In mid-August 2017 my trip to Suzhou started and with it the most eventful and exciting semester of my studies.
The preparations for my semester abroad went off in March, when I looked through the website of MicroEDU via English-language universities in Asia. My contact at MicroEDU was Rebekka. Rebekka helped me a lot during the application phase and we were in constant contact. After all certificates and the TOEFL test were submitted, Rebekka went out of her way to ensure that I could take the courses at Xi’an Jiaotong Liverpool University that best suited my studies. As a result, all five courses I took at my home university were credited.
After choosing a course, the organization of the visa started. The organization went quickly and very easily. Rebekka quickly forwarded the invitation, which is essential for the visa, and helped me with the organization. In total, the application took about 10 days. To be on the safe side, you should wait until the visa has been issued before booking flights.
According to AbbreviationFinder, the XJTLU itself offers dormitories and a shuttle service to the P Airport. This means that you don’t have to worry about much after arriving. The apartments consist of four or six people in shared flats and only international students live there. The rooms are relatively small but clean and each has its own bathroom. The size of the room is irrelevant since, in my experience, you spend very little time there. Both the apartment and the shuttle service were booked with the help of MicroEDU and went smoothly.
On arrival at the airport you will be met by students from XJTLU and taken to Suzhou with other students. If possible, you should withdraw several thousand yuan at the airport, as you have to pay the deposit in cash on arrival and there is no ATM directly at the dormitories. The rent can also be paid by credit card if necessary. It is very important that you have a functioning VPN access before departure. Fortunately, I had access to my home university that worked without any problems. Normally every German university should offer this type of access.
The XJTLU offers to create an account on site for exchange students. The organization is easy and pleasant via MicroEDU. But I would recommend going to the ICBC bank directly on campus upon arrival and opening the account yourself. The university had problems with the organization of the cards, which meant that you had to wait a long time for the card. This is a shame because the option to pay on the move is only available later.
The service via WeChat-Pay or Alipay is incredibly pleasant and makes life in China a lot easier. With these apps you can not only pay anywhere, but also call a Didi (Chinese Uber), book trains and flights or drive Share bikes.
On site, I attended courses for the Master of Science in Investment Management. I was the only European student which was an interesting experience. My fellow students were all very nice and helpful. However, it was not always easy to communicate with them as some of them do not really speak English.
You can also take a Chinese course. There are only international master’s students there, the teacher tries very hard and it’s a lot of fun.
In addition to studying, China offers much, much more. With Suzhou has a really nice city to explore. For example, you can go to Pingjiang Road in the old town, which is right next to the canals, or visit Tiger Hill. Around Suzhou you can also explore Hangzhou, Wuxi and above all Shanghai. I was fascinated by the contrasts between traditional and quiet China in Suzhou or Hangzhou and the fast, modern life in Shanghai.
In China, we also traveled to Xi’an and Beijing. The journey is very cheap if you book overnight trains. Both cities are an absolute must and, with the Great Wall of China and the Terracotta Army, probably also offer the two most famous sights in China. We also traveled to Zhangjiajie, Fenghuang and Guilin. Zhangjiajie in particular was amazing. There are the so-called Hallelujah Mountains, which are also known as the “Avatar Mountains”.
I would also recommend doing the health check at the beginning of the semester and thereby getting a “Residence Permit”. This changes the X2 (single entry) visa to an X1 (multi entry) visa. This is usually not intended for exchange students who are only in Suzhou for one semester. Therefore, at the beginning of the semester, simply stick to international students who have studied in Suzhou for at least one year. By converting your visa, you have the opportunity to visit cities such as Hong Kong, Seoul or Tokyo during the semester.
Overall, the semester was indescribable and an experience that I definitely wouldn’t want to miss. You have to be open to cultural differences in order to find your way around a foreign country, even if the language barriers are sometimes very high. In addition to its culture, China itself has many different regions, sights and cuisines to offer that you simply have to explore.