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two-ks

Short-term study courses - please help me choose!

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two-ks

Hello all, 

 

I've done a ton of research, and following the guidelines in this post, would love your thoughts on where to study in China. Below is all the information I think I could possibly provide. Would really appreciate any and all perspectives! I've searched each school name mentioned below on this forum and read through all the threads that mention it, but some are on the older side so I thought I'd post for the freshest perspective.

 

Level: Total beginner (except for a few months of HelloChinese - not sure that counts), though once I choose a school I plan to do online lessons for a few months between now and when I start in April.

 

Purpose: 'Language vacation'; languages are my favorite hobby, I speak ~7 with varying degrees of proficiency but my comfort zones are Romance and Germanic. Challenging myself with Mandarin while taking some time off from a stressful job.

My goal is that at the end of ~2-3 months, I can travel to a few places in China and be able to make basic arrangements without needing a guide.

 

Timeframe: I have ~3.5 months total to spend abroad, looking to spend minimum 2 months full-time studying and at least 2-3 weeks traveling. Approx. April-Jun timeframe.

 

Budget: Least important, all programs except LTL are well within the range, but if LTL is worth it I'll consider.

 

Facts about me to help with recommendations:

  • Female, young professional
  • Happier in cold weather than in hot weather
  • Not good at talking to strangers, but not a total introvert either
  • Like: being active, the outdoors, cooking
  • Dislike: partying a lot (the occasional bar outing is ok)
  • Love big cities - Shanghai sounds great - but I think the 'contrived' environment of a private language school in a smaller city would be better in my case?
  • Clean is better than dirty, but I have no illusions about where I'm going
  • I'm skeptical of 'cultural activities' like calligraphy, tai chi, or tea ceremonies - I'd rather go have a conversation over coffee or go on a walk / hike…

 

Looking for:

  • Full-time private immersion environment (don't have enough time for a university program, and I'd like the assistance offered by private programs)
  • A nice place to live where I can stay active and eventually use it as a home base to travel to other places on the weekends. I'd like to be able to visit parks, museums, try new restaurants etc in the afternoons - this is a language 'vacation' after all :)
  • At least 4 hrs of instruction per day, ideally more

 

Impressions from my research to date:

  • Top candidates in no particular order are CLI in Guiling, Keats in Kunming, Omeida in Yangshuo, and LTL in Shanghai/Chengde combo program. I've emailed back and forth with each of them, and it seems like they all have a robust process for selecting teachers, so I can't seem to differentiate based on teaching quality; also someone who's done both Keats and Omeida said the quality was similar. Here's what I like and dislike about each one:
  • CLI in Guilin:
  • Pros: 
    • Seems like nice city with lots of weekend travel options, not sure about evenings
  • Cons: 
    • Fewest hrs / week
    • Will likely be very rainy in April/May
  • Keats in Kunming:
  • Pros:
    • Weather
    • Good variety of school-run activities
    • Access to a gym arranged by the school
  • Cons:
    • Was told I'd get bored
  • Omeida in Yangshuo:
  • Pros: Sounds like the most beautiful / outdoorsy place by far with lots of hiking and biking options
  • Cons:
    • Will likely be very rainy in April/May, so maybe I won't be able to enjoy all that nature?
    • Group classes is the standard; 1:1 would be an add-on
    • Was told it's a bit of a 'party' place? Not my cup of tea
  • LTL Shanghai and Shanghai/Chengde combo:
  • Pros:
    • No shortage of stuff to do in Shanghai
    • 'Extreme Immersion' combo program w/ Chengde sounds like a great opportunity to progress quickly
    • Big activity calendar
  • Cons:
    • Very expensive! I know Shanghai cost of living is high, but at LTL you have to pay extra for things that other schools offer for free (like help opening a bank account, language partner programs)
    • Temptation to speak English in Shanghai
    • May feel very isolated in Chengde

 

Other questions:

  • Why do homestays rarely work out? I know it can be a huge culture shock, but I'd imagine a good chunk of the families have experience hosting Westerners?
  • I've seen it advised that you should stick with one program for the whole duration. Because I can't choose and have limited time, it's tempting for me to do something like a month in Kunming (Keats) and then a month doing Shanghai + Chengde with LTL... Thoughts?

 

If you've come this far, THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR READING! Looking forward to the perspectives.

