Shanghai Summer School scholarship at SISU University 2019

As you may know, during the summer of 2018 I obtained a scholarship to study Chinese in Shanghai for six weeks. You can read about my experience here.

On this post we are conducting an interview with Julieta Viglino, an Argentinian student who obtained the same scholarship in summer 2019: the Shanghai Summer School scholarship. As you know from my previous post about this academic opportunity, the program is hosted by Shanghai International Studies University (SISU University in Shanghai) (上海外国语大学)

Hello Julieta. Thanks for answering our questions. I think your answers about the Shanghai Summer School scholarship 2019 (3S) will be deeply appreciated by future scholars.

1. According to the information you found on this blog about the main features of the SISU summer school (3S) scholarship 2018, are there any differences with the SISU summer school (3S) scholarship 2019?

As in the 2018 program, we had Chinese classes every morning in building number 2 of SISU Hongkou Campus. The first day of the program there was a placement test for students who had taken Chinese classes before. As I hadn’t, I just went to ‘Level 1’ class.

I must say I found the classes intense. We had a lot of homework and daily dictations. However, the final exam wasn’t that difficult, so you shouldn’t freak out about it!  Besides, our teachers were really good and committed and most importantly, nice persons. We even went for dinner with one of them once (with Miss Wang) which was a pretty nice experience. Here are pictures of my Chinese classmates and teachers:

Shanghai summer school 2019 level1 Chinese class

Shanghai summer school 2019 Chinese class Level1_1

Shanghai summer school 2019 level1 Chinese class2

Shanghai summer school 2019 Chinese class Level1_2

We also had non-mandatory extracurricular activities in the afternoons. We had some traditional Chinese classes such as Tai Chi, Chinese calligraphy and paper cutting; and some lectures about Chinese medicine, Chinese Philosophy and Economy. In the 2019 program we had two company visits: we went to Schindler and General Motors. We also visited some historical places and museums.

As regards food, this time the cost of daily meals was not included for the Spanish-speaking countries scholarship. That was a surprise for me as I expected it to be! However, I met some girls from Europe who had gotten canteen tickets for meals as part of their scholarship. I think weather you get food included in the program or not depends mostly of the agreement of the specific program.

Anyway, eating in Shanghai is really cheap when compared to other cities, especially if you eat in the canteen of the University.

Unlike 2018, we had 2 trips organized by SISU but none of them was to Beijing. First, we had a one day trip (during a weekend) to Suzhou which is small city two hours away from Shanghai. Suzhou it’s best known as ‘The Chinese Venice’ as it has a lot of canals and stone bridges. It’s very picturesque.  Here is a picture of one of the canals and a garden:

We also had a four day trip to Yanzhou and Nanjing. We stayed in Yanzhou for two days and then went to Nanjing which is a big city full of history and culture. On the opposite, Yanzhen it’s not that interesting but we had a nice time.

I also organized by my own (it was not included in our Summer School program) a one day trip to Hangzhou, which is a beautiful city near Shanghai.  It has a lot of incredible landscapes and historical buildings. I strongly recommend it!

2. Was again SISU hotel the designated accommodation for SISU summer school scholarship holders? Do you have the feeling there was a renovation between 2018 and 2019?

As I had a scholarship I was designated to stay at SISU hotel.  People who didn’t have scholarships and paid for the program stayed at the SISU Guest House Hotel which is much more comfortable and fancier. Besides, some scholars from the Confucius Program stayed in a SISU residence complex outside campus. I would say that was also a good option, as the buildings and the furniture of the rooms had been recently renovated and everything looked nice and clean.

In regard to SISU hotel, well, I would say there wasn’t any notorious improvement between 2018 and 2019.  My room was big enough for two people to live there. I had a small fridge and a decent Wi-Fi connection. The mattress of my bed was a little broken so it could be uncomfortable sometimes, but I got used to it.

The worst part of the accommodation was cleanness. My room was only slightly cleaned 4 or 5 times in my 6 weeks stay. I must admit I saw small cockroaches getting inside the baseboard of the walls a couple of times!

As in 2018, there still was a poorly equipped kitchen in the 4th floor of the hotel but it was almost impossible to use as it was dirty, small and full.

