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The Harbin Mandarin School, Harbin

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James3

Vostochniye thanks so much for your write up. I've been planning on coming to Harbin to study Mandarin once my business gets to the point where it makes sense. I plan to study there at The Harbin Mandarin School. Say, I wonder if you could tell me, did you go to Harbin on a tourist visa? And if so, can you elaborate on how often you had to leave China, and then reenter? Also, if you have time, maybe you could say something about how easy/hard it was to get a work visa when you got a job...and if you had to leave China for that.

 

Oh, I found the new site here.

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Vostochniye skazki

Hello James I totally forgot to mention the visa details, but let me share that with you now.

 

I got my visa from the Manchester Chinese visa office in the UK, I prefer to go there because you can park just a few footsteps outside (in China Town), and as they are so fast in there you are in and out in like 15 minutes.

 

I had a Student X Visa for six months BUT this visa is single entry only, which meant I was not able to leave China during my study and come back in. If I did leave, I would obviously have to have a new Chinese visa to get back in the country.

 

From what I understand, when you complete your application and take it to the Chinese visa office in your country, it’s totally down to their discretion what visa they issue you with. Obviously I had the official invitation letter from the school with my study start and end dates on as they require some form of ‘evidence’ for the purpose of your visit and stay in China. The woman at the counter actually checked through the application form before I left and she corrected my visa choice. I had originally picked the other student visa option for 12 months, but that is only for university students and requires a lot more official forms but is multiple entry.

 

From what I know talking with the other students at the school (one other UK student and two Australians) they were all on tourist visas and we all assumed that because they were studying a much shorter time than me, they were issued tourist visas which I think were single entry and only valid for 3 months.

 

The reason I had to extend my visa at the very end of my study was because way back before I even arrived in China, I booked my return flights to and from London, but I didn’t calculate the dates correctly which resulted in my return flight home being 2 days after my visa expired. So the school took me to register with the police and then we went to the public bureau to hand over the passport and police registration in order to get an extension. There was a limit, because I was on a 6 month student visa, the only option they could do there was extend my stay by an extra 10 days which was fine I my case. I think it cost about 150 kuai. The cost to change my flight with virgin was some stupid amount (I think because of bank holiday and being last minute) so to extend my visa was the best and cheapest solution.

 

In regards to my job and the visa for that, I went back to the UK because I wanted to go home anyway and I did my visa in Manchester again like I always have done.

 

So to round up my visa experience, you just need to complete the visa application form and submit it with required documents and obviously the school invitation letter. It’s then up to the Chinese visa office what visa they issue you with, they might fancy giving you a tourist visa or it might be the 6 months single entry student visa – it’s their call, however I do believe it depends more on the length of time you plan to be in China.

 

For some reason people seem to have a panic about the visa but it's so easy. If i doubt just select any old option on your application and when you hand it in the clerk will correct it anyway.

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roddy

Suspicious number of 0-post members regularly turning up to upvote these reviews, by the way. Oh look, three of you joined up within 2 days of each other. 

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James W.

Hi Roddy:  

 

I think I'm perhaps one of these members that is interested in these reviews, and I can guarantee that my responses aren't specious.  I just don't get around to visiting this site that often.  

 

I do spend my summers in Harbin, and really like it as a city; it's personally my favorite city in China.  I also study at the Harbin Mandarin School, and have been very pleased with their programs.   I am at a point now where I am conversing in Chinese, and I am extremely happy that I chose Harbin.  The accent is very standard, and you both learn the right pronunciation (the same one used on television and movies) and develop an ear for standard Mandarin.  I lived in Hong Kong for 12 years, and know for a fact that you don't want to learn Mandarin there.  South Chinese have very strong accents and a lot of strictly local words.  It's not a small problem, it is the difference between being conversant, and being frustrated.  

 

I suspect that other posters may be somewhat defensive about Harbin because it is so underrated.  I certainly think it is a place that should be on any Mandarin student's radar.

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abcdefg
Suspicious number of 0-post members regularly turning up to upvote these reviews, by the way. Oh look, three of you joined up within 2 days of each other.

