Soochow University Chinese Language Program Review

Review

The Soochow University language program may be the best value for money in Jiangsu. With nearby Shanghai and Nanjing seemingly collapsing under their weight in students, Soochow University has a reduced ‘expat bubble’ without being alienating.

Students are placed in one of 6 levels, which are roughly in line with the equivalent HSK – students completing level 5 are recommended to take HSK 6. Lessons run from 8.30am to 12.00pm in two blocks of 1.5 hours with a half hour break in between. All levels have three classes: spoken, written and ‘comprehensive’ (口语, 写作 and 综合). Comprehensive is like a ‘forum room’ class that covers all topics. Classes are taught in solely Mandarin as much as possible. Staff and teachers are multilingual, responsive and dedicated – many have lived in America or Japan and understand expectations and challenges facing new students. Suda holds the HSK paper test on campus frequently throughout the year, however, students with hope to take the PC test may have to trek to Shanghai.

 

Affordability

Tuition Fees: RMB 7500/half year; RMB 15,000/year.
Application Fees: RMB 450/person

Tuition fees for the Soochow University language program are significantly cheaper than equivalent universities in Shanghai or Beijing with no sacrifice in quality. As with other universities there may be additional costs for medical checks, residence permits and compulsory insurance.

 

Location

Affectionately known as ‘Suda’, Soochow University has multiple campuses (xiaoqu 校区). Depending on the degree, undergraduate and postgraduate students may find themselves at any of the campuses including the ‘New’ Dushuhu 独墅湖 campus. The term ‘campus’ is used loosely at Suda and may refer to a discrete university campus or a section of a larger campus. Language classes are taught at the Suda Main Campus.

The Main Campus is the section of the university that was formerly known as Dongwu University. The East and North campuses are within walking distance of the Main Campus. Students call Suda’s Main Campus the benbu 本部. The benbu sits to the East of the old city centre and straddles the outer city canal which divides old Suzhou from the newer Suzhou in the East. The benbu is within walking distance of Pingjianglu 平江路, one of Suzhou’s best preserved (but increasingly commercialised) ancient canals. Transport is simple with Xiangmen 相门 metro station servicing line 1 at the North Gate of the benbu. Countless buses run along bordering Donghuanlu and Gangjiang donglu, which provide slow but reliable access to everywhere the metro doesn’t reach. Last but not least, Shanghai is a breezy 20 minute trip by high-speed rail.

 

Atmosphere

International students living on campus shop for essentials at the Japanese supermarket MaxValu at Wanke Midtown, just outside the East Gate of the East Campus (东校区). The East Campus also has two canteens which serve standard and affordable meals from as little as 6 RMB.

The streets running through Houzhuang 后庄 and Qianzhuang 前庄 present the best variety with some great Korean barbecue restaurants.

Shiquan Jie 十全街, a thriving bar and cafe street, lies just South of Suda. Shiquan mainstay, known as The Clam, is Suzhou’s answer to the standard student bar.

There are countless quiet cafes along the canal that even a Melbournian would be hard pressed to find fault – out of the South Gate, walk west for the best. AO Correspondent, Will Breedon, recommends Lomo Cafe for a study sanctuary – just show your student ID for generous discounts.

 

Accommodation

Student dorms are cheap and convenient. Foreign student dorms are in the East Campus, which is a brisk 10 minute walk from classes in the Main Campus. A semester in a shared twin dorm will cost 4,000 RMB. For those looking for their own room, private dorms are available for 7,000 RMB a semester. These dorms have a private balcony, bathroom, air-conditioning, bed, desk, cupboard, television and wifi internet connection. Electricity, hot water and internet access are partly subsidised by the School of Overseas Education. Female students can find twin share rooms for 3,000 RMB a semester in Dorms #17 and 18.

Living on campus poses its own difficulties – dorms can be very cold in winter. Dorms also have (nominal) curfews and university gates are closed after 11. Returning later than 11 you may have to ‘sign in’ with security and explain your reason for being late. If returning late, don’t forget to bring your student ID to prove you’re a Suda student. Security can be lenient one day, harsh the next. They also may give Western-looking students a free pass but come down harder on others. If campus living isn’t for you, it is possible to find off-campus accommodation if you’re willing to spend a short stay in a hostel while you search; recommended for students staying longer than a semester.

 

Opportunities

In addition to the morning courses, Suda offers many sport, cultural, culinary and language based classes. For the studious, Suda holds elective afternoon classes, which run from 1.30pm to 3.00pm, in reading, listening, writing and speaking at all levels. On the social side, previous semesters have offered Taiji, ‘Cultural Experience Class’ and Karaoke Club just to name a few. Amongst the most popular are language courses in the local Suzhou language and badminton. Suda also keeps its students on their toes through speech and essay contests, which give students a great platform to put their language in action. Lastly, Suda offers incentives for outstanding language students, with up to three students per class awarded prizes at the end of each semester and targeted scholarships.

 

Reputation

Suda’s language program has plenty to recommend – the quality of education is comparable to that found in an Australian university and the School of Overseas Education staff are supportive. The school grounds of Suda are renowned in Jiangsu for their reflective and restrained beauty, combining both Western elements and styles from local private gardens. Suda was founded by Methodists in 1900 and known as Dongwudaxue. The Dongwudaxue campus, now the Suda Main Campus, was built in a style evocative of Ivy League schools with strong Western design.

Academically, Suda is impressive. Suda is a 211 Project member, chosen as one of 100 key Chinese universities in the 21st Century, attracting many bright students from Jiangsu, Zhejiang and other provinces. Australian exchange with Suda is also strong; the university is home to an Australian Studies Centre and a destination for Hamer Scholars (currently on hold).*

 

Asia Options Verdict

Although Asia Options can’t spruke Suda as well as a quick Google search of its canals and gardens can, we can vouch that it is a superb university for a committed scholar. Putonghua is standard and Suzhounese is a bonus. Don’t let anybody convince you that you’ll be learning ‘bad Mandarin’ by studying at Soochow University.

*The Hamer Scholarship for 2015 is currently under review by the Victorian Government. As a result the March 2015 application round will not be proceeding. Further information will be made available following the completion of the review.

 

Soochow University
8 Total Score
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Pros

Affordable tuition fees
Great 2nd tier city option
Strong reputation
Beautiful campus

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