On the other hand, SISU hotel is full of SISU’s scholars which made everything very fun! During my stay I shared my room with a really sweet Egyptian girl named Hager. For me that was one of the best parts of the summer school. Being able to share the everyday activities with someone who spoke a different language and had a completely different culture was quiet an experience. Here is a picture of us together when we visited a Temple located in the city of Suzhou as part of the SISU’s activities.


Julieta and her friend Hager during Shanghai summer school 2019

3. Would you like to share with us any recommendations about restaurants in the area?

Well, before going to China you should know that almost any dish has some kind of meat in it.  I am a vegetarian and I wasn’t aware of this, so I was really frustrated the first days.

Here are some things I’ve found out that may be useful for other vegetarians going to SISU summer school. 

Most of the restaurants located near to Buddhists temples have meat-free meals as Buddhists are supposed to be vegetarians. Unfortunately, there is no Buddhists Temple near SISU, but I did find some restaurants with veggie-friendly options (apart from SISU’s canteen).

In front of Chifeng Road metro station there is a nice Chinese-Muslim restaurant. It had mostly rice and noodles with different kinds of sauces and vegetables. My favorite part of that restaurant were the seasonings and condiments used. Food was really tasty!

Chinese food 1

There was also a Korean restaurant that had some interesting options. It’s in the same block that the Muslim restaurant. Here is a picture of one of my meals there:

Chinese food 2

Eating in restaurants in the area wasn’t expensive, usually between 15-20 Chinese Yuan each dish, which is less than 3 US dollar for each meal. Of course, it wasn’t as cheap as SISU’s canteen, but food was much tastier! I had a limited budget, so I normally changed between canteen and restaurants, but I would recommend eating outside campus if you have enough money!

4. Would you like to share with us any other general recommendations?

Well, I would recommend you not freaking out if you find China a little shocking at the beginning!

I have to admit that my first days in Shanghai were a little hard. This trip was my first time in China and I didn’t know any single world in Chinese before coming.  Before travelling I expected everyone in Shanghai to speak English (as it’s supposed to be a very intercultural city!). Imagine my surprise when I realized I needed the translator in my phone even to go to the supermarket. Besides, I was also feeling the cultural shock. Chinese culture can be very different to South America’s sometimes.  I’m grateful to say that this feeling completely disappeared after the first week! After spending there almost 7 weeks I can honestly say that Shanghai is the best city I have ever been to, and I can’t wait to go back!

Shanghai it’s a very intercultural and cosmopolitan city. The incredibly large number of people in the streets makes the city feel alive by itself. The contrast between cutting-edge buildings and Chinese traditional architecture is fascinating. No matter where I was standing, I could always raise my head and see impressive modern skyscrapers and at the same time ancient buildings and Chinese traditional decorations. This makes the city unique.


Shanghai at night (Photo: Julieta Viglino, during Shanghai summer school 2019)

Besides, I was absolutely amazed by all the lights of the city at night time, especially in The Bund and in Pudong Financial District. I should admit that Pudong skyline night views was what I loved the most in Shanghai.

Besides, SISU’s program it’s an opportunity to meet students from every part of the world. It was absolutely enriching to open my mind to different thoughts and to such different backgrounds and cultures. I was able to make friendships with people from South America, Europe, Africa and Asia.

Here is a picture with Sia. She is from Greece and was one of the greatest persons I met during the summer school! (The picture is also from out trip to Suzhou):


Julieta (Argentina) and Sia (Greece) in Suzhou during Shanghai Summer School 2019

Regarding the activities of the program, as I mentioned before, I found the Chinese classes demanding and hard but I learnt so much during the course!  I was even able to communicate the basics after the first weeks of the program. Besides, the Chinese teachers I had were both really nice and understanding; and did their best to immerse us into Chinese culture. I also found very interesting all the cultural activities we had in the program. I particularly enjoyed the lectures about China’s economy and the company visits.

Moreover, I really liked SISU’s visit to the place where the First National Congress of the Communist Party took place. It was very interesting and the guide, Bob, shared a lot of information with us that helped me understand the importance of the place for Chinese people. I’m glad this activity was part of SISU’s program as I wouldn’t have taken the most out of this place without a guide.  Other touristic places I enjoyed were the Yu Gardens, Jade Buddha Temple and the Confucius Temple. The Propaganda Museum and the Jews Refugees Museum were also very interesting!!