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mungouk
On 12/20/2019 at 4:28 PM, two-ks said:

Was told it's a bit of a 'party' place? Not my cup of tea

 

Not sure if you're talking about the school or Yangshuo... there's nothing to stop you renting a cheap electric scooter, or hiring a driver, and enjoying the nearby countryside when the weather is good (most of them have a built-in umbrella/parasol anyway).  

 

I stayed just outside Yangshuo for a week last year on holiday and the countryside is incredible.  I didn't like Yangshuo town very much (lots of traffic and tourists), but I only went there twice, once to find an ATM. Rest of the time I was out in the countryside with just rice paddies, karst mountain landscapes and the river.

 

 

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abcdefg
On 12/21/2019 at 12:28 AM, two-ks said:
  • Keats in Kunming:
  • Pros:
    • Weather
    • Good variety of school-run activities
    • Access to a gym arranged by the school
  • Cons:
    • Was told I'd get bored

 

Puzzling statement. Why would you get bored? Bored with the studies or bored with the city? Kunming is a convenient travel hub not only for SW China, but for many attractive locations in SE Asia. (For example, I'm currently in Hanoi for the Christmas holiday. It's a 1.5 hour non-stop flight from Kunming. Round trip ticket less than $200 USD.) 

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abcdefg
On 12/21/2019 at 12:28 AM, two-ks said:

Timeframe: I have ~3.5 months total to spend abroad, looking to spend minimum 2 months full-time studying and at least 2-3 weeks traveling. Approx. April-Jun timeframe.

 

Quote

 

I've seen it advised that you should stick with one program for the whole duration. Because I can't choose and have limited time, it's tempting for me to do something like a month in Kunming (Keats) and then a month doing Shanghai + Chengde with LTL... Thoughts?

 

It's more trouble to split your time, but I understand how you might want to taste two different parts of China even though the logistics would take a little more work. More things to arrange and figure out. Not sure about the visa. If you were going to stay with one school, they could arrange a student visa for you and then you could take time off for travel during specified times during the course of your studies.

 

Would need to discuss that in advance to make sure they (the school) is willing. It's easier for them if you just study straight through. When you are in China on a student visa linked to one school, they are in some sense responsible for you. If you go off on your own and get in trouble, they must answer to the authorities.   

 

April through June is a good time to be in China, generally speaking, from a weather standpoint. Kunming weather is swell then (rainy season starts in late June.) I am not familiar first hand with the weather patterns in Yangshuo; cannot comment on that. Also, travel to tourist hot spots increases in the summer when public schools and universities are having vacation. You would miss most of that increased tourist traffic. 

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abcdefg
On 12/21/2019 at 12:28 AM, two-ks said:

I'm skeptical of 'cultural activities' like calligraphy, tai chi, or tea ceremonies - I'd rather go have a conversation over coffee or go on a walk / hike…

 

One other comment. I found shared activities and interests to be an excellent way to learn usable language. Things that you do with local people who cannot speak English really push you to communicate. Such activities get you out of your "bubble."

 

I would avoid stuff done in a group with other English-speaking students. Those are a complete waste of time. (Unfortunately, that's a drawback of the "cultural activities" that Keats arranges for its students. Typically, one volunteer teacher who drew the black bean that weekend walks in front and a little flock of half a dozen students follows behind, all jabbering away in their English, even when it's crappy ESL "second language" English.) 

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two-ks
7 hours ago, abcdefg said:

Bored with the studies or bored with the city?

 

Apologies, I should have qualified my statement. A Chinese friend who recently moved to the US said I’d get bored with the city, and I think he’s coming from a place of comparing it to Tier 1 cities only. I’m leaning toward Kunming though precisely because it’s probably a better learning environment... 

 

abcdefg, thanks for the comments on the visa and activities as well. I’ll keep that in mind. Are there any examples of shared activities you think work well for beginners, where the basic required communication is relatively simple? What jumps to mind for me is a biking or hiking group but I’d be afraid of just knowing too little and only being able to go so far with miming.

 

Thank you mungouk and Flickserve as well, really appreciate the links and perspectives!

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abcdefg
On 12/26/2019 at 8:42 PM, two-ks said:

abcdefg, thanks for the comments on the visa and activities as well. I’ll keep that in mind. Are there any examples of shared activities you think work well for beginners, where the basic required communication is relatively simple? What jumps to mind for me is a biking or hiking group but I’d be afraid of just knowing too little and only being able to go so far with miming.

 

As a total beginner, you have few viable options. When I was in your situation, I used the group activities to learn how to find my way to the places of interest, then visited them again later on my own, trying to strike up short conversational exchanges with local people using my limited Chinese. 

