Charissa Beukes at Xiamen University, China

Charissa Beukes

Chinese Hons (Virtual Exchange)

Semester Exchange in the Second Semester, 2022 at Xiamen University



I am part of the 2021/2022 Chinese Honours class, and a requirement of our degree is to spend a Semester at Xiamen University. Unfortunately, my classmates and I were not able to go to our host country, China, for our study abroad due to COVID-19 but virtually attending Xiamen University’s classes was definitely a different and interesting experience. For this it is very beneficial to make contact with your classmates or someone who has prior knowledge on studying abroad or travelling overseas in general. This really helps in the first steps to studying abroad because you are guided, instead of doing it on your own, which could make your study abroad lonely.


The first step you should take, which really helped me, is to sit down and find out everything that needs to be done, and then making a checklist. For example, in our case we needed to fill in a lot of forms for Xiamen University, send our passports, work with our lecturers to help us with the forms, download all the necessary teaching platforms of our host university, become familiar with the new teachers and so on.  I think it’s very important to make sure you’re up to speed on anything because when you’re studying abroad, in-person or virtually, things can become lost in translation and quite confusing. I also strongly advise making sure you have enough translating apps.


From my experience of travelling to China, Beijing and Xiamen specifically, with my lecturer and classmates in 2019, I learned that it is very important to work together as a team especially before departure or before beginning classes virtually, because you can then all be on the same page, and you know you have people that you’re familiar with and that you can rely on. Something that is also important is to always be as prepared for new things because you will be entering different countries and therefore different traditions and cultures, so make sure to familiarize yourself with these customs in order to gain knowledge on them and also respect. I always tried to be as prepared as possible as it wasn’t always known what our class schedule will entail because of the different in schooling culture. What I did notice is that countries appreciate when you know and respect their culture and way of doing things, so it is very important to be mindful of your actions and be respectful.


Charissa with the Hons class in China


Experience at the Host University:


I really wish we could have been able to go to China, as I believe it would have improved our Chinese-speaking ability greatly and we also would have been able to do the SAGL short course more in-depth. This is because we would physically be able to experience things abroad and therefore be able to apply it to our journals in a much better manner. However, we were lucky enough to virtually attend Xiamen University’s classes and this was still a unique experience because it was very different to our normal classes with Stellenbosch University. China has a much different way of doing things, as their schooling schedule and work pace is much faster and is propped with much more work. It was therefore very difficult to keep up at first, and it very intimidating. However, once we got into a routine, though, things gradually became easier, and I felt more comfortable communicating with our lecturers. This was especially because of the teamwork with my classmates, we would always help each other out when one was confused or unsure of what we should do. I honestly am so grateful for their support, and I believe it is very important to try and establish a support system for yourself it your host university so that if you have any questions or problems, you can ask that person for help, and this will also develop your relationship and also your position as a global citizen.


Charissa with her classmates.


We had classes three times as long and three times more often than what we had at Stellenbosch, it was from 6:50 to 12:00 in the afternoon most days, one of my classmates even had class at 2am due to the 6-hour time difference between China and South Africa, as we did 5 lessons in one week. It was hard to keep help, especially with it being 99% in Chinese but eventually we became comfortable. Writing mid-terms and finals was also stressful because the test format and instructions were completely different from what we were used to but, in the end, we overcame our obstacles and got through it. What helped me through the experience was trying not to be afraid of asking questions because things can get very confusing with a study abroad, especially if you are physically in another country. However, it all pays off in the end because you’ve gained an experience that many others have not.


Return to Stellenbosch:


We of course did not get to go to China, our host country so this will not be a long section. When our Xiamen University classes ended, it was a big shift from every day 4-6 hour classes to no classes. This of course can be seen as a very good thing but because we were so fully focused on our host university’s busy class and exam schedule, we were not able to fully focus on what we had to do for our own university, which was to complete our thesis. Of course, we completed it and handed it in by now, but to shift from busy virtual study abroad to focusing on our thesis, was a bit difficult but I think I speak for all of us in saying that we benefited from our study abroad as it helped us complete a big part of our degree – our thesis. It also helped us grow, along with all the knowledge about being a global citizen, our position in the world, SDGs, inter-cultural competence etc. that we learned in our SAGL sessions.


Us not going to China definitely changed my future plans because I relied heavily on the fact that being in a constant Chinese-speaking environment and attending classes every day would increase my Chinese-speaking ability and also listening comprehension. As hard as I’ve have worked so far, it is difficult to become fluent in language when you are not always in that speaking environment. I definitely want to go abroad, whether to work or study, as I believe Stellenbosch University, Xiamen University and this SAGL course specially helped me gain the skills and knowledge to do so.