I would definitely recommend everyone to apply to SISU Summer School. It was a life-changing experience and one of the best trips I’ve ever done. I’m already looking forward to go back to China.


Thank you, Julieta, for the interview. I am sure that it will be very inspiring and helpful for future students. 

Remember you can read our post of Shanghai Summer Scholarship 2018 to get more information about the scholarship (Chinese classes, transportation, money exchange, water, etc.).


‘al fin’ VS. ‘al final’

Hello there!

One of my C1-level students of Spanish language (let’s call him Juanito) asked me the other day: what is the difference between “al fin” and “al final” in Spanish? I had to stop for a bit and think twice about it. But after a while I think I was able to give him a decent explanation that I would like to share with you here.

First of all, we have to speak about the word “el final” and “el fin”:

  • el final = the end –> El final del libro no me gustó. / Estamos en la fase final de producción.
  • el fin* = the goal –> Esa empresa persigue fines inmorales.

*–> The problem is that very often “el fin” is used as a synonym for “el final”. But the good news are that this happens mainly on set phrases. Let’s see some examples:

  • Para algunas familias, es difícil llegar a fin de mes. (make ends meet)
  • Este fin de semana vamos a ir al cine. (weekend)
  • Algunos dicen que el fin del mundo está cerca.(world’s end/the end of the world)
  • Tenemos que poner fin a la guerra y el odio entre naciones. (put an end to)
  • ¡Por fin has llegado! = ¡Al fin has llegado! (at last)


After all this we can now better say that:

  • al fin = por fin (at last) ¡Al fin dejó de llover! (At last the rain stopped!) o ¡Por fin dejó de llover! (At last the rain stopped!)
  • al final (at the end). Al final no hemos hablado sobre ti (At the end we didn’t speak about you).

MORE: Sometimes we use “al fin” when in English you can use “finally”: After 15 minutes I finally found the keys. –> Después de 15 minutos, por fin encontré las llaves.

MORE: we use “finalmente” as “para terminar” when in English you can use “lastly” o “to sum up”: (Después de una larga presentación) Finalmente, me gustaría recordarles que nuestra reunión de mañana será a las 12:00h. (After a long presentation) Lastly, I would like to remind you that tomorrow’s meeting will be held at 12:00. 

‘mientras’ VS. ‘mientras que’

This week I visited Universidad de Alcalá (UAH) (Madrid, Spain) to attend the workshop COROLA “Copulas within and across Romance Languages”. As you can infer from the title of the workshop, it was a perfect event for me to learn more about ser and estar, the verbs around which my PhD revolves. The workshop was really interesting and I am looking forward to attending next editions!


After the workshop, while I was taking a night walk in this beautiful Spanish city (Alcalá de Henares), I met a group of exchange students from Ireland and UK. Their knowledge of Spanish was simply amazing. We had a great time and they also asked me a great question that I was not able to answer with ease at that moment: What is the difference between ‘mientras’ and ‘mientras que’?

So in this post I am going to explain the distinction between ‘mientras’ and ‘mientras que’ and I would like to dedicate it to these nice exchange students! It was great meeting you, people!

Let’s see. Here you have a simplified overview of the meanings.

  1. mientras + indicativo = while
  2. mientras + subjuntivo = as long as
  3. mientras (between punctuation) = meanwhile
  4. mientras que = while (with the sense of BY CONTRAST)
  5. Other considerations:
    • mientras más…, más… = the more…, the more…
    • mientras que in Latin America.

Now, let’s see explanations and remarks of these five options.


Example 1 (present): Mientras tú cocinas, yo preparo las bebidas, ¿vale?

Example 2 (past): Mientras tú cocinabas, yo preparaba las bebidas.

When mientras is followed by indicativo we are using “mientras” as a conjunction with temporal aspect which could be translated to English as whileLet’s see the translations:

Example 1: While you cook I (‘ll) prepare the drinks, ok?

Example 2: While you were cooking I prepared (was preparing) the drinks.

–> german_flag In German, the translation would be während.



Example 1 (present): Los jóvenes pueden entrar gratis al museo mientras presenten su carnet de estudiante.

