So, most Mondays I try to bring you some inspiration on how to get paid to travel the world.
This week is a bit different as I’m talking to Richelle about why you should consider studying abroad in China
Interview with Richelle – An American studying abroad in China
Richelle is a 23 year old Seattle native who, after travelling the world on a budget and teaching English in China, is now living in and studying Internal Communications in Ningbo, Zhejiang, China! Richelle shares her experiences of travel, studying abroad and expat life in China on www.adventuresaroundasia.com
So what made you decide to study in China and how did you make it happen?
I’ve always been interested in countries and cultures that are vastly different from my own. Growing up, I dreamed of going to China. I wanted to hike the great wall, taste authentic Chinese food and wander the streets full of foreign sights, sounds and smells. As I grew older this desire to live in an unknown place intensified. When it came time to choose a language for my university studies, I couldn’t help but gravitate towards Chinese.
China is definitely the next big thing, and Chinese is the language to know. Fluency in Chinese can pretty much guarantee you a good job in almost any field. But to be honest, the real reason I learned Chinese was to study abroad in China. I needed to challenge myself, experience culture shock and travel in a country I had been dreaming about since I was a child.
For me, studying abroad in China was fairly simple. My university has an amazing study abroad department, and I was able to choose a program that best suited my needs. The biggest obstacle for me was deciding whether or not to stay for longer than a semester. It was scary signing up to study abroad in two cities for seven months when I had never even been to China. What if I hated it?! Thankfully I fell in love with the country, and I wasn’t ready to leave after a semester. I loved China so much I moved back after graduation and I’m still here.
So you study in English right? Is it cheaper to study in China than in the US or UK?
Currently I’m getting my master’s degree at the University of Nottingham in Ningbo, China. UNNC is a British university transplanted in China, so all of our classes are in English, but most of the students are Chinese. The academics are to the same standard they are in the UK, and when I graduate I’ll have an authentic University of Nottingham degree.
When it comes to cost, I’m saving an incredible amount of money by getting my degree in China. If you didn’t already know, studying in the US is ridiculously expensive. Sure, we have financial aid and loans, but the cost of tuition is outrageous. Since I’m attending a British university in China, I pay British tuition.
My tuition fees for a master’s degree as a foreign student are about $14,000 USD. If I were to attend the University of Washington, my state’s public university, I would pay about $16,000 USD a year. A private university would run me around $35,000 USD a year just in tuition!
While it may not seem like there’s a huge difference between UK and public USA tuition, a master’s degree in the UK is only one year while in the USA it’s two years. This means that in the USA I’d pay $32,000 in public tuition. As a UK student, I’ll already be paying off my loans while my fellow Americans are only halfway done with their degrees.
Studying in a developing country, the cost of living is also much lower. For example, I’m paying $1,500 in rent for twelve months. Most of my friends back home pay about that much per month in cities like New York, San Francisco and Washington DC. In addition to rent, I save a lot of money on things like food, transportation and travel around China. I also teach English part-time to make extra cash. I’m currently making $40 USD an hour teaching business English.
Sounds Great. So apart from saving money, what do you like the best about studying in China?
The best thing about studying in China is how easily I can make local friends. When you’re living as an expat, or studying abroad on a program, you’re somewhat isolated from the locals. My university is 80% Chinese, so I’ve easily been able to make a ton of Chinese friends. I have lunch with my Chinese classmates almost every day, and I joined the school dance team, where I’m the only foreigner.
Having local friends is a great insight into the culture. They teach me Chinese slang, help me download cool Chinese apps, and introduce me to new and crazy foods. We take ridiculous amounts of selfies with peace signs, and chat over a giant meal about the differences between China and America. It’s been so invaluable to have this many local friendships, and it’s something I’ll really miss once I graduate.
And what has been the greatest challenge?
My biggest challenge this year is trying to stay sane with the amount of work I’ve given myself. In addition to studying full-time as a master’s student, I have a travel blog, which takes up most of my spare time. I also teach English three times a week and I dance four or five times a week. Sometimes I look at my email inbox or my calendar and I have a mini-panic attack. Granted, I’ve always been this way, so this is nothing new for me.
