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amandagmu

Liaoning Shifan Daxue - Dalian, China - Summer 2006

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amandagmu

Hello all,

I just returned earlier this week from a 5 week intensive course at Liaoning Shifan Daxue (Liaoning Normal University) in Dalian, China. As I know I will get a thousand questions -- of which I can only predict maybe a handful -- just go ahead and ask away. Here are a few pros and cons, some of which are directly related to my experience at BLCU last summer. I think the pros outweigh the cons, though the cons I do mention could be tough for some to adjust to.

First off: Last year, I set everything up through BLCU on my own. This year, I wanted to go somewhere that didn't have an English website and was somewhat remote. I chose to go through mrtoga's (Adam) company hycc (http://www.hyccchina.com/english/araq/index.htm). Adam was great. My paperwork was delivered two months ahead of time (or more?) to the U.S. so I could get my visa done nice and early. When I got to the university not only was he at the airport to pick me up, but on that first, jet-lagged day, he made sure my lodging and tution issues were settled. I didn't have to jump around from office to office like at BLCU. At Liaoning Shifan Daxue, everything for tuition and classes was in one office, and they even had someone on staff who's English was good (Li Xiansheng). Of course, Adam's Chinese is great so we didn't really need to speak English to them. The housing situation was also worked out and I was immediately given exactly what I wanted: a single room with ac and a personal bathroom. The room also came with a TV, desk, bed w/covers and pillow, nightstand, armoire (!) and a balcony that was perfect: laundry line and a folding chair to dry my laundry in the breeze. (By the way, if anyone gets serious about going there, I took a bunch of pictures of the room and balcony view as well as the campus. Feel free to pm me for them.)

About HYCC and the service you get with them: Any and all problems were immediately rectified. We had an issue the first week of school with the university and class times/ hours. Not worth getting into details other than to say they said one thing and did another... however, after Adam's company spoke with the school, they immediately fixed the issue for us. From then on, we received what we were told we would be receiving. (This by the way is a normal thing in China -- being told one thing and then something entirely different actually occurs.)

If anyone is considering using Adam's company and is unsure about his services, backchannel me on specifics or post questions on here. I will answer honestly.

GENERAL INFO

PROS of the university and Dalian

- It's in Dalian. There is much, much less pollution than in Beijing and the climate is appeaing. I saw blue sky and temps between 25-32C most days during the summer. The sulfur and dust in the air is still there -- this is China, not Australia, after all. But comparatively speaking it's no contest. I even went to the beach at one point and the water was crystal clear (!). The Dalian people are friendlier and more helpful (if you speak a little Chinese) and there are far fewer of them (6-7 million or less?). Finally, the prices are cheaper than in Beijing and Shanghai. If I had to live somewhere in China starting tomorrow and had to pick among where I've been (Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Xi'an, Shanghai, Suzhou, Luoyang, Kaifeng, Datong, Inner Mongolia, Dandong and Dalian) I would pick Dalian, hands down.

- Dalian's foreign population is mostly Russians and Koreans, and some Japanese. Therefore, unless you speak one of those languages, you will be pretty much required to speak Chinese from Day 1. If you are not comfortable with this or don't like this type of "adventure" then opt for BLCU. If you want to improve your Chinese quickly and know a little but want to get much better fast, come here.

- The university class I was in, zhongji ban (intermediate level) had 1 Russian, 1 Japanese, and about 10 Koreans. Oh yes, and me, the lone English speaker. I'm just starting to realize what an immense contribution this has made to my Chinese skills. If I wanted to talk to anyone else in class I absolutely had to use Chinese. In fact, I became friends outside of class with several Korean classmates and the Japanese and Russian classmates. We only spoke Chinese to one another. Instead of relying on a dictionary for every freakin' word, I had to make myself understood using as many vocab words as I could. I believe it increased my ability to communicate in so many ways...