Example 2 (past): En aquel tiempo, los jóvenes podían entrar gratis al museo mientras presentaran su carnet de estudiante.

When mientras is followed by subjuntivo we are using “mientras” as a conjunction with conditional aspect which could be translated to English as as long asLet’s see the translations:

Example 1: Young people can enter the museum for free as long as they show their student card / upon presentation of their student card.

Example 2: At that time, young people could enter the museum for free as long as they showed their student card / upon presentation of their student card.

–> german_flag In German, the translation would be solange.
–> You can also say “siempre que + subjuntivo” with the same meaning: Los jóvenes pueden entrar gratis al museo siempre que presenten su carnet de estudiante.


3. ‘MIENTRAS’ when used alone, between punctuation

Example 1 (present): María estudia. Mientras, Laura escucha música.

Example 2 (past): María estudiaba. Mientras, Laura escuchaba música.

When mientras is used between punctuation we are using “mientras” as an adverb which could be translated to English as meanwhileLet’s see the translations:

Example 1: Maria studies. Meanwhile, Laura listens to music.

Example 2: Maria was studying. Meanwhile, Laura was listening to music.

–> german_flag In German, the translation would be mittlerweile or währenddessen.
–> You can also say “mientras tanto” with the same meaning: María estudia. Mientras tanto, Laura escucha música.



Example: Mis asignaturas favoritas son inglés y español, mientras que las tuyas son Geografía e Historia.

We use mientras que for contrasting two things. It is semantically similar to “by contrast” or “while” in English. Let’s see the translation from the given example.

Example: My favourite subjects are English and Spanish, while yours are Geography and History.

The same way we can use, in English, “by contrast” and “while” for this situation, in Spanish we can use not only “mientras que” but also “mientras” (Dear reader, please, do not desperate!) So it would be also correct to say: Mis asignaturas favoritas son inglés y español, mientras que las tuyas son Geografía e Historia.

–> german_flag In German, a valid translation would be dagegen.
–> You can also say “en cambio,” with the same meaning: Mis asignaturas favoritas son inglés y español. En cambio, las tuyas son Geografía e Historia.


5.1.  In Spanish, to express “the more he has, the more he wants” we can say it using ‘mientras’. Also, and only in this case we can use ‘cuanto’ instead of ‘mientras’. Both ‘cuanto’ and ‘mientras’ are correct but ‘cuanto’ is a little less formal than ‘mientras’.

Mientras más tiene, más desea.

Cuanto más tiene, más desea.

5.2. Although as expressed in section 4, ‘mientras que’ has only a contrastive aspect, in American Spanish you can use “mientras que” also for temporal purposes. This means that in Spain this is not correct:

*Mientras que tú cocinas, yo preparo las bebidas, ¿vale?

But it is accepted in American Spanish.

I hope this was useful. As a compact summary, we could say that…

…you should always use “mientras” unless you want to express “while” with an aspect of CONTRAST, where you can choose between “mientras” or “mientras que”.


‘desde’ VS. ‘desde hace’


Do you know when to use “desde” and “desde hace” when you talk about time?

Let’s think that we are in December and that we want to translate into Spanish the following two sentences:

  • I haven’t seen Maria since October.
  • I haven’t seen Maria for the last two months.

In English, as you can see, we can choose between giving an specific point of time as a reference (October) or providing a period of time (two months). In English, you use [“since”+specific point of time] and [“for”+period of time]. Right?

In Spanish, we also have both options. When you decide to go for the specific point of time, you will have to use “desde”. Instead, if you prefer to provide a period of time as a reference, you will have to use “desde hace”.

  • I haven’t seen Maria since October. –> No he visto a María desde octubre.
  • I haven’t seen Maria for the last two months. –> No he visto a María desde hace dos meses.
–> german_flag In German, we use the word “seit” in both cases (seit Oktober, seit 2 Monate).

More examples in Spanish:

– Soy vegetariana. No como carne desde 2004.

– Soy vegetariana. No como carne desde hace 15 años.


– Vivo en Londres desde enero.

– Vivo en Londres desde hace 3 meses.


– No voy al cine desde Navidad.

– No voy al cine desde hace medio año.


BESIDES, if you want to say “ago” in Spanish, then you will have to use “hace”. Let’s see an example:

  • I saw Maria two months ago. –> Vi a María hace dos meses.
–> german_flag In German, we use the word “vor” in this case (vor 2 Monate).

