To be perfectly honest, I was somewhat dreading arriving and living in Beijing. Beijing is notorious for its poor air quality and I’ve seen photos of the smog, causing the city to look like nothing but grey. Visibility can be so poor that you wouldn’t be able to see anything beyond 2m.
Upon arrival, and to my delight, visibility was pretty good. Yes, the sky was grey most times but it didn’t stop me from doing my day-to-day activities. It has to do with how I arrived in February, and the worst of the smog is often around December-January as that is when people would keep heating on max. I also never bothered with wearing a mask because its just so uncomfortable. It also helped that Tsinghua University, my exchange school, was somewhat on the edge of Beijing, and not the city core.
My residence building – Zijing International Student Residence Building 22
Moving into residence was easy – I had the help of family, and I was able to request to be placed in the same building as Margaret, a friend from school that I met back in first year who was also on exchange at Tsinghua. I’m glad we were in the same building because that made hanging out together a lot easier. Chinese universities have really strict guest policies and Tsinghua was no different. No guests were allowed after 11pm, even if the guest is from the building next door. However, the biggest shocker (and nuisance) to me was that we had limited hot water times – from 5-8am, 2-5pm, and 8pm-12am. That was difficult for me to get used to because I’ve ever had regulations on essentially, when I could or could not shower. Sometimes I had to wake up and shower at 7:30 and then go back to sleep before waking up later to go to class. But I shouldn’t complain. I lived at the international students residence and I got my own single room with a private bathroom. Compared to the local students’ residences, mine was luxury. Local students lived 4 people to a room, bunk bed on top, desk on the bottom, electricity is shut off at 11pm, the entire floor shares a bathroom, and hot water hours go from 7-11pm. The residence buildings are single-gendered and they have the same roommates for all four years of school.
Our faculty building (but we didn’t have classes in it, only several activities)
Main administrative building of Tsinghua
Front door of Tsinghua – Margaret and I repping hard!!
In terms of the campus, Tsinghua is HUGE. I thought Western was big, but wow it’s nothing compared to Tsinghua. It’s also insane how students bike everywhere. I knew that biking culture was huge in Beijing, but witnessing the after/before class bicycle traffic was something else. Unfortunately for me, I don’t know how to ride a bike so I had to walk to class and it took at least 20 minutes if I walked fast (read: lowkey jog). I also didn’t have class in the further buildings and I consider myself SO lucky. It would have been probably a 40 minute walk if I had class in one of the further buildings. I did try to learn how to ride a bike, but that’s a story for another time.
I only had 4 classes (lucky me!!) and 2 of them were over by week 8, one ended on week 11, and the last class lasted all 16 weeks. Margaret and I chose our courses strategically so that we’d have the same schedule and therefore could travel together. Classes were lecture-based, which was very different from Ivey and something that I wasn’t used to but somewhat missed. Certain classes did require class participation, but compared to Ivey, it was a lot easier to get in as most students didn’t want to participate. We took two courses taught in Chinese, so that was an experience in itself. My Mandarin is decent, however, I don’t know a lot of the jargon and industry specific vocabulary. Through those classes, I did manage to improve a bit. After a presentation in Chinese and putting together a slide deck in Chinese, I will never forget how to say value chain in Chinese.
My school was also known to have the best food on campus and there were so many cafeterias on campus. Margaret and I made it our goal to try all the cafeterias, and we’ve pretty much succeeded. From Chinese food to Korean food to Italian food and even Tsinghua’s own version of McDonald’s, there is a dish that can satisfy your any craving. Tsinghua also makes its own yogurt, soy milk, plum juice, and ice cream daily, so that was refreshing and so interesting to see. I love yogurt and I basically had at least one a day.
The area that my school is located in is called WuDaoKou and its the university corner. Other than THU, there are several other universities in the area, including Peking University. This made it easier for us to hang out with Caroline and Jenny, the other two Ivey students on exchange in Beijing. It is also where the students hang out, so it was cool to be in a community of like-minded and young people. There are lots of do in the area – full of malls with delicious restaurants, desserts, cafes, and KTV bars. There was always something going on at WDK and we loved it there. Prices there are also lower than prices in downtown Beijing, which is always a plus. However, the only con is that we were far away from the downtown core of Beijing, around an hour by subway. Thankfully, the subway system in Beijing is so convenient, which made up for a lot of the inconveniences.