I did my exchange program at Xiamen University, China. Most of my pre-departure preparations included internet research. Before applying for my visa, I had to purchase my return ticket. The process was relatively quick. As soon as I bought my flight ticket I headed to the Chinese consulate in Cape Town. I handed in my completed and correct documents and paid R400 with it. They told me to come collect my visa the following week. I think it is important that you purchase a return ticket in order to have your visa accepted. The next week I went to collect my visa at the embassy. Quick, easy and no hassle. However, when purchasing your flight ticket remember to keep the semester start dates in mind. It is advisable to arrive in your hosting country the day before registration (if you can afford to sleep at a hotel, that’s great!) or on the day of registration so that you can move into the dorms immediately. If you do decide to sleep over at a hotel or guesthouse, make sure you make a booking online and keep an electrical copy on your phone and a hard copy with you.
With regards, to the packing, make sure you get yourself the proper luggage travel bags. Check the airline baggage weight restriction otherwise you will have to pay an extra excess baggage fee. Do not exchange your money at the airport for it is much more expensive. Before you depart, go to your bank or a foreign exchange retailer. I went to Travelex in Cape Town. It also helps to keep some cash of your foreign currency on you. This is helpful when you have to buy something to eat at the airport while in transit. It is also useful when having to take a cab to take you to your host university or to your hotel. It is useful to pack your toiletries and an extra set of clothes including underwear in case your flight gets delayed or you have very long hours in transit.
Lastly, it is very important to do research about the campus you are studying at. Make sure you know where you’re faculty is. Make sure to pack the correct clothing for the weather during your stay and make sure to check to weather forecasts and not just go with the flow. Have copies of all your important documents. If you experience any complications regarding your visa application process go and consult SU International. It’s also helpful and fun if you start preparing you mentally by watching some films based or set in your host country in order to get a feel of the atmosphere. Listening to music and reading books of your host country is also good preparation. Whenever you go to another country it is advisable to learn some of its language. You can watch YouTube videos or use language apps on your mobile phone. Knowing some phrases makes your stay abroad easier for you and you come across as considerate.
Experience at the Host University:
The experience at Xiamen University was very culturally and historically enriching. I studied Chinese therefore my classes were only language based. I had grammar classes, listening classes and speaking classes. My class only consisted of foreign students. Unlike Stellenbosch where I had two hours class per day with my Wednesdays off, In Xiamen I had class from ten am to four pm on Mondays to Wednesdays. On Thursday my class started at ten am to two thirty pm. I had Fridays and weekends off. Classes were one and a half hours with a ten minute break. Understandably my new timetable took some time to adjust to. I realised that Chinese people are extremely hardworking and studious. We had daily homework and in time you start to adjust to your new schedule. I studied at the Xiang’an campus and that campus is very big, so I had to cycle to and from class.
The academic program included the mid-term exams and the final exams. My grammar classes were very interesting due to a fun and interactive lecturer and also because I had it from Monday to Thursday. I had my listening and speaking classes twice during the week. The exams consisted of a formal written comprehensive test, a listening test and a formal oral test. In Stellenbosch at Honours level, you only complete your thesis and an oral test that consists of reading written material and answering questions. It was very different in Xiamen as I was placed at an undergraduate level. They do not have something similar to an Honours programme.
Other activities included cultural exhibitions for example there was a Thai cultural evening showcasing Thai culture. There was a Chinese language partner evening every Monday where you can meet Chinese people and become language partners. Chinese is a very complicated language, so this is very helpful. You might understand the Chinese spoken in your classroom but as soon as you go to the city, you encounter so many dialects and have difficulty understanding. Sports related activities were held in order to create unity and this included a marathon where foreign students had to participate in. There were two formal ceremonies, one to welcome all the foreign exchange students and another one at the end of the semester a graduation ceremony where we received certificates of attendance and official academic transcripts.
The teaching method at Xiamen was very personal. You could call your lecturer and even text them if you have a question. Whereas in Stellenbosch you would have to privately consult your lecturer or email them if you have any type of question or messages. Also, the lectures only spoke Chinese to you. I have learned a lot more spoken Chinese due to being in a Chinese environment and being forced to adjust to it. The experience has surely made me better at the act of studying and being more concentrated on the task at hand.
Return to South Africa:
I missed South Africa so much. My experience in China changed my perspective on many things. It changed my perception on academics and studying. In South Africa we have a very relaxed culture when it comes to academics and China made me realise I have to work much harder. My view on eating habits also changed. The Chinese live a very healthy lifestyle and this comes mostly down to their diet. I realised that many South Africans have fuller figures due to our diets. I started eating much healthier now that I am back in South Africa. I also appreciate our weather and clear blue skies much more because China has so much pollution. While I was China, I realised the stereotypes many foreigners have of South Africa or generally Africa. Many of the students that I met had never heard of South Africa or of the Afrikaans language.
South Africa has many problems but when you are in the country you can become oblivious to these issues even though you are surrounded by it. In China I realised that South Africa’s education system is not very good. Many schools there have class even on Saturdays. Education in the Chinese culture is a core element. I knew that South Africa was not very safe and if you experience it daily, it becomes normal for you. You realise how paranoid you are when you arrive in a country that is much safer; where you can walk late at night with your cell phone and nothing will happen to you and when you can wear whatever you want and you’re life would not be in danger. Service delivery is another issue in South Africa; I experienced my first natural disaster, a typhoon, and it caused destruction and chaos however the problems that arose with it such as no water and electricity were fixed so quickly.
I mentioned a lot of problems I realised about South Africa, but of course you miss your homeland. I missed the people the most. Our friendliness and humour is one of a kind.
My exchange program was very enlightening. You meet so many people from different countries and different backgrounds. You learn independence. You learn so much more about yourself. You become much more confident. I believe that traveling is education in itself and a way to experience personal growth. Being away from home for so long also makes you realise that family is very important. I do intent on going abroad again. Learning about new cultures is fun but experiencing it first hand is very enriching. I believe that my experience abroad has made me hardworking and focused on my goals and dreams but also made me realise that I should have more fun and enjoy life. I would love to go back to mainland China, especially to Shanghai and Chengdu. I would also love to experience more East Asian countries and their cultures where appreciation for the simpler things in life is the way to live.