 

Nothing against Harbin or that school. Fine city and fine school. But it does get old seeing these one-time glowing posts back to back. I'm sure the teachers urge their satisfied students to submit them. Not doubting the truth of these testimonials, but they cease to be meaningful after a while.

 

Some of the teachers there have token memberships in the forum, but don't post their own content. They just come along to vote up the contributions of the happy "volunteer-posting" new graduates. Other students and alumni are also urged to join in and vote up new favorable posts. Every single post winds up with a gold "popular" star.

 

They are gaming the system. Using the forum as free advertising. Probably not against the letter of the law, but it rubs me the wrong way.

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James W.

I'm inclined to be a bit forgiving.   These forums are really designed for Westerners to exchange information.  Chinese culture is naturally more reticent.  For Chinese speakers where English is not their first language, there is some insecurity about getting both the words and the sentiment wrong.  

 

I've attended the Harbin Mandarin School for several years now, living in Harbin in the summer.   In my experience, I think their pedagogy is substantially better and more flexible than other schools I have tried (I'd been to two in Beijing and one in Hong Kong).   I've told the school that they should be more active in forums, but I think there is some reticence.   That's probably why they ask students to be active on their behalf.     Schools run by Westerners tend to be much more active on English language social media, but may not have programs that are comparably good.  It's just a matter of comfort.

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Punkish
Hi Everyone,

 

Sorry this reviews been a long time coming. I actually studied at the Harbin Mandarin School last year in October 2015. Sorry Ma Laoshi for not posting sooner, but I haven't had any time for myself in the last 5 months! A little introduction about myself:

 

- I am in my early 30's.

- A born and bred Londoner.

- My family background is of Gujarati Indian origin and they came to the UK in the 70's after living in East Africa.

- I studied at University College London (UCL) up to getting a PhD.

- I currently work as an automotive engineer (for a company i really should consider leaving :) ).

- About 10 years ago I studied Mandarin for 6 months at the National Taiwan Normal Uni in Taipei 

- My best friend is also Taiwanese (hence he influenced me to study at the Mandarin intensive training centre Shida where I did the group classes).

- At that time my requirements were different...I really did not worry about conserving my savings and enjoyed meeting anybody...foreigners or locals. In the end I made some lifelong friends (all foreigners not local Taiwanese) in that period. 

 

So on to the Harbin Mandarin School - firstly, before attending the school I thoroughly read through the forums to make up my mind. I researched many locations in China and always saw that Harbin was well regarded by posters. I think mostly there is not much more I can add to what previous reviewers have said. The Harbin Mandarin School was really quite good for my purposes and my background at the time.  

 

My key criteria for a school were:

 

- One to one teaching that is provided by reliable and well reviewed teachers so I can progress/review myself as fast as possible 

- Affordable and decent accommodation can be provided

- Mandarin spoken locally (spoken cleanly - I noticed my Shanghai office colleagues mumble a bit and were not as clear as Harbiners).

- Not too many foreigners locally

- Good value for money (bare in mind I live/work in one of the most expensive cities in the world so its relative!)

- I already had a lot of fun and boozing when I was in Taipei 10 years ago so my social requirements this time were less

- Friendly locals (with no or very limited racism)

- Supportive staff to help me with any problems

- Somewhere sunny (as I love sun)

 

So...Harbin and the Harbin Mandarin School met all my requirements except the last one - the climate/weather! As I was only staying for 3 weeks in October I compromised on this (the weather in this period was probably better than a London winter anyway!). I think I must mention what makes this school so special was Ma Laoshi and the rest of the team. Ma Laoshi was extremely responsive even before I had left the UK. For example, I was at the China Visa office in the UK just before their closing time and was given a new requirement by their staff. I whatsapp'ed the school mobile number and Ma Laoshi responded with the info required in minutes!

 

Also, I must say the school was extremely good in its flexibility. They are really happy to work their lesson times and content around you with no complaints if you want it this way.

