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Where to Study Chinese Abroad: Beijing Edition

The best way to learn a language is to be immersed in it.

During the fall of 2019, I, alongside a good family friend, flew overseas to take part in a year-long Chinese language program in one of Beijing’s top universities. Truthfully, I would say that it was a life-changing experience that I would definitely recommend to anyone. Not only do you get to learn a language, but you also get to delve into the local food and the culture — you get to personally see how a society that you weren’t raised in lives. You meet new friends, discover new places, and open your eyes to new things. 

Flash forward to January of 2020, when my dad messaged me to be careful because he read about a virus that was going around Wuhan. At the time, I just exasperatedly answered, “But Wuhan is so far from Beijing though…” Who knew that it would turn out to be like this now? 

A few weeks after, I went back home to the Philippines for the winter break, eagerly anticipating my return to China for the next semester. Obviously, that didn’t push through. 

Thanks to the global pandemic, my study abroad experience has been cut short. But perhaps, sometime in the not-so-far future, yours won’t be! If you’re considering studying Chinese in the country of its origin, here’s a list of some of the best suitable universities that Beijing has to offer. 


Why Beijing?

You might want to ask me: “Why did you choose to study in Beijing?” 

Generally, international students tend to flock to either Beijing or Shanghai. I went to the former because I heard there were fewer English speakers in the area, which means that I would be more pressed to actually use Chinese. Among students in the know, there’s a saying that goes: “If you want to have fun, go to Shanghai. If you want to learn, go to Beijing.” 

That said, the amount of material you learn really just depends on how much you push yourself to do so. But still, we’ll talk about Shanghai and other provinces on another day. 


Peking University (北京大学)

Locally known by its nickname Beida, Peking University is reputed to be the Harvard of China. It is considered to be one of the most prestigious universities in the country, normally reachable by just the uttermost peak layer of the cream of the crop — only the top 0.05% of students who take the gaokao, one of the toughest national college entrance exams in the world, are accepted into undergraduate studies. 

Don’t let that scare you though! International language students aren’t subjected to the same rigorous standards. Choosing this university means you will get to experience a high-class education in an environment with a lot less stress than those pursuing actual degrees there. Peking University’s language program is especially popular among foreign students, presenting a range of class levels from beginner to intermediate to advanced. Other cultural electives are also available to international students. 


Peking University Library.


Tsinghua University (清华大学)

Depending on who you might ask, Tsinghua University may be considered to be the best university in China — Beida’s rival, one could say. If Peking University is known as the Harvard of China, then Tsinghua University is the MIT of China — those who study here are typically inclined to the sciences. But, of course, you won’t be going here to take up engineering now, will you? 

Tsinghua University is one of the top choices for foreign students wanting to learn Chinese. For this purpose, it hosts two well-known language programs: The first is the super-intensive Inter-University Program (IUP), which features a highly individualized form of instruction with a teacher-student ratio of 1:3. Meanwhile, the second is a program by the Tsinghua University International Chinese Language and Culture Center (ICLCC), which offers a more popular and general format not unlike that of Beida and BLCU, featuring both language classes and cultural electives. 


Qinghua Xuetang, an old building of the former Tsinghua College.


Beijing Language & Culture University (北京语言大学)

As one can tell by the university’s name, this institution is perfectly catered to the language-learning needs of foreign students. Bringing together curious minds from all over the globe, BLCU serves both as a cradle for budding diplomatic talents and the home to the world’s largest Chinese language program. The sheer size and diversity of its student population alone have earned BLCU the nickname  “Little United Nations.” 

Those wanting an introduction to Chinese culture will probably have a great time here, especially with its very active international community. Since the university actually specializes in teaching Chinese, a lot of materials used in Beida and Tsinghua are sourced from here, which only attests to the effectiveness of its program content. BLCU’s system also works similarly to that of Beida and Tsinghua, in that it involves being sorted into classes divided according to difficulty. 


Beijing Language and Culture University front.


All three universities have great reputations for Chinese language learning and are also all in the same area, making it easy for you to go and visit the others should you wish to go tourist-hopping. Of course, doing so is only possible once the world reverts to being a much healthier and safer place. As of now, Peking University, Tsinghua University, and the Beijing Language and Culture University offer online courses for those who are interested. 


Want to see other things you can do in Beijing once the pandemic is over? Check out this article here for our travel recommendations!

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