Vinny is a BA International Business with Chinese student. As part of his degree, Vinny was able to apply to study in Beijing for a whole academic year. Beijing Foreign Studies University (BFSU) is one of our University-wide partners and you might be able to apply to go on exchange there too – check with your course leader! Teaching is available in English too.
Tell us why you decided to spend your year abroad at BFSU?
I decided to take part in this exchange programme because I have a passion for discovering new places, experiences and for learning languages. Having the opportunity to live and study in Beijing doesn’t come up too often in life, and to study at the best university for languages in the whole of China doesn’t either. This is why when I was applying to study at the University of Westminster, I solely chose the career I’m currently doing based on this rewarding and amazing opportunity.
We would like to know more about your exchange! What was your typical day like?
Every day I’d have to go to class fairly early, 8am or 10am, depending on the day. Classes would last 2 hours with a break in between. If anyone arrived late, they would have to sing in front of the whole class. It was a fun and creative way to discipline us to take attendance seriously. During classes, teachers would only speak in Mandarin.
If any student used their native language with another student, the teacher would tell them off and would get annoyed, as they always wanted us to try and improve our Chinese by speaking it all the time. If we had questions or queries, we would also ask these in Mandarin. We’d get homework every day and sit weekly quizzes. We would also have 4 big exams during a term/semester. It was all doable with revision, of course.
How did you like the programme? What did you find the most enjoyable and most challenging? Tell us about all the differences you discovered. What did you miss the most about the UK?
I absolutely loved the programme, I would describe it as the best year of my life. I enjoyed meeting people from all around the world. Thanks to the programme I now speak better mandarin as I was forced to speak it 24/7. I now have really goof friends from Japan, Korea, Thailand, Mongolia, Angola, Latin America and many other places. The most challenging part was not being able to communicate with ease with friends that are non-English speakers. Sometimes we’d like to say some interesting things in Chinese, but because our Chinese was limited, we would have to try and remember words we had learnt in class to be able to get our points across. I would also say it was a good challenge, as it inspired me even more to learn the language, seeing it was the only way I was able to communicate with a lot of people. I did not miss the UK at all!
What graduate attributes (team working, planning and organisation, project management, leadership skills, adaptability, cultural awareness, negotiation skills, etc.) have you gained through this experience? Have your transferrable skills (critical thinking, problem solving, resilience, your global outlook and communication, etc.) improved? Tell us more about it!
I most definitely gained more cultural awareness during my stay in Beijing. I learnt a lot from Chinese people and, since then, have tried to apply all the positive aspects into my day-to-day life. I have also improved critical thinking, problem solving and resilience-wise, as sometimes I wasn’t able to communicate correctly due to the language barrier. But I can now say I have improved a lot in those aspects after having finished my year abroad.
What message would you like to pass on to students who are considering a similar opportunity? Are there anything they should know before going to your host organisation, city or country? What advice or top tips would you like to give to students who plan to gain international experience in general?
That you all must go! Before you go, make sure you find a way to practice your speaking – as soon as you land you will have to start communicating in mandarin. As you all know by now, China is huge, so be ready to walk and cycle a lot. After all the walks and cycling, you will have to take a well deserved nap! But most importantly, if you end up going, make sure you enjoy every day to the fullest. The saying “time flies when you’re having fun” applies to the year abroad for sure!
I advise you all to go to China for sure. It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity. It will broaden your mind and will allow to experience amazing moments. I met amazing people that I now call my best friends. Going to China will also give you an edge amongst other graduates, as not many foreigners can say they speak the hardest language in the world.
Would you like to share with us any interesting experiences from your year abroad?
During the first semester, because of my outgoing and charismatic personality, I got asked to host the closing ceremony, and I accepted. Of course, it was all to be hosted in Mandarin. I was nervous as I had to talk in front of the whole University, but it was rewarding and fun, as now because of that experience, I have the confidence to do most tasks.