regarding the host families and insincerity but at the moment they seem too complicated to put into words. :D

My dissatisfaction is directed towards only the YFU Greater China branch of YFU. YFU in itself has a just cause and overall seems very lovely (and I have never had any unpleasantries with the YFU Estonia branch). Only YFU China came off as conceited and wanting to rip-off underage students for personal profit, which is in itself repulsive.

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Peeter

As for whether or not I'd recommend it for others - truth be told, Chinese high school isn't the bomb. One should apply for a year (or more) in a Chinese school ONLY if he's already quite fluent in the language and strongly committed to studying and getting a degree. As for me, I decided to study a minimal amount of Chinese before the exchange year and thought the first month would prepare me well enough (an epic fail on my part indeed).

However, I thoroughly enjoyed the city and the people. The skyscrapers and huge city centers were awesome. The parks, temples outside of town and the greenery overall were wonderful. The sights at 东门 and 华强北 were unforgettable. I will miss the KTV bars for as long as I'm away from China. The girls were truly cute and the food was delicious. I'd love to go back there one day.

Even so, I'd recommend one to go to Shenzhen only if you're not going for high school *and* if you're determined to study Chinese since fluency in English isn't very widespread there. (At the same time there's a huge English speaking community in 蛇口, but that part of Shenzhen is far away from the city center)

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imron

After your year there, how much Chinese would you say you learnt?

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roddy

Sounds like YFU haven't chosen their local partners well, and aren't doing enough to make sure they're up to scratch. Not uncommon.

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AlecO

Good reading your experiences, thanks!

I'd be interested in some examples of the culture of lying you mentioned, especially when it's between friends or people you'd expect to be honest.

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Peeter

Well, I'd say my strongest aspect is pronunciation. Many Chinese told me that if they'd talk to me on the phone, they would be hard pressed to discern whether I'm a foreigner or not. Until I make some huge slip due to my lacking in other aspects. My vocabulary is rather poor and I know but the simplest of grammatical structures - I can more or less hold a conversation on daily subjects but it's gonna take a long while to make my Chinese academically credible. Oh well, 好好学习,天天向上. :wink:

Regarding their definition of sincerity, at the moment, I can think of but one extreme example. A long story indeed but the gist is that a host family wanted to give their exchange kid (a good friend of mine) to somebody else and many completely different reasons for that reached our ears: (a) The reasons they gave to the exchange student, (B) the reasons they gave to the receiving family, © the reasons they gave to YFU to tell the kid, (d) the reasons they gave to YFU which they SHOULDN'T tell the kid. (I found the last ones out because a YFU volunteer became a good friend of ours and he told us later on.)

I'd say this demonstrates a complex part of Chinese social culture rather well: one must say what the listener wants to hear.

Apart from that, I could mention two more striking aspects of Chinese society:

1. One mustn't take a promise for granted. I had LOTS of, perhaps even hundreds, of people invite me to their homes with a warm smile, but only with very few close friends did it actually happen. At one time, shortly before our holidays began, I tried to organize a KTV party with my classmates. I told five of my classmates about my idea, all separately, and all responded gleefully and told me that they'd discuss it with the others and then get back to me by the end of the day. I thought this would be sufficient as an initiative on my part, so I'd let them sort it out from thereon. That was the last that I heard about the plan. Surprisingly enough, not a single one replied to me!

2. The Chinese definition of timing is cardinally different from what I'm used to. They tend to be late for appointments. I know that this is a bad stereotype but in strangely many cases, it rang true. Even when the YFU leaders from Beijing came to visit us, they were an hour and a half late for the appointment. At the same time, there's always a fair degree of exceptions to any rule: I can remember one very good Chinese friend who always came on time and expressed discontent when others did not. :wink:

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Lu
At one time, shortly before our holidays began, I tried to organize a KTV party with my classmates. I told five of my classmates about my idea, all separately, and all responded gleefully and told me that they'd discuss it with the others and then get back to me by the end of the day. I thought this would be sufficient as an initiative on my part, so I'd let them sort it out from thereon. That was the last that I heard about the plan. Surprisingly enough, not a single one replied to me!
That sounds familiar :-) In China, 'I'll get back to you on that', or 'I'll call you later for a new appointment' means 'no'.

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mappy

Hi I wanted to ask you some things about your experience in China.I live in South America and since last year I have been wanting to travel to China and finish my high school there, in Chengdu, which is a place that I like very much:) I have been investigating many things to see if that is possible...and I know that in that city there are like 4 international schools I could go to, but the truth is I need more information because I cant just go there an apply just like that. I dont even know where I could stay or if there are other interesting international programs.(something not so expensive, if possible).I dont know if there are other ways to obtain high school degree, something different.

I would really appreciate if you could help me, I really want to go this year and I onl have these months to organize everything..thank you.

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ericmccabe

Hi Peeter

My name is Eric McCabe. I too was a YFU student in China. I went for the 2008-2009 session, and just got back a few months ago. I read you post, and heartily agreed with your stance on YFU China. My friends and I also had problems with the organization in China, and I was glad to see that an earlier student (you) had also experienced problems, and that we weren't just crazy to think that YFU China is a poorly run organization. That being said, I really enjoyed my year, and would still definitely recommend it for interested high school students.

So I have a question for you. What have you done with your chinese since the end of your exchange year? I can already feel mine slipping, and I fear that after a few more years, it will disappear completely. Did you end up going back to China? Are you studying it in College? I'm really just curious to hear how, or even if you were able to retain your chinese.

Thanks

Eric

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