I hope this post was useful and helped you to understand the difference between “desde” and “desde hace” while talking about time. Do not hesitate to ask me any question!

Where to learn Spanish on “holidays”

Many students often ask me where can they find a school that offers Spanish courses in Spain or other Spanish speaking countries. This is what it is called learning a language through immersion: you go to the country where the language is spoken, visit a language school everyday in the morning, do cultural activities in the afternoon, live with a family (other accommodation options are of course possible) and practice everyday with the locals. We could call it language holidays, where you improve significantly your language skills in a particular period (usually, at least for a week) through language and cultural immersion. For example, I did it this summer with Chinese, during six weeks, thanks to the scholarship I received from Shanghai Municipality.

So, let’s say that you have a week off or more. And you want to use this time to improve your Spanish (or start with it). What can you do? Where to start looking? How to find a good school? How to choose the city? In this post I am going to provide you with some useful information about schools that offer this language and culture programms in Spain and Latin America. Please note that all schools offer always all levels (from absolute beginners to experienced) and that usually you can join the school every Monday of the year. All the information I am going to share with you was collected by myself in Expolingua Berlin 2018, the must-attend anual event about languages in Berlin (Germany), with more than 150 exhibitors from more than 30 countries.


Valladolid city

Located in Castilla y León, one hour train-trip away from Madrid, the Spanish of Valladolid represents Castilian Spanish, sharing this pure accent with other cities like Salamanca, Guadalajara or Soria. The population is around 300.000, the perfect size to get in contact with locals and get to know the city pretty well in a relatively short period. On the website you can find all the information about institutes and educational centres in the city, but I would like to recommend you one of them: El Camino del Español.

El Camino del Español school (Valladolid)

It is a private school that offers courses of Spanish and manages the accommodation wishes of the students: living with a Spanish family, in a student residence or in private apartments. For example, if you are an individual traveller you can do a 20 hours per week course (all levels available, from absolute beginners to experienced speakers) for 230€ a week and live with a family for 135€ a week (half board). Anything is possible with El Camino del Español ! The school is also specialized in organizing Spanish for groups, taylor-made programs for groups of all ages (schools, high-school, universities, friends, families, etc.) that combine classes of Spanish and cultural activities such as workshops, excursions, guided tours, nature and all you can imagine. The school offers the possibility of obtaining a scholarship which covers the accommodation cost.

Learn Spanish in Valladolid

Bilbao city

If you want to learn Spanish in the North of Spain, you can choose Bilbao (Basque Country) as your destination (there is where I come from and I can guarantee it is an amazing place!), where you will be able to enjoy culture, surf, amazing gastronomy and beautiful landscapes recently chosen, for example, as filming locations for Game of Thrones. Bilbao has an international airport and it is located 1 hour away from the south of France. At the same time, in Bilbao you can also get in touch with Basque language, which is the oldest living language in Europe. Even if both languages are official in Bilbao (Spanish and Basque) you will experience that daily life in the city is mainly in Spanish, so do not worry at all about difficulties practicing with locals what you have learnt during your classes. Moreover, the accent is one of the clearest in Spain and Basque people are good communicators.

Instituto Hemingway (Bilbao)

Since 1999, Instituto Hemingway is a private school that offers courses of Spanish in the centre of Bilbao, as well as can organize your accommodation and cultural activities. Their website provides all the information you need in many different languages. Take a look and plan your language holidays in Bilbao. For germans, please note that they have the Bildungsurlaub Annerkenung. Instituto Hemingway is an Cervantes Institute-accredited school and can prepare you for the official exams of Spanish language, too.

Learn Spanish in Bilbao.

Quest (Bilbao)

Quest is a travel agency that organizes tailor made programs with Spanish or Basque classes and accommodation. If you decide to learn Basque, it will be an amazing cultural journey. You can visit their Facebook page here.

Learn Basque in Bilbao

Castellón de la Plana city

If you prefer to learn Spanish on the Mediterranean coast with fabulous weather, you can choose Castellón de la Plana (also known as Castellón) for your next stop. The city has a population of 170.000, which makes it very handy and authentic.