 

After a few weeks I began doing activities with locals that didn't require much talking, such as biking or hiking, which you mentioned. Tai Chi is easy to find in Kunming. Informal groups get together to practice most mornings in public parks. If one asks permission, one can join in, regardless of one's level. I found those groups to be lots of fun. Free or very inexpensive. (One group I joined cost 20 Yuan a month.) At the end of the morning's class, sometimes several participants, mostly old ladies, would be going somewhere for tea or to a market to buy things. They would often invite me to tag along.     

 

Most Saturday mornings in Kunming one can join free "city tour" walking groups without any advance arrangements or preparation. These are advertised on GoKunming, which is a useful source of other activities. Bike rides into the hills are also advertised there. Here's their web address: https://www.gokunming.com/en/ 

 

As to visiting local parks, take along a Chinese language textbook and do your homework there. Curious local people will look over your shoulder and volunteer to help you. Failing that, you can ask someone nearby for minor assistance with one or two words from your homework. You can use the same tactic in a coffee shop or in a foot massage shop (You sit in chairs side by side with strangers. Body massage does not afford the same benefit.)  

 

You will find small reports on local parks in the Kunming thread of this forum: https://www.chinese-forums.com/forums/forum/53-kunming/

 

Here is a typical recent one:  https://www.chinese-forums.com/forums/topic/59293-a-walk-in-the-park/ 

 

On 12/21/2019 at 12:28 AM, two-ks said:

Like: being active, the outdoors, cooking

 

If you like cooking, talk to the supervisory staff at Keats. They will arrange for you to assist and learn from their chef. Also, be sure to make time to visit one or two of the local farmers markets ("wet market") where you will be able to learn about lots of interesting local ingredients. I've written small illustrated reports on several of these. Look in the "Food and Drink" section of this forum. https://www.chinese-forums.com/forums/forum/11-food-and-drink/

 

Here are two posts on the subject that might be of interest: 

 

https://www.chinese-forums.com/forums/topic/56632-the-backstory-in-photos-market-early-summer/?tab=comments#comment-438195

https://www.chinese-forums.com/forums/topic/51465-a-trip-to-the-local-wet-market-菜市场/

 

You are embarking on a highly-enjoyable adventure. Best of luck! Would advise you to do anything you can to get a head start before actually arriving in China. Even a few "social/travel phrases" will help break the ice. You can find things like that with Google. 

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zhouhaochen

First: I work for LTL (I founded it),so this is not an unbiased comment

 

 

Thanks a lot for considering us :lol:  I obviously wont make any recommendation between the different schools as I could not do this objectively, however I can say a bit more about LTL.

 

Your Pros:

 

Shanghai is fun

Yes it is. Absolutely. And there is loads to do. I dont think we can take credit for that though.

 

Shanghai/Chengde Extreme immersion Combo

This program (originally its a Beijing/Chengde immersion combination but we offer it with all our cities by now, including Shanghai) is my absolute favorite and very much how I believe Mandarin should be studied. Completely immersed without the temptation of English speakers around you, 1on1 classes (4 or 6 hours/day) in a city where everyone speaks Mandarin (very often in smaller Chinese cities this is not the case). Also its a pretty place as the old imperial summer capital, with the old summer palace, great wall, a lot of mountains, hiking, temples etc. and a very relaxed life style. However it is 100% Chinese language and culture immersion, so this program is not for everyone and comes with quite a few cultural challenges, so make sure that is what you want before signing up for it. Dont go if you are not up for an extreme immersion environment. It is definitely how I wish I would have studied Mandarin back in the day.

 

Big Activity Calendar

I hope we also have some other advantages than just a busy social activity calendar, but our aim is definitely to organize a great experience in China for our students and making friends is an important part of that (our activity co-ordinator in Shanghai Jason is very dedicated about that), though our main focus is to get our students to learn Mandarin fast.

 

Your Cons:

 

Prices

For prices there might be a bit of confusion, however this is very much to be expected as even I find it incredibly hard to exactly compare them (we do this every year) because there are so many different options, courses, things included etc. and I have been doing this professionally for more than ten years by now.

Our aim is to offer the best Chinese program there is, however at a similar cost to other programs in Beijing and Shanghai (though any course in Beijing/Shanghai will cost more than programs in smaller cheaper cities, the LTL program in Beihai  comes at a 40% discount for example if you are looking for a cheaper option) and after creating several pretty long spread sheets with our finance department I am pretty sure we are, though it always depends on the exact options. In general 1on1 classes cost more than small group classes and the Shanghai/Chengde combination costs more because the whole Chengde part is a complete immersion program and the course is completely individually designed for you and all classes are 1on1.