- Liaoning Shifan Daxue classes: the people and the teachers were kind and understanding. The class setup was 5 days a week, rotating between 2 hours of speaking and 2 hours of reading for 4 hours each day. Sometimes speaking was first then reading and vice versa. Once a week on Fridays we had a third teacher come in who would literally make us speak impromptu. I loved that. So I had three teachers: 1 for reading/grammar, 1 for speaking, and another once a week on Fridays for 2 hours. Although I liked 2 of the teachers better than another, in the end, I think they were all good. The one I didn't like so much did eventually change her teaching style to have us participate more. (The first week we were just repeating her and it was boring as hell.)

- Liaoning Shifan Daxue campus: the location of the campus was good: it was on the edge of the town and technically in the suburbs probably, yet still on all the good bus lines. Buses are cheap 1 kuai, and the stop is not that far from the foreign students dorm. Also: easy shopping mall with Xin Ma Ke (New Mart grocery store) is pretty large and a good place to buy food. Three bus stops down is Jia Le Fou (Carrefour) and a huge underground Wal-mart. The 101 line runs straight to the train station and bus terminal for all long-distance travels and according to its sign runs from 4:25am to 11:25pm. Really, you can't ask for a better location.

CONS

- Dalian is not Beijing in terms of diversity and activities to do. After a few weeks, it does indeed get boring. The movie theater was no fun, especially since the movies offered aren't great, so it wasn't much of an option there. Book shops in China are still not what they are in other countries, so after you browse the best one in town (Xinhua Shudian near Youhao Guangchang) there's not much else. There are no museums other than a stamp and seashell museum. There's an aquarium and a zoo, both of which I was told to stay away from as they were a waste of money and not interesting. Chinese culture is fascinating, so if you like to walk around and look at what people are doing in their spare time, that's always a possibility. Unfortunately, when I arrived in Dalian after a month and a half in Toulouse, France, I found the lack of cultural activities somewhat depressing. I ended up buying fake DVDs of foreign movies and watching them in my room.

- I could not find a bike to buy in Dalian, other than really cheap, low-quality ones at the grocery stores (Carrefour and Wal-mart). Not many people in Dalian bike at all, they complain about hills, to which I ask: what hills? I mean there are hills, but not many on the roads.......... I digress. This was a sore point with me. I really wanted to keep up my training while I was there and I ended up moving it all to the spin room of the Nirvana gym next to the Dalian train station. The gym was great but expensive, and like Fusion last year, HOT. When will they learn to A/C gyms?!?! not to mention all the Chinese people getting hot water out of the fountain.....

- Liaoning Shifan Daxue lodging: they are constantly telling you one thing and then another. They're like every other place I've stayed in China. They may say they will clean your room, but mine was never cleaned. They may say they'll give you tp but then when you ask for it they tell you to go buy it yourself. But then again, the other American in my building always got both....... Anyways, I told Adam about all this at the end of my visit since I didn't care enough to say something earlier, and he said he would have a chat with them about it. I trust he will. Either way, prepare for a fight at the end of the visit. When I went to get back my deposit first they told me I had to buy a new room key since mine was bent (which happened on the third day, which I then showed the SAME person, to which she had earlier replied "it doesn't matter, just keep it") and a remote control for the TV, a remote control which never existed from Day 1. Anyways, I fought in Chinese for 10 minutes and then didn't have to pay in the end.

- Liaoning Shifan Daxue classes: only two, relatively small, cons. First, the way the courses are taught is generally Chinese style, involving repetition and memorization, and nothing in English (which is fine with me). I think we had more involvement than at BLCU though since my class size on the average day was only 8-10 people and my last week only 4-5 people. I liked getting one on one attention even though some days I was prepared. Other con (or pro?): lots and lots of work. I was always doing characters, looking up characters, preparing for class, etc. I had an afternoon tutor that also kept me busy. On the other hand, I wanted language boot camp... you get what you ask for sometimes...