 

So in summary, I would say I do not disagree with any previous reviews of this school. I gave you some information of my background to help you relate and see if you could have a similar perspective/experience. When I was younger I had a lot of fun in Taipei (I also got to a very good level with their structured course and my perseverance through hangovers). Now that I am older the Harbin Mandarin School was a very good flexible fit for me (serious practice in a short period - although by the end I realised sacrificing social aspects with foreigners would not be a long term solution for me!). For my future studies...well it looks like my company will send me to Shanghai for work and again my requirements will be different and more focused on the social side as I will be there for the long term. So, soon I will be in the market for a new school in Shanghai with group classes so I can meet people outside of work as well as study. Simultaneously the Harbin Mandarin School does Skype classes so once I am considering this as a good secondary option too!   

 

I hope this review helps! Post or PM me if you have any more detailed questions. I can probably help you compare the different cities/schools (Taipei, Shanghai, Harbin)!
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zander1

Hey, I studied once again at the Harbin Mandarin school for two months this Autumn (you can see my earlier review above). Most things were pretty similar so I’ll try not to repeat myself too much, and you can look above for most things!

 

 

Accommodation: Same as before. Although just before I left, the school was in the process of moving to a new location a bit closer to Zhongyang Dajie so this information will be out dated now. I checked out the new location one day and it looks pretty cool, the school itself is located within a nice park-like complex with flowers, animals and greenhouses (it would be a nice place to run around) and I think accommodation will also be there. It’s within walking distance of Zhongyang Dajie and Wal-Mart. Has anyone been to the new school?

 

 

Classes: As before these were great, and my improvement was very noticeable. I studied with and 石老, who are both excellent teachers.

 

 

Staff: I will once again stress how friendly and helpful and Ayi are, the things they helped me with include (but not limited to): taking me to the train station to buy tickets, changing my lights in my apartment when I mentioned they weren’t bright enough, upon hearing that I was feeling lonely taking me to English corner at various universities across town to make local friends. I really can’t thank them enough.

 

 

This is not to say that my trip was completely perfect, I initially planned on staying in Harbin for 3 and a half months, but ending up leaving after two months. The main reason for this was loneliness; when I was last in Harbin there was a good group of 4-5 of us who were quite social and went out to eat regularly and organized a trip to Inner Mongolia among other things. For the majority of the time I was there, there was only one (!) other student and she was not particularly social and had zero interest in hanging out after class or going out for lunch or anything. Obviously this is her own prerogative, but essentially being alone for a long period of time can be quite trying in a reasonably boring city. Often I would go to class and see no one else for the rest of the day. As I mentioned above, noticed this and took me to various English corners around Harbin (in his own time I may add) to make friends, which was partly successful and I did find some local students to hang out with. In the end however I decided two months was long enough. Obviously this is nothing to do with the school per se, but it is important to keep in mind that this really is a tiny school, and this can come with its own challenges if you are, like me, quite young and looking for some social interaction.

 

 

Also, the saddest thing is that Ayi is no longer cooking school lunches due to health reasons at her age. I told her how much I missed her cooking and she made me a few meals (for free) for old time’s sake every now and again which was super sweet of her. I do think this problem does link to the solitude I mentioned above, without a communal lunch at the school for the students it can often seem like you are at a private Mandarin tuition camp!

 

 

Overall however, I was once again very satisfied with my experience, though if I were to go again I think I would go in Summer when there are more students.

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LinZhenPu

Hi, I was studying there too. We probably saw each other.

I've been in the new school. It's in a very schwanky upmarket apartment/business office complex.

I've got to agree on you on the point of how good they are to their students.

The new school has more classrooms than before so not only are they moving but they are also expanding.

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zander1

Has anyone been at the school recently? Would be curious to know how the new location and accomodation is working out!

 

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LinZhenPu

I can tell you that their new school is very nice and they've had no trouble setting up apartments for new students.

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Mannng

In acknowledgement of Roddy's observation above about "one time users posting glowing reviews", I thought I'd make the comment that I joined this forum specifically  because I was searching for info on studying in Harbin, and Google led me to this forum thread. (And this is my first ever post).

I have not studied at this school (or any school in China), but the Harbin School is on my shortlist of candidates for a month of study in May 2019.

As for me, I am Australian and I am self-taught, and am currently learning the HSK3 vocabulary. My reading is quite good, and my oral is horrifically bad. 

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Shshk56

Hi everyone!

