We arrived at Beihang University in the beginning of September, in the fascinating city of Beijing, cultural and political center of China. A mix of surprise, adaptation and amazement, these few words will give a little hint of what the Transcontinental Track in Beijing is.
What are we talking about?
The Transcontinental Track Beihang University is a class of 28 students, 26 in their 2nd year at GEM and 2 Chinese students from Beihang, that take their classes on the campus of Beihang University in the northwest of Beijing from September to December. We follow the English track courses with teachers coming an entire week to give their lectures. In addition, we get a 3-hour Chinese class every week since the majority of us are beginners in the language.
What are the advantages of the program?
The Transcontinental Track is perfect for people who want to have an experience abroad. Especially in China where the cultural gap might be bigger than in other countries, it is nice to arrive with a group so you can share your experiences and surprises. We all live in the dormitories on campus so that we build strong relationships together, a bit like a big summer camp. There are plenty of things to do in Beijing so you never get bored and, moreover, you’re considered as a student of Beihang so you get full access of the campus facilities, you live on campus and get a student ID that gives you a discount for touristic places. In addition, since you follow the classes from GEM you can still do an exchange after the Transcontinental Track, it is the best option for the international lovers!
As I said, you live on campus and that is a really nice experience. We live in the foreign dormitories in apartments of 4 separated in 2 double rooms with bathrooms. These rooms are no palaces but they are quite comfortable and above all, really cheap (around 90€/month!!). We also have 1 fridge and microwave per flat. We don’t have kitchens, but restaurants and street food are abundant and inexpensive. On the other hand the laundry washes and dry your clothes about 2.30€, that is convenient! Communication with the dormitory’s administration can be quite a challenge but patience and time everything gets solved and it is part of the adventure! There is a small shop right at the entrance of the dormitories and a supermarket on campus as well as a Walmart not so far for any needs. The cafeteria of the campus is really good and cheap with lots of choices of Chinese food, it’s unbelievably huge. After that, if you think you ate too much, you can go for a run in the park or around the stadium, play on the basketball or football fields or even subscribe to the swimming pool or gym. There is really a lot to do on campus!
The cultural gap is the most important point of an experience abroad. In China, it starts really early just because you don’t understand the language and you can’t even read what is written. English will indeed often not be enough so you have to adapt to different situations. In a restaurant, for instance, try to choose a restaurant that has pictures of the food or learn some Chinese characters to know what you’ll be eating or just randomly try things! Chinese people are mostly very helpful and happy to see foreigners so they often try to take pictures of us for instance. It is good to see how other country works because every surprise is supposed to open your mind a little bit and little by little you can question yourself or even appreciate what you have home and miss abroad or on the contrary try to bring home what you find better abroad. For instance sometimes when we see the pollution smog here it makes us aware of the chance we have to have fresh air and blue sky the next day. And the other way around, it would be great to have a huge campus and such variety of street food back in France. How can such a big country with so many people hold together? Why does everything change so fast? Why do they buy big cars and live in hutongs? China is a curious country, hard to understand because of its traditions, its size and the rapidity of its growth, that’s what make it an amazing place to discover.
How is it to live in Beijing?
Beijing is a great place for students! There is a lot to do, from touristic places and museums to nightclubs. Anybody can find something he likes to do here. The city is a mix of old monuments and shiny new buildings that are the face of modern China. Between the huge luxury malls and the flea markets full with counterfeit products, you can always find the things you want. If you get tired of Chinese food, you can easily find a place to eat western food. It is the right balance between getting you out of your comfort zone and having something familiar. The subway is practical and can easily get you where you want. Moreover because it is easy to travel by train and since the courses are concentrated, we got some weeks to travel around China and see amazing things, centuries of history and nature wonders at reach. From Pandas to the stone forest of Shilin or Shanghai, we have had a hard time prioritizing what we wanted to see.
To sum up, it is a really great opportunity to be able to follow the Transcontinental track at Beihang. If you’re interested in discovering one of the richest cultures and the next economical leader of this world, you’ll make the right choice.
(by Camille Bazin and Nicolas Chrétien)