- Internet access in Dalian is not what it is in Beijing. It exists, there are cafes, but I found them less appealing and convenient with their hours. The one on campus was great, when it was open. The guy running it is flaky and plays WoW all day long. He gets frustrated when you leave cause he has to pause his game to take your money. Oh, and he closed shop without prior notice for about 5 days for the WoW championship in August.

Ok so that's that. If anyone has questions post them here or pm them to me if you want.

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G - Steven

Hi Amandagmu,

Its so great to finally hear from someone who has went with ARAQ. I am considering to participate myself, when I get 18. I have a lot of questions for you, and I'd be really grateful if you could try to answer them for me. First of all, how was the train journey to Dalian? I mean, you must be exhausted after an intercontinental flight. I understand that if you take the comprehensive program, they take you to the train, but what happens after that? I mean, you're all on your own then, aren't you vulnerable for pickpockets, as you are so tired. If you are tired and all, arent the chances pretty big you get out at a wrong station or anything? How long was the journey to Dalian?

You see, this will be my first trip abroad on my own. Do you think an 18 year old with no experience in travelling on his own would be capable to do this program, or is it better to just stick with BLCU? (I do know quite some Mandarin though, so I guess that's a pro.)

How reliable is the payment procedure? I mean, we're talking about a lot of money here, how do you know for sure you actually get what you pay for? Or do you just have to blindly trust what some website says?

Does the program also include the train journey back to Beijing and escort from the train station to the airport? I dont think it was mentioned on the site, but wouldnt it be a bit odd if it wasnt included? How do you plan your flight? Cos the website says that you have to inform the company on when you arrive in Beijing. What if you get trouble with the flight, and you arrive a day later, will they still be there to pick you up?

Thanks in advance :)

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mrtoga

G-Steven,

I will include answers to these questions in the reply I send you by email.

Amanda,

Finally someone has replied to your thread! Feel free to give me some more PR if you wish (:wink: ), but either way I will send G-Steven an email directly

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amandagmu

Hi Steven,

I trust Adam answered your questions about the program. I had a direct flight into the Dalian airport (reasons involving plane ticket miles) and so I did not take the train up to Dalian from Beijing. However, three other people under Adam's program came from Beijing, and as far as I know none (including the two who didn't know much Chinese!) had any problems.

As for traveling on your own... I started doing that at a young age, so it is hard for me to know what that's like. I will say that doing the BLCU thing on my own was difficult because it was frustrating that I knew so little Chinese. Adam and his associate are very helpful and professional. I don't think you can go wrong using their company...

As for cost, it is significantly cheaper that using some of those other programs (I think? like WorldLink, Access Mandarin). Above all: if this really is your first time traveling alone to a foreign country (well, mostly in the case of China) and you want things to go smoothly and you don't want to go to Shanghai or Beijing, I think you should do this. Invest the money. Otherwise it will be a HUGE hassle on your part.

~Amanda

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stephanhodges

Hi,

I also attended the same school, same time, as Amandagmu. We saw each other almost every day, since we were in the same dormitory. We both had single rooms, as I recall.

Also, I used Adam's company for this. The service was outstanding. He gave me advice on booking a hotel for about 63rmb per night in Beijing, where I stayed a couple of days. Also, he helped over the phone to book my flight from Beijing to Dalian. They met me at the airport, and showed me around, made me comfortable, etc. I've continued to get that level of caring interest from them the entire time I've been here.

I ended up using his company to make my second registration / move to Jilin university in northern china as well, since his prices for subsequent registration and moving are much lower than the initial one.

I was in beginners level, but also had a wonderful experience, with teachers (at first) only speaking in Chinese. Also, I was the only English speaking person in the class, so I didn't hear any English in class, which is the way to go. If possible, IMO, don't use any english at all for large blocks of time, if possible. Every time you hear a word in your native language (in my opinion), it sets you back, because the brain immediately switches to the native language center, and takes many minutes to switch back to the new fledgling/developing center.