Cool, so what was teaching English in China like?
Last year I taught English to 1,000 high schoolers in the middle-of-nowhere “Factoryville” China. I was the only foreigner for miles, and I was basically the town celebrity. It was somewhat lonely, living so far from civilization, but it definitely helped me integrate into the local culture.
While it wasn’t always easy, and I thought about quitting multiple times, my students kept me coming back. They were so always excited to see me. Most of them never had a foreign teacher before I came along. Besides, my blog wouldn’t be what it is today without all of that spare time on my hands. You can only binge-watch Netflix for so many months before you realize you need a better hobby.
Do you have one stand out high light of your time in China?
About a year and a half ago I managed to get myself, and a few friends, to Tibet. Traveling in Tibet is so difficult with permits and government regulations, and I really thought we wouldn’t be able to go. It was the trip of a lifetime, wandering the Potala Palace, hanging prayer flags, and fighting the altitude for incredible views. I remember looking out over the stunning Turquoise Lake thinking about how lucky I was to be there at that moment.
But nothing’s perfect right? Are there any downsides?
There are definitely downsides to living in China, which is why I’m currently wrestling over whether or not to take a job here next year. The biggest issue for me is the Internet censorship. While I have a VPN, which allows me to get on blocked sites, it’s not always quick and sometimes it doesn’t work.
Phone VPNs are very fickle, and sometimes it can take me 20 minutes just to post a photo on Instagram! It’s infuriating, and the censorship gets stricter every year. You know it’s bad when you go to Cambodia or Vietnam and rave about how fast your hostel internet is. Everyone always looks at me like I’m crazy!
What do you wish you had known before you started studying in China?
I wish I would have known how valuable speaking the local language is. I learned Chinese for a year and a half before I stepped foot in China and I hated every minute of it. It wasn’t until I actually got to China that I realized how impactful speaking the language could be.
Now I’m conversationally fluent in Chinese, which has really added to my experience here. I have conversations with cab drivers and locals on sleeper trains. People want to know everything about my life back in America, and what I think about China. I’ve learned so much about this country by speaking Chinese.
Wow, that’s a pretty big accomplishment! So, what about the future? What do you plan to do once you have earned your degree?
I honestly have no clue!
I recently wrote a post about how I’m having a quarter life crisis (see more here – http://www.adventuresaroundasia.com/2015/03/08/quarter-life-crisis/) because I have no idea what I want to do with my life next year. A part of me wants to move to Chiang Mai and focus on my blog and freelance writing, but I’m also $20,000 USD in debt from school, so that’s not really a great idea. I have an awesome high-paying job opportunity waiting for me in China, but to be honest, I’m kind of looking for a change. I would love to move to South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand or Japan, but the quality of jobs for me in those countries is nowhere near what I can get in China.
Hopefully by the time you read this I’ll have my life figured out. But honestly, what 23-year-old has their life together? That’s what I’m going to keep telling myself.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, what tips would you give for people wanting to follow in your footsteps by studying in china?
I honestly think that living abroad for a year or more is something that every young person should try. If you’re interested in living or studying in Asia and you’re past the time for study abroad, definitely consider teaching abroad or attending grad school abroad.
If you really want to travel and live abroad, but you’re worried about money, teaching English is an amazing opportunity. I came to China with $50 in my bank account. At the end of the year I left with over $3,000 USD, which is a lot considering the insane amount I traveled!
Living in China has not only helped my future career in numerous ways, it has also made me a better person. I’m more open-minded, patient, independent, confident, and strong. I’ve started traveling solo, and I’ve learned to live life on my own terms, rather than blindly following the path set out for me.
If you really want to work or study abroad, it’s easy to get yourself there. The opportunities abroad are endless, and with a little research, you’re bound to find the perfect fit for you. Living abroad won’t always be easy, but trust me, the rewards are worth it.
Wow, thanks Richelle! It’s interesting to see how much you have learned and grown from your experiences in China and good luck with your next move!
If you are working abroad contact me to be featured in the next interview.