 

For things included, it is actually not possible to open a bank account for another person in China, you have to do it in person yourself. If you buy the survival kit one of the services included is that usually someone will actually go with you to the bank to help you set it up (which can sometimes take hours unfortunately). I have no idea if that's what happens at other schools when they say it is included, but in general going to the bank to get a bank account is something you can do yourself too of course (advice where to go and phone support if needed anyone gets for free at our school), its just nicer to have someone go with you. I would like to add that we include all study materials (text books) in the course price, have not high season surcharges, no accommodation finding fees, have very small group classes (average of 3 and a guaranteed maximum of no more than 6 per class) and that our class duration is pretty long 😀

 

Speaking English in Shanghai

Yes that risk exists and I share your concern there. This is a problem with studying in Shanghai. We are located in the center of downtown and while it is of course still very much pre-dominantly Chinese, there are a lot of international bars, restaurants and a big expat community in Shanghai. It is absolutely possible to speak Mandarin all day in Shanghai (there are more than 20 million Chinese people living there), but there are loads of international options too, many of them very fund and that comes with a lot of temptation that can be hard to resist. Its a very valid concern.

 

Being Lonely in Chengde

That very much depends. Many of our students make life long friends there and have an amazing social life in Chengde - but not everyone does. The main part is that in Chengde everything is 100% Chinese. At our schools in Beijing, Shanghai or Taibei for example it is easy to meet other students at the school and there is the option to meet other foreigners in the city. Neither exists with our Chengde program. This doesnt mean you will be lonely, as you will live with a homestay family, you have the back up of our co-ordinator, there might be a few other LTL students in town (though you wont be studying with them) and in general you are a bit of a "rockstar/alien" there because most people in Chengde have never spoken to a foreign person before. However it takes a lot more effort from you to overcome the cultural and linguistic barriers and build a circle of local friends. Chengde is a program that is an absolutely amazing experience for some - and not suitable at all for others.

 

 

 

 

 

Personally I think LTL biggest strengths are our very strong homestay network, great personal service at the school (doenst matter if you bought a survival kit or not), very high teaching standards and wide choice of program options, including things like complete immersion in Chengde and our biggest disadvantage is that we are just not that much of a party school.

 

I would definitely recommend LTL but having founded and running it, I am also definitely biased. However I have traveled through China quite extensively so I can make some recommendations for cities (LTL has Chinese programs in Beijing, Shanghai, Chengde, Beihai, Taibei, Xian, Chengdu and we are working on Singapore ).

 

  • Female, young professional

Thats good wherever you go

  • Happier in cold weather than in hot weather

The North is colder than the South of course, however in April it is quite pleasant in pretty much all of China. It only starts to get really hot in the summer, so probably this shouldnt be a too important factor and personally I wouldnt base my decision on this. However for more coolness I would look at Beijing and definitely Chengde as they are both in the North and Chengde especially is in the mountains which makes it very pleasant in the hotter months (thats why the Chinese emperors went there every summer - they didnt have air-con back then). Beihai and Taibei definitely start to get warmer towards May and pretty hot in June.

  • Not good at talking to strangers, but not a total introvert either

In my experience a homestay can be a very good start to get into making Chinese friends. In general I would say it is easiest to make friends with other students at our schools in Beijing and Shanghai and with locals in Chengde and Beihai.

  • Like: being active, the outdoors, cooking

For outdoors Chengde and Beihai are the best with loads of mountains (Chengde) or beach and seaside (Beihai) around. From Beijing and Taibei it is quite easy to get out in the countryside but it is a drive and you would do it for a weekend, not just after class. Shanghai is the worst for getting ot, as it is quite further and harder to get to outdoor activity areas from downtown there than other cities.

  • Dislike: partying a lot (the occasional bar outing is ok)

That fits everywhere as Chinese life in general is not very party focused. The nightlife options in Shanghai, Beijing and Taibei (in that order) are the best however nobody has to (and many dont) go.

  • Love big cities - Shanghai sounds great - but I think the 'contrived' environment of a private language school in a smaller city would be better in my case?

Shanghai and Beijing are almost the same size and massive but Xian and Chengdu are actually very big cities too. Taibei is already a lot smaller and also feels like that and Beihai and Chengde are "small“ (with "only" 500,000 - 1 million people living there). Our school environment in Beijing, Shanghai and Tabei are quite similar, though the others are a bit different.

