Friday, August 8, 2008

Studying Mandarin (level 1) at Shanghai University

Many people ask me about my experiences of studying Chinese in Shanghai, so I figured I could share some stories.

Since I am an indecisive person I have studied Mandarin for 3 semesters (or OK, 2.5 semesters) at 3 different universities: Shanghai University, Jiaotong University (Shanghai) and Suzhou University (often referred to as ‘Su Da’ = ‘Suzhou Daxue’). Moving from one uni to another might not be the most efficient way to learn Chinese, seeing that every uni has its own books and methods, and every time I have entered a new uni I have felt lost and a bit behind in terms of vocabulary. But then again –I like moving around so changing universities has been sort of unavoidable.

Shanghai Uni was my first stop in China, and also my first attempt to learn Chinese. The university has got 2 campuses: Baoshan and Yanchang, the latter being the place where I spend my first 2, confused months in China. Apparently the Baoshan campus is much nicer, newer and ‘better’ (? –at least if you listen to the teachers at Yanchang campus that kept asking us why we preferred old, dirty Yanchang instead of modern, clean Baoshan) but it is located quite far away from Shanghai city center, and I always value location, so that’s why we chose to study at the Yanchang campus. To Yanchang campus you can easily get by taking metro line one.

Classes at Shanghai uni were reasonably sized, especially since a lot of people tend (including me in this case!) to drop out throughout the semester. We had three different classes: listening, writing& reading and speaking. All of our teachers were female, and very nice, although they seemed to have a different idea of how ambitious we were. While the listening and the speaking teacher urged/stressed us to study faster, the reading/writing teacher really let us take our time, having us practicing the same old pronunciation exercises over and over again. This is really what u need when u r trying to learn a new language, so even though it was boring at times, I learned a lot from this teacher. She was a true Shanghai girl too –pretty, sassy and ALWAYS in new, funky clothes (seriously, she never wore the same thing twice) so all the guys (including my bf although he still denies it) fancied her and got all giggly and nervous when she asked them something.

Although the teachers were good and our class was quite small, my experiences of learning were unfortunately disturbed by a bunch of German exchange students that had some to China for a one-semester-experience-of-China (read: party their a**es off) and who weren’t interested in learning even one bit of Chinese. All they did was complaining about how much homework we got (which is true –we got shitloads of homework, but that’s sort of how it goes when u want to learn a new language, right?) and talking about how much better everything was in Germany (I loved it when they compared the work load they had had in primary school with the pressure that Chinese kids are under today). They came from some posh, private business school and were extremely worried about their scores in Chinese not being high enough (that worry was well motivated –because they sucked a***!) so therefore they did everything in their power to slow down the teaching. For me, who had paid the semester fee myself (no rich parents here no) and who already have an uni degree and therefore had no interest in listening to them complaining over petty things (like homework??!) this soon became an issue and I actually turned into a real bitch during this first semester, focussing more on telling off spoiled Germans than learning characters. This is something I don’t recommend. If you want to learn the characters (something I think is vital in order to learn Mandarin fully) you should start from the beginning and really spend some hours every day on practicing writing them. It is dull and annoying, I know, but it will pay off when u take level 2, 3, 4 and so on. Not being able to write was one of my biggest issues when I took Mandain Level 2 (having only completed half of level 1 was another issue… but more about this later!).

Anyways, back to Shanghai Uni: Since I wasn’t enjoying the school too much and also were out of money I dropped out of class only 2.5 months into the semester and started working. My bf continued till the end, however, and he still remembers most of the stuff he learned. All in all I would say Shanghai Uni is a good uni, small enough have a personal feel, and the location is great. You can find dirt-cheap accommodation in the uni area, so don’t even consider to stay at the over-priced dormitory.

OK, seeing that this became quite a long post I will continue writing about Jiaoting and Suzhou Uni in a different post

Address to Shanghai University: 149 Yangchang Lu, Zhabeo District, Shanghai 200072. 

Yanchang Lu where the uni is located. Not so clean but cheap!

Loads of good, cheap food places.

Strolling about in jeans and hair down in September? I must have been boiling!


Anonymous said...

Sorry, China based on your pictures look very dirty. I don't think I would want to eat at the places in your pictures. I am an expat Chinese. Whenever I go to China and eat at some nice restaurants at big hotels, I oftentimes end up having to take some Imodium, let alone those little holes in the wall. Do laowai's actually eat at those places in your picrures? Just curious.

Jonna Wibelius said...

I don't have a budget to eat at fancy restos every night, and I believe I am not the only 'lao wai' in this situation, so to answer your question: yes, me and the lao wais I know def eat at small little noddle stalls, or street food places like this... No biggy, it's not THAT dirty! I have gotten stomach sick from both street food and from fancy resto food so I don't see any reason why I should leave something out... Besides, the cheap food is often really good!

Geoff said...

Congratulations on an interesting blog. I enjoyed reading your comments. I am envious of you living in China....I want to visit China one day.

Has anything changed for you during the Olympics? For example, have you got restrictions on travel?

Geoff (from Australia)

Jon said...

To anonymous expat Chinese:
"Do laowai's actually eat at those places in your picrures? Just curious." Actually, i think you even dont know anything ahout it. i have no idea about what your definition of your"nice restaurants at big hotels".the expats -who just want to have some chinese traditional food,and that will good to eat!

Anonymous said...

@ispy, usually in China big hotels (not necessarily 4 or 5 stars) come with clean restaurants. And their Chinese foods are less oily and much cleaner. I was in China last month for two weeks. I don't crave for Chinese food anymore after being away from China for so long, mainly for health reason at first but now lack of craving has become so natural. I had such good memories of some Chinese dishes before arriving in China, though. When I got there and tried out a local Chinese seafood restaurant, it dawned on me that my taste has changed so much that it can't be repaired anymore. I know most of my Chinese friends in America still enjoy Chinese food in China. So I might be odd. What I don't like about Chinese food (in China) is their oily, salty taste. I can still eat Americanized Chinese food in America. Ever wonder why Chinese people have the world's highest percentage of liver disease? Food - oily, salty and lots of animal intestines as local delicaly have put an extra burden on their liver for doing the detoxication. Check out this web site.

Anonymous said...

so, which university in Shanghai you would recommend?? Because I am planning to study and go over to shanghai in september. Hope you might help!

Jonna Wibelius said...

Anonymous -depends what u want out of studying here... meet a lot of fellow laowais: then pick Jiaotong. Want smaller classes and maybe some better teaching quality: pick Shanghai Uni. There is also Fudan and some other ones... I have heard they r OK. Good luck! If I were u I would pick maybe Fudan or Shanghai Uni.