My background: I have experience studying Mandarin Chinese at an European university, as a short summer course and as a year long course at Chinese universities and here in Harbin (in this chronological order). Initially, I took a three week long course at the Harbin Mandarin School in the summer of 2017. When I arrived in Harbin, my Chinese was perhaps on the HSK 4 /5 level - but very rusty, since I have not been using it for a while.

How did I decide in the Mandarin Chinese School?  Previously, I had the chance to attend one-on-one classes for another language I am learning, so encouraged by this experience, I was looking for the same in Mandarin. I wanted to work on my pronunciation and spoken language, as that’s what I felt most insecure about. Also, I wanted to focus on advanced vocabulary that’s useful in my professional field, as opposed to somewhat boring textbook stories. I knew I couldn't take reading them again.

Location-wise, I wanted to come to the North and avoid the biggest and more expensive cities, such as Beijing and Shanghai. Not that Harbin is a small city, especially by European standards! I have always heard that Harbin is a good place to learn Chinese due to the standard accent, so it was a pretty easy choice. 

 

When booking the class online, I was very happy with Ma Laoshi’s quick and professional responses in English. I felt like I am getting all the information I need and the school application, payment and visa application went very smoothly. There has been no surprises or “hidden costs”, which I appreciate a lot. The staff is very friendly and supportive.

Although I spent a lot of time abroad, I still get a little anxious when planning a trip to another continent, so I must say I wish every school had this kind of professional “customer service.” 

 

Coming to Harbin, I was picked up at the airport and brought to the apartment in a modern housing complex in the city center, practically at the river bank. I still remember how excited I was with the window view of skyscrapers and the river. The studio was comfortable, spacious and well-equipped (even with a rice cooker!!). Location-wise, the school is in a walking distance from the Central Street, and just a 10 minutes cab ride from the main train station. It is also well-connected when it comes to the public transportation and the bus fare is only 1-2 RMB. Nevertheless, there’s a couple of shopping malls in a walking distance, and if you head west, it’s very close to the old Daowai area. Other then that there’s plenty of shops and restaurants (including an amazing vegetarian one) around the school complex. Overall, it is a great location if you want to explore Harbin, both the historical and modern parts. The other foreigners you see in this area is probably other students at the school, so it's definitely an immersion into a Chinese-speaking environment. 

 

Regarding the course: after a short evaluation we decided to follow HSK 5 as a general guideline and focus on my conversation skills. I had classes with two different teachers, both of whom were knowledgeable and, obviously, qualified to teach foreigners. To me, the biggest advantage of individual classes is that the teacher can focus 100% on your personal weak points and adjust the program. For example, we put a lot of work into my pronunciation and tones. Within three weeks of an intensive class and constant conversations with my teachers my skills improved and I became more confident when speaking, so I felt that I achieved my goal.

 

--

 

However, my story doesn’t end here. It happened so that I came back to Harbin in 2018, although for different purposes. I still wanted to improve my Chinese so I started an individual class again. At the time my main goal was to improve both my conversation skills and advanced reading: basically everything which would make my stay in China easier. Again, Ma Laoshi was very flexible and we could always work on whatever I felt was needed. You are free to design your own curriculum and bring materials that you are interested in. Also, Since Ma Laoshi and Ayi are Harbin natives, I think that these classes helped me to learn more about Harbin and the Chinese Northeast culture.

One thing to note: Ma Laoshi knows a lot about the city and is always willing to organize trips around Harbin, but with a smaller pool of students you might want to find friends outside of the school. But: I’ve found out that a) Harbin residents speak with a pretty clear accent so you can easily talk to people (and people like to talk so it's nice) b) there’s a small international community as well. If you want to know more about the nightlife, feel free to pm me. 

 

I absolutely think that attending the Harbin Mandarin School has been a good investment, both when it comes to my time and money. I have not tried the Skype classes yet but I probably will at some point. To sum up, the school is perfect if you value professionalism, an individual approach to the student, and are serious about your goals. Let’s just say that I have been recommending this school to my friends because I am confident it is a good choice.

 

PS: I’ve seen that previous posts mentioned the famous Harbin winter. It might seem scary, but I’d say it’s an interesting experience to have. Nothing like having some hot pot or warm DongBei dishes after you’ve been out for hours! 

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