  • Clean is better than dirty, but I have no illusions about where I'm going

In general I find China quite clean, though it is a developing country. Pollution wise being close to the sea and far away from coal power plants is very helpful. Best two places I would say are Taibei and Beihai for that.

  • I'm skeptical of 'cultural activities' like calligraphy, tai chi, or tea ceremonies - I'd rather go have a conversation over coffee or go on a walk / hike…

I fully agree and you wont have find any tea ceremonies at our schools. Calligraphy has some use in learning and developing an interest how to write characters though. For Tai Chi I think the best thing is to just join a group in a park (there are loads) and it is a great way to practice Mandarin too.

 

Looking for:

  • Full-time private immersion environment (don't have enough time for a university program, and I'd like the assistance offered by private programs)

The word immersion is used very loosely these days and somehow any program is called immersion. The only real 100% immersion program we offer is Chengde. Beihai also offers a very immersed environment (there are about 50 foreigners living there), however it is already not 100% anymore. By order of immersion experience from top to bottom I would rank: Chengde, Beihai, Xian, Chengdu, Beijing, Taibei, Shanghai

  • A nice place to live where I can stay active and eventually use it as a home base to travel to other places on the weekends. I'd like to be able to visit parks, museums, try new restaurants etc in the afternoons - this is a language 'vacation' after all :)

All of these cities are nice (at least I think so - thats why we have schools there). I personally love parks in China, especially in the early mornings when people go there to do TaiQi, KongFu, sing, dance, play cards and do a million other things, its really quite fun. Museums in China are a bit hit and miss for me. Food wise, there are a lot of different opinions about that and plenty of people will disagree with me, but Beijing offers for me the best choice of different kinds of Chinese food, followed by Shanghai. The local cuisine is best in Chengdu, but there are fewer options from other provinces there. Beihai specializes in little sand worms, which are not my cup of tea, but otherwise the food is very nice.

  • At least 4 hrs of instruction per day, ideally more

In my opinion 4 hours is the absolute minimum for an intensive course. When you have a limited amount of time I would suggest going for six hours if you want to get ahead as fast as possible. I would start with a small group & individual course, with four hours of small group (average 3 students, maximum 6 and April is usually not a busy time) and 2 hours of 1on1 after that and then switch to only 1on1 once I reached upper HSK 3, either 4 or 6 hours/day. It depends on how much self study you do of course, but anything less than 4 hours a day is - to me at least - not a full time language course.

 

Ok, Its 9am on a Monday and I avoided work for almost an hour by writing this and will stop now. Whatever you do, have fun in China, you will love it. Its a great place, the people are fantastic and dont worry about making local friends - Chinese are very hospitable and while sometimes a bit shy and uncertain around foreigners most are really interested in people from the "outside" world and be very happy to get to know you. I wish I had the opportunity to do what you are planning to do.

 

 

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abcdefg
1 hour ago, zhouhaochen said:

However it is 100% Chinese language and culture immersion, so this program is not for everyone and comes with quite a few cultural challenges, so make sure that is what you want before signing up for it. Don't go if you are not up for an extreme immersion environment. It is definitely how I wish I would have studied Mandarin back in the day.

 

I agree with you about this being the best way! Genuine immersion is extremely valuable. Excellent write up!

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ChTTay

Shanghai strikes me as one of the least “Chinese” Chinese cities available for you. If you’re coming to China then really come to China. Kunming with Keats or Chengde with LTL sounds good (can you split it with a different city that isn’t Shanghai?). 
 

Beijing would be better than Shanghai if you needed a BIG city.  I am biased as I live in Beijing. 😀

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thechamp

two-ks I lived in Yangshuo for a month 5 years ago whilst preparing for the HSK5....it was one of the most enjoyable months of my life and I intend to go back to China in April and do something similar with my housemate (although he'll only go for a week or two).

 

It's absolutely stunning and there is so much to do. You haven't mentioned it in your post but there is also world-class rockclimbing - the majority of the expats there are actually climbers on holiday there (not party people!). Most go to bed early so they can get to the crags to climb in the early morning.

 

The food is also great and there's a lot on offer...also there are a few foreign restaurants so as it's your first time in China it's a good thing to be able to get some Western food from time to time.

 

There are 'bars' there but it's not really a party place - far from it - unless it's changed a lot in the last five years.

 

The foreigners I met were all either climbers or hippies.

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