One last thing that I didn't see mentioned in Amandagmu's message was that when we first arrived there, there was a difficulty with part of the program, which we both (independently) mentioned to Adam. He had a discussion with the school about their practices, and they made some immediate changes, which helped both of us. I think it helped the school's entire program, but my point is that Adam has good contacts, which is the way to go in China.

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stephanhodges

One more point, after rereading your questions. My flight ended up being diverted from Beijing to Shanghai because of a typhoon. So, without my requesting it, Adam phoned my hotel and told them to keep my reservation even though I wouldn't show up for an additional day. I was stuck on the plane (in the air) an additional 4 1/2 hours before landing, and wouldn't have been able to contact him until 1:00am or so!

If you do get into Beijing, the busses into town are much cheaper than taxi! I ended up paying 180 rmb (too much -- got cheated a little). The bus costs 16 rmb. You can always take a taxi from bus when you're in town.

You should know your address before buying ticket for bus. Print it out and show them, and they will put you on the correct bus to get close to where your hotel should be. Just my opinion, but that's how I did it second time, and it works well. Buses are basically long distance coaches, with individual large seats for everyone. very comfortable.

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yinduren

Hi

Great to hear you had a good time. I have been studying Mandarin for over a year with a private tutor in London. My speaking is crap compared to my reading n writing.

I really want to go to China but I am not too sure what school/uni is reputable...u hear of so many dodgy stuff happening. I have some friends in Shanghai but they dont speak full on mandarin.

If you could show me some pics and tell me more about the place you went, costs etc.

I am also into fitness and run 30miles a week, so a running track is very important to me hehehe!!! How long have you been studying for???

Speak soon :D

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stephanhodges

Check out Mr Togas site for pictures of all the universities he represents. He also has a database so yoiu can compare costs, etc.

Both Dalian and Jilin University seem very reputable to me. very good quality here, for example.

If you can read and write, then your speaking ability will advance very quickly.

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amandagmu

I concur with choosing Dalian as a place for speaking abilities.

As for running: I also run a lot (a triathlete) so I can definitely relate to wanting to continue that. There's a track on campus with weird hours--or rather they aren't posted and nobody really knows when they are--but if you go talk to one the guard guys you can get in there when you need to. I did a lot of afternoon/evening running, but I know a girl who also went in the morning occasionally. The track is a standard track distance and rubberized, but you'll need your student ID to get in. They play soccer (sorry, football) in the middle of the field most evenings--well, in the summer.

However, if you want truly fabulous facilities for training I suggest looking at a nearby university Dalian University of Technology (it's also on the website I believe?). They have a much nicer track, trees all over campus (a little less urban, though still urban IMO), and a really fantastic 50m indoor pool I used a lot.

Finally, if you want a nice gym, I went to Nirvana next to the Dalian train station. Kind of a hassle to get to from the university via bus (35 minutes or so) but realllllly nice place. You have to make a deal with them for a membership of a few months at a time (although I paid a premium and went for a month). They have state-of-the-art treadmills and other fitness machines (equipped with personal TVs, remotes, and some with DVD players), plus I went to indoor cycling/spin classes at least 2-3 times per week there. Nicer bikes than back in the U.S.! I also attended pilates classes there and they were good. I understood about 50% of what the instructors were saying... but that improved as time went on! I should also mention that the posh locker rooms with big lockers, full showers, and consistent hot water were a huge plus. I think I showered there more than at the dorm.

The only disappointing part of Dalian was when I went on a long run. I couldn't find a good 90 minute route that I liked. Plus, sometimes the air is not so great and you're stuck cutting the run short or taking it inside. If you are into distance running (anything over 60 minutes, really) you might have to scale it back while you're there.

Oh and as for outdoor bike riding: virtually impossible to find a bike in Dalian!

~Amanda

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