Studying Chinese in a second tier city with Emily Dunn

While Beijing has long been a favourite choice for Australians studying on exchange to learn Mandarin, there is a range of second-tier cities offering a top-notch China experience. Nanjing and Kunming are two popular cities for Australians and Asia Options sat down with Emily Dunn from the Australia China Alumni Association to hear her experience of studying at Keats School and Nanjing University.


Positives of the program

Keats School (in Kunming, Yunnan) and Nanjing University (in Nanjing, Jiangsu) provided two very different experiences. In Kunming, I lived in a youth hostel by Green Lake and commuted each day to Keats School, a private language college where I was in a class of five people for six months. At that time my Mandarin was very basic so it was great to be in a small class environment where the focus was on speaking/listening. Kunming is a third-tier city, so it meant very few of the locals had good English which forced us to use our Mandarin in day-to-day life.

However, out of the two study experiences, I think Nanjing University provided the best study environment and a higher quality all-round program. I lived on campus at the university for one year which was fantastic to allow you to minimise travel time and make the most of the Mandarin classes (which had equal focus on reading, writing, speaking and listening), gym classes where the instructors spoke Mandarin, inexpensive and relatively healthy Chinese cafeterias and the ability to forge friendships with Chinese students also on campus.


Negatives of the program

I think I would recommend studying at a Chinese univeristy, as their fairly standardised programs ensure you will learn good grammar and your Mandarin skills will generally progress in tandem from day one. If you choose to go to university, I think it’s extremely important to hire a tutor (which generally costs between RMB50 to RMB80 per hour for Masters students in Mandarin teaching) to make sure you have someone to correct your tones and help practice your speaking/listening. I would recommend hiring a tutor for one hour a day in the afternoons after class, to help you revise and practice what you learnt that morning. University programs generally move very quickly, so you don’t want to be left behind.

Another option is Skype tutoring, which is super convenient and offers the same sort of speaking/listening practice as if you had a face-to-face tutor. This was particularly helpful for me when I went back to Australia over the semester Christmas break for two months, to allow me to keep progressing and not lose any knowledge over the break.

I think if I had my time again, I would have enrolled in a Chinese university course before I went to a private college. I would also recommend having a base level of Mandarin before moving to a third-tier city, as a base level will allow you to progress more quickly and be safer in a city that you’re unfamiliar with (and perhaps doesn’t have the English language conveniences as a first- or second-city does, if you need them urgently).

Also, if you go to a third-tier city, make sure you learn from others the best hospitals to go to in the event of an emergency/serious sickness. For example, while I was in Kunming, I had a friend who went to four hospitals in one night as each successive hospital told her she was “too sick” – this was even with a fluent Chinese speaker assisting us.


Outcomes of the program

I think studying Mandarin, gaining a larger cultural understanding and building friendships with Chinese people only has positive outcomes. I’m now in Shanghai working (and still studying Mandarin with a Skype tutor) and find day-to-day life has become a lot easier compared to the last time I lived in the city. It’s also great to have a greater understanding of Chinese people’s social and working lives, corporate culture and styles of doing things.


Funding and scholarships

I strongly encourage and highly recommend the Victorian Government’s Hamer Scholarship Program, a language and cultural immersion program designed to build the Asia-engagement capabilities of Victorians and help strengthen cultural awareness between Victoria and Asia.

The program provides scholarships for Victorians each year to undertake intensive language study at nominated universities or institutions in China, Indonesia, Japan and Korea.

Applicants will need to demonstrate how the scholarship would significantly benefit their career path, study plan, their employer’s future engagement with China and how this would benefit the State of Victoria. It is an excellent opportunity and provides an excellent platform for recognition and networking opportunities.



The student visa was relatively easy to gain after showing the Consulate office in Australia the required documents. Make sure you have all required documents before you attempt to gain a visa and leave plenty of leeway before you plan to depart Australia in case your first visa attempt is unsuccessful, and you have to do it again.



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