Xiamen University is a prestigious university in China and in this review Joshua Peace, a recent University of Melbourne graduate, walks you through the pro’s & cons of the Xiamen University Chinese Language Program.
Joshua had the privilege of partaking in the language program at Xiamen University for the 2016 Spring semester. Joshua partook in the year 3 upper advanced class (三年下). Joshua has kindly taken the time write this piece to help prospective students to get the lowdown on the Xiamen University language program for foreign students.
About the Program
The Chinese program is broken down into 6 levels from absolute beginner to advanced. Each level is a semesters worth of study, and the entire program can be completed from scratch to level sixth in three years. In addition to these levels there are also fourth year classes that are supposed to only be for fourth year Chinese language undergraduates. However, these classes can be attended if you receive approval from the overseas student office.
There are also optional classes ranging from calligraphy, Chinese painting, and kung fu to more academic classes such as Chinese pronunciation, writing, reading, newspaper reading, chengyu stories, lunyu etc. The optional classes are almost all in the afternoon, so as to not clash with compulsory classes, which are mostly in the morning.
Compulsory classes consist of comprehensive (综合), listening (听力) and speaking (口语) classes. Class-time per week depends on level, but is generally 15-20 hours of compulsory classes. All classes use the same line of text books ‘Developing Chinese’ “发展汉语”. So for example, if one was in the upper third year class (三年下), they would use the advanced level two comprehensive Developing Chinese textbook for comprehensive class, the advanced level two speaking Developing Chinese textbook for speaking class and the advanced level two listening Developing Chinese textbook for listening class.
In comprehensive class you work though the textbook, with the teacher explaining new vocabulary and grammar points. Speaking class generally involves the teacher explaining the text and vocabulary for most of the lesson, although there are usually frequent speaking assignments. However, this of course depends on the teacher, and may vary by level. As for listening class, it is taken in special listening rooms with headsets for each student. Dialogues from the textbook are listened to and questions have to be answered based on the dialogue.
Location deserves a big mention. I know many students are likely considering coming to Xiamen University because of its idyllic location – nestled in between the city and the beach. Well I hate to break it to you but that’s only the Siming campus (思明校区). It’s the beautiful campus that you see in the pictures and the Xiamen University advertising material, attracting hundreds of tourists a day, only a five minutes walk from the beach. However the Chinese program is taught on Xiang’an campus (翔安校区). Xiang’an is a district of Xiamen City, but it’s not on the island. In fact it’s quite far away. To get from our campus to the island there are two public buses and school buses (for teachers and certain students ie. Students that have classes on Siming campus). The public buses take an hour to an hour and a half/two hours to get to the island depending on traffic. The school buses are a little quicker, but still take around an hour and are only for teachers or select students. Apparently the university is moving more and more faculties out to Xiang’an as the Siming campus is too small and overcrowded with tourists (the English-taught medical program is now taught on the Xiang’an campus). Also worth mentioning is that Xiamen City is currently in the process of constructing a metro system that will extend out to the Xiang’an campus once completed, and a new airport which will be located on Dadeng Island not far from the Xiang’an campus. As such, transport will be much more convenient when these projects are completed in a few years.
As for facilities, this campus is very well equipped. Because it’s only been constructed in the last few years everything is new, and because it’s out in the sticks it’s big. On campus there is a driving range, two olympic-sized swimming pools, a gym, lots of basketball courts, tennis courts, athletics track, a library (with a lecture hall that becomes a cinema on weekends), two cafeterias, a few banks, a couple of mobile phone stores, a few printing shops, a supermarket, dormitories etc. Basically you don’t have to leave the campus for anything if you didn’t want to. Behind the campus there is also a mountain that can be climbed and has nice views over the campus and surrounding area.
Xiamen city’s reputation as a beautiful city is well deserved. Here blue skies and starry nights are the norm rather than the exception, and the city is littered with much greenery. And of course there are many beaches, which are a nice place to relax once you’re away from the crowds. The city has a rather laid-back feel compared to other Chinese cities, making it a very liveable place. Another plus is that Xiamen is very close to Taiwan. There are several ferries a day to Jinmen Island (only a roughly 40 minute boat-ride from Xiamen). From Jinmen you can easily fly or boat further afield to Taiwan proper.
As with most Chinese universities, there is accommodation on campus in student dormitories. In Xiang’an the dormitories are as follows: 8 people per flat, each flat contains 4 bedrooms, with 2 people per bedroom (each with own bed and desk), one bathroom with two toilets and showers per flat, and one common room per flat. Each bedroom also has its own balcony. The rooms are well-equipped, although many students dislike having to share a room.
Also, many electronics are not allowed in the dormitories, including electric cookers (students therefore cannot cook for themselves, as there isn’t a kitchen in the dormitories), hair-dryers and hair-straighteners. If found they will be taken away, though many students still use the aforementioned electrical appliances.
Off campus, many students live in Shamei Village (沙美村), which is at the East gate of the university. There you can get a room for 300-500 yuan a month (excluding electricity and water). This is the preferred choice for couples as the university does not permit couples living together on campus. And of course, living in the village provides many opportunities to experience rural China.
Xiamen University has a high reputation in China and is the of the most reputable universities found in the south of China. Overall, the Chinese program is thought of as well-taught and the teachers genuinely care about your learning. For obvious reasons though, the program’s reputation is let down by its location. Ironically though Xiamen university is famous for its beautiful campus – which as we mentioned refers to a separate campus!
Many foreign students really find life tough out in Xiang’an, and you can’t blame them. Besides the university, there isn’t much out there. At the east gate there is street food every night (great for a break from the cafeteria) and there is a supermarket and a few restaurants etc… But apart from that it’s just rural China – fields, villages, the odd factory and stone mines. Some personally don’t have a problem with Xiang’an, and I actually enjoyed the chance to experience rural China, but I understand that it’s not everyone’s cup of tea.
For food there is the cafeterias, restaurants at the East Gate and street food at the east gate. The cafeteria is the same as anywhere in China – lots of average, mass-produced Chinese food. There is quite the selection of street food at the East Gate, ranging from fried rice/noodles, to sushi and soups and various other Chinese goodies. The restaurants at the East Gate include Chinese restaurants and Korean restaurants, in addition to restaurants that are quickly popping up further in Shamei Village. And of course, many students cook for themselves in the dormitories, using electric cookers. However this is against school rules so many students have had their cooking appliances and utensils confiscated.
There is a point worth noting about the Xiamen University Chinese Language Undergraduate Program. If you have a HSK 5 certificate you can apply to enter into the undergraduate Chinese language program at third year level. Thus, you can graduate with a Bachelor’s in Chinese language in just 2 years.
If you’re considering coming to Xiamen to study Chinese because of the beautiful university campus and proximity to the beach, then you’re best to reconsider. You will be out here in Xiang’an, which is not to say that the campus isn’t beautiful, it’s just remote and not the campus that most foreign students expect to live on. Also, if you’re a city person, then you’re probably going to find studying in Xiang’an very testing. However, if you’re interested in rural China and traditional Chinese culture, studying at the Xiamen University Xiang’an campus will give the unique opportunity to study at a prestigious Chinese institution while nestled in rural Chinese life. And of course, Xiang’an is the perfect place for anyone that wants to get some serious study done, because there aren’t many distractions out here.
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