Ágil Spanish Institute (Castellón)

Since 1995 Ágil Spanish Institute organizes immersion programs where you can learn Spanish and participate in many cultural activities on the Mediterranean city of Castellón. Ágil Spanish Institute is also a Cervantes Institute-accredited institute and offers DELE and SIELE exams preparations. Arriving to Castellón will be easy from any of the main airports of the area (Valencia, Alicante, Barcelona, Reus or Madrid) and if you don’t feel like doing it by your own the school can organize a transfer for you. Here you can consult all prices and you can see the brochure I got about it in Expolingua Berlin 2018.

Learn Spanish in Castellón

Learn Spanish in Castellon AGIL

Canary Islands

Learning Spanish in the Canary Islands is a great way to enjoy the pleasure of improving your language skills while staying in a well-known holidays destination. The Canary Islands in Spain guarantee 99% great weather all year long because of its eternal springtime weather. The Spanish accent in the Canary Islands is something in between Spanish peninsula accent and Latin American accent.

La Casita de Laura (Las Palmas de Gran Canaria)

Laura is a passionate teacher of Spanish as a second language who offers personalized, practical and flexible Spanish courses combined with a mentoring in cultural activities which will make you immerse into Spanish culture in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria. The courses are private (1 student) or semi-private (3 to 6 people) and allow you to speak Spanish from the very first day. Laura will help you also to find an accommodation according to your preferences and budget. Take a look at her website at and meet Laura thanks to her presentation video.

Learn Spanish in Gran Canaria. La Casita de Laura.

Learn Spanish in Gran Canaria2. La Casita de Laura.



Cantabria is located in the North of Spain, a beautiful green area with more than 200 km. of coastline and beaches, beautiful and authentic villages, elegant cities like Santander (its capital) and an incomparable gate to the Art of the Upper Paleolithic, with 9 of its more than 6.500 caves declared as World Heritage Site by UNESCO. Wow.

The Spanish accent in Cantabria is also very neutral Spanish from Spain which includes a nice gentle melody that you will love. You can fly to Santander airport (in Cantabria) or alternatively to Bilbao (1,5 hour drive) or Madrid (4,5 hours drive).

CIESE (Comillas, Cantabria)

CIESE-Comillas (International Center for Higher Spanish Studies) offers courses of Spanish taught in a context of immersion and it is also accredited by Cervantes Institute. The institute is located in Comillas, a village in Cantabria of about 2500 inhabitants, considered to be a step forward for Catalan Modernisme (Art Nouveau) as well as offering medieval and baroque buildings.

CIESE offers also courses aimed at professionals working in Business, with courses of 30 hours per week (minimum, two weeks) of Spanish for Business Management and Administration, Finance and Banking, Marketing, Economics, Law, etc. Other courses of Spanish are also offered for students and professionals working in health care (nurses, medical practitioners, researchers, hospital administrators).



IUMP (Santander, Cantabria)

If you prefer to study in the capital city of Cantabria, Santander, you can check the language and culture courses at the IUMP (Universidad Internacional Menéndez Pelayo).

Other in Spain


Since 1986, donQuijote teaches Spanish at all educative levels in many cities of Spain an Latin America. Check donQuijote website to discover its Spanish language and culture courses in Alicante, Granada, Málaga, Marbella, Sevilla, Barcelona, Madrid, Salamanca, Tenerife or Valencia.


Latin America


The lovely country of Argentina offers you a diversity of landscapes and activities, as well as qualified language centers in every region of the country. You can study there one week or more with flexible programs and accredited certificates. Check all the information in the pictures below:



Founded in 2000, Mundo Spanish school in Guatemala offers Spanish courses of language and culture in Antigua Guatemala, 45 km. away from the capital city of the country. You can check all the information on their website. Their programs include language courses, weekend trips, accommodation with local families, guest house or hotels (you can also live with your teacher!) and the opportunity of volunteering in local projects. Check the brochures below:


Spanish in Guatemala

Other in Latin America


You can check all Spanish language and culture courses that donQuijote school offers in 20 destinations in the following 12 different countries: Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Guatemala, México, Perú and Uruguay. donQuijote is specialized in Spanish courses and cultural immersion since 1986.


I hope this post helps you to choose your next Spanish language course in a Spanish speaking country. ¡Hasta pronto!