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Where in China Should I Study Abroad?

Shanghai Insider Guides
by David DeFranza May 9, 2008


China is as diverse as it is populous. An experience here can be amongst the most rewarding of any in the world. Follow the guide below to make sure you pick the city that’s right for you.

FROM THE RAPIDLY changing economic and political centers of Beijing and Shanghai, to indigenous cultures of the south, China has a wide variety of opportunities for study available. Whether you are interested in history, business, food, politics, or culture, there will be a place and a program for you.

University or Private School?
The first question you should ask yourself is whether you want to study at a Chinese university or through a private program.

The first question you should ask yourself is whether you want to study at a Chinese university or through a private program. If learning Chinese is your primary concern, then studying at a Chinese university is probably the best option. Most major universities offer programs for foreign students of all ability levels. The focus on language these programs provide, as well as their total immersion, almost guarantees a huge improvement in your Chinese competency.

Private programs are generally a better option for those interested in more specific academic subjects. These programs tend to be comprised of only foreign students, but offer focused study of a specific topic like art, anthropology, economics, or business.

Often, language study is incorporated as well, but with less contact with Chinese students and shorter periods devoted to language, you may not see the same results in this area.

There are many different places to study abroad in China, and with so many options it can be hard to find the one that is best for you. Here are eight of the most popular places to study abroad, each with its own special characteristics and advantages.


Beijing is the political and cultural heart of China. It is also the educational and administrative center of the country. This an important consideration for the study abroad student for two reasons. First, there are many universities offering programs for foreign students. From the very popular Beijing Language and Culture University to the internationally acclaimed Peking University, there is a school in Beijing that will fit your goals.

As the administrative capital of China, Beijing has the advantage of being home to the dialect that is officially the national standard. This means that the Beijing dialect is an internationally recognized standard that will transfer well to future applications in business and academics.


Shanghai is the financial center of China. Students interested in business and economics, or those who want to experience life in a vibrant cosmopolitan metropolis, will find what they are looking for with a program in Shanghai.

From museums to architecture, shopping to nightlife, a semester studying in Shanghai is easily as much about experiencing this exciting city as it is time in the classroom. Fudan University and the very central Shanghai Jiaotong University are popular options for foreign students.


Located on the coast of China between Beijing and Shanghai, the port city of Qingdao has the feeling of a relaxed beach side resort in the warmer months. The architecture of Qingdao is noticeably European, a holdover from the city’s days as a German colonial outpost, and is the home of the famous Qingdao Beer brewery.

Famous for its street food and quiet nightlife, Qingdao provides a great setting for a more relaxed semester abroad. A popular place for foreign students to study is Qingdao University.


Xi’an was an ancient capital of China and a major stopping point on the Silk Road and other Asian trade routes. For these reasons, those interested in ancient Chinese history could not pick a better place to study abroad.

In addition to the numerous archaeological and historical sites, Xi’an is a great jumping off point for explorations of central China and, in recent years, has developed a nightlife scene that has come to rival that of the coastal cities. If you are interested in studying in Xi’an, two great places to start your search are the Xi’an Jiatong University and the Xi’an International Studies University.


Yunnan province has the largest variety and population of minorities in all of China. In addition to this ethnic diversity, Yunnan offers a wide range of geography, from the high mountains of the Tibetan plateau to the low jungles reminiscent of the province’s Southeast Asian neighbors.

This makes Kunming, the capital of Yunnan and one of the most beautiful cities in China, an excellent place to study for any student interested in anthropology and minority culture. A good place to start looking for programs is the University of Yunnan. If you are interested in studying minority cultures, a great program is SIT’s semester in Yunnan Province.

Something Completely Different:

If you are interested in a more unique study abroad experiences in China, there are several places that can offer something completely different.

Hong Kong

One of the most vibrant cities in Asia and the world, Hong Kong offers a confluence of cultures, a thriving economy, and a night life that is unmatched in most of China. Whether you choose to study at the University of Hong Kong, the Asia-Pacific Institute of Business, or through some other school or program, Hong Kong will provide an exciting place to spend your time.

One thing to keep in mind is that, while Hong Kong has something for everyone, from shopping to hiking, the main language is Cantonese not the Mandarin spoken on the mainland. If you are interested in studying Mandarin Chinese, Hong Kong is not the best choice.


Xinjiang is China’s large northwestern province, home to the sizable Uygher Muslim minority group. For many visitors, entering Xinjiang from coastal China is like crossing into another country. The architecture and people take on a more Central Asian appearance, mosques outnumber temples, and the musky smell of roasting lamb fills the streets.

Whether you decide to study in the provincial capital Urumqi at a major university like Xinjiang University, or through a program in a smaller city or town, studying abroad in Xinjiang provides an opportunity to study a variety of languages and a unique culture in a very different part of China.


The high mountains and Buddhist culture of Tibet is nearly legendary. For the international student, a study abroad experience in Tibet can be like no other. It can also be a serious logistical challenge. If you decide that you want to study in Tibet, it is best to start planning well in advance.

There are several programs set up through partnerships between Chinese and American universities. Unlike other places in China it is advisable that prospective students work through one of these well established partnerships, or through something like the excellent SIT Tibetan and Himalayan Studies program, instead of making arrangements for yourself.


Visitors from most countries require a visa to enter China. However, if you plan to study in China, you will require a special visa. For those looking to study for six months or less, the F class visa, often called a business visa, is required. This requires a letter of invitation from the school at which you intend to study, at least two empty pages in your passport, a completed visa application, a few passport photos, and payment of the visa fee.

If you plan to study for more than six moths, then the X class visa is required. The process for acquiring this visa is the same as for the F visa, except a physical examination will be required. For those unable to obtain an X visa from their home country, it is sometimes possible to upgrade a standard tourist visa once in China. Ask your program administrator in advance if this is the case.

From Beijing to Shanghai, Hong Kong to Tibet, there is something for everyone in China. The large, rapidly changing, country is exciting and at times intimidating. However, by narrowing down your search, it is easy to see that China is an ideal place to study abroad.

Travel Insurance

For long term study abroad plans, travel insurance is highly recommendable. Make sure your policy is tailored to wherever you’re going in China.

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