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2014/2015 Studying Mandarin at Xiamen University, my story


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Thanks to all the members here.  Your posts have been a great resource for me in my search for information about studying Mandarin in China.  I hope some will benefit from reading my story too.  I will skip a lot of the details of why I made the choices I did, I am sure it is different for everyone. 


I am a 43 year old male, no wife or kids.  I am lucky to have had a good life as a programmer in the San Francisco bay area, but was interested in doing something completely different.  At the beginning of 2014 I decided I wanted to study Mandarin in China.  I am not a big traveller but have been to Japan and the UK a handful of times for work over the years.  I am excited by the challenge ahead of me and not afraid to make mistakes in my adventure.


I chose to study at Xiamen University primarily because of the reduced pollution in the area.  The university also seemed to have a good reputation.   I did not research too closely and discovered later that I will be studying at the Xiang'an campus which is not in Xiamen city.  A Chinese friend recently helped me search the area using Chinese websites and we learned that it is a 2 hour 20 minute (I've since discovered it is really about 75-90 minutes) bus ride between Siming campus and Xiang'an campus to give you an idea where it is.  The Xiang'an campus does not show up on google maps but does on Baidu maps.


I intend to live off campus.  I booked a flight to arrive on Sep 3rd in Xiamen and will get a hotel and take some time to find an apartment.  Hotels in Xiang'an district can start as low as 60 RMB. (A friend was renting a hotel room by east gate for about 300rmb/month)  Rents for a 1 bedroom apartment appear to be about 1000 RMB or more.  I assume the actual prices are negotiable when I get there and there might be more options to choose from as well.


I applied online to Xiamen University at the beginning of June and heard back within 2 days that I was accepted.  I did not apply for any scholarships.  I had looked at one scholarship and I was out of the age range.  I assume I will spend between US$ 10,000 and US$ 15,000 while living there for 10 months (including tuition).


The admission notice and visa form arrived on July 21st, though I didn't pick it up at the post office until July 31st.  At one point I was not sure where the notice was and emailed the university.  They sent me the tracking number and said it was sent on July 9th.  In general, the university replied to my emails within one day.


After filling out the visa application on the morning of Wednesday the 31st, I took all of my paperwork to the Chinese Consulate in San Francisco.  I arrived there at 1:30 pm, took a number, and waited about 30 minutes for it to be called.  I had checked the express service on the form, but they informed me at the window that they do not do express service.  I had the time so did not question it.  I picked up my visa on the morning of Monday, Aug 4th.  Pickup only took 5 minutes.  The visa allows me to any time before Oct 30, 2014.  It is an X1 visa and the remarks section says "Required to apply for residence permit within 30 days from the date of entry."  It is what I expected from reading the Xiamen University website.


An interesting detail of my story.  I am a Canadian and applied to the university with my Canadian passport information.  I became a US citizen through naturalization on June 23rd and got a US passport.  When I applied for the visa I was not sure which passport to use.  I filled an application for each and tried first with Canadian passport (it is cheaper).  When they asked for evidence of legal status in US I showed them my US passport.  They said I need to use that for the visa application.  So I gave them the other application (just the first page is different) and the visa is now in my US passport.


The university sent a message requesting tuition be wired by Aug 10th.  My bank will only transfer in US dollars.  I have emailed the university to see if that is ok or if there are other options.  I had to search online for additional info about the bank for the wire transfer, like address and phone number of the branch.  The university sent me the SWIFT code which was enough to find the rest.   My bank wants a routing code but it looks like the SWIFT code is unique per branch for Bank of China so maybe no additional routing code is needed.  I am not sure yet.


I asked the university if they would offer any assistance in finding an apartment off campus.  They did not answer the question, so I assume the answer was no.  They did say a week would be enough time to find an apartment off campus.  I know I can always get a dorm room at registration if I fail getting an apartment by then.


My open questions for now, if anyone out there has some information:

  • how best to pay tuition? (I have emailed the university and will update if I hear back.)
  • how to find hotel? ctrip? airbnb?  
  • how to find an apartment and where?
  • I speak no Mandarin, how bad will language issues be in the beginning?  For example, will getting a taxi from airport be a problem?  And finding an apartment, and so on...

Thanks for any additional info.  And thanks again to everyone that contributes to the forums.



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Print the address of the hotel out and show that to the taxi driver at the airport. Baidu says the journey to the university from the airport will cost 65rmb in the daytime, and 100rmb at night.

You could book the hotel on ctrip for the first few nights - so you aren't stuck looking for a hotel with all your luggage after a long flight - and then look around the area to see if there are any better options.

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I speak no Mandarin, how bad will language issues be in the beginning?  For example, will getting a taxi from airport be a problem?  And finding an apartment, and so on...


As to finding an apartment without being able to speak Chinese, it will be difficult or impossible to do on your own. But I'm sure you can find someone at the university to help you once you arrive.


Good luck with your new life!

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Not sure if this fits in your plans or not, but another option is to try and find a language exchange partner on one of the language exchange sites, who is from the area you're going to. I discovered that some Chinese are very intense and determined about being able to practice their English. I've made some really good friends, one very quickly, by just practicing with them daily. And you don't have to know any Chinese - they'll be very excited just to be able to speak English with you, and to hear you speak English. Some of them are working on improving how well they speak English, whereas others may want to work on their listening comprehension. This may depend largely on how much free time you have - this may be more of an investment in time than you're willing or able to bear. But who knows? You might find someone quickly who'd love to meet you and show you around, you never know. Oh, and I've also found language exchange partners on couchsurfing.org.


Here's some examples of language exchange sites:









You may even find that a language exchange partner would help you practice what you've learned in class, who knows?  Just an idea...


Have fun, and good luck!

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well done trevor, good move! I am slightly behind you in age so good to seeing someone else in the same boat making a move like this.


I just transferred money to an account in China but its from the UK. They just wanted to see

- Account number and


- address of beneficiary

- and important a note to say what the move was for (i.e. tuition fee, rent etc)


You can't transfer in RMB as its a non deliverable currency so I just transferred in GBP, but I could have done USD but then I would have paid for my bank to exchange GBP -> USD . 


As for booking hotels using Ctrip (its in English) is always cheaper than UK websites for exact same hotel. Not sure what its like using US websites


Also get a local SIM at the airport. It is very handy for 3G so you can access maps, address of hotel to show to your driver .

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  • 2 months later...



I am a couple of years behind you in age but I am also planning to take a year off in order to study Chinese full-time for a year in a program for foreigners at a Chinese university. I am hoping to do this from Sept. 2015 to July 2016.


It's good to see that some of us older folks are also taking the plunge into this endeavor. I no longer have hang-ups about possibly (most likely!) being the older/oldest student in my classes. I want to do this, so I have put those inhibitions aside.


Thanks for the initial write-up. How have your your studies been going?


Warm regards,

Chris Two Times

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I no longer have hang-ups about possibly (most likely!) being the older/oldest student in my classes.


One of the older students, probably, but the oldest, not necessarily. When I studied at Jiaotong University in Shanghai, there were at least 3 people in their 50s or older in my class.

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Thanks anonymoose. I am in my early 40s and I am looking to study in Beijing so I presume there'll be a few fiftysomethings here as well. All in all, I am not sweating the age issue anymore--it should be the least of my worries. I just want to go get my learn on and get to know the locals and locale of my chosen study city.


Warm regards,

Chris Two Times

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Hi Trevor. I'm studying Chinese History at Siming Campus, Xiamen Uni. I've added you on WeChat. I've made a few local friends here, so if you run into any other difficulties feel free to contact me and I'll do my best to help you.

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