This summer (2018) I have been studying Chinese in Shanghai for six weeks, thanks to the scholarships provided by Shanghai Municipal Government. The Shanghai Summer School scholarship program is hosted by Shanghai International Studies University (SISU) (上海外国语大学) and there is a particular program for Spanish speaking countries, as well as other programs for other countries all over the world.
If you want to learn Chinese language and culture this is a great opportunity to get to know better this fascinating tongue and country. The Shanghai Summer School scholarship at SISU university (3S) combines all you need to live a unique experience in China.
In my case, the scholarship opportunity was communicated to me by Universidad Nebrija, the university where I am studying my Master of Applied Linguistics of Spanish as a foreign language, but I know that not only universities are involved in the process, but also other institutions like Confucius Institute.
In the year of my scholarship, the requirements for application were: having a graduate on high school (with or without Chinese language skills), being over 18 and under 40 years old, having good health and reliable financial support and custody.
I applied for it in March and I received my admission letter (email) at the beginning of May. The dates for the scholarship were: 9th July to 17th August.
In this post I would like to share my experience with you, in case you are interested in applying for this scholarship in the future or you have already received your admission and you want to know more about what to expect about the 3S program hosted by Shanghai International Studies University (SISU).
You might be wondering how accommodation looks like and who will be your roommate. In my year (2018) scholars were hosted at SISU hotel. The location of the hotel is fine: just 1 minute away from metro Station Chifeng Road. If you walk 10 minutes, you will reach the university. SISU University has two campuses. The one for International Studies is called Hongkou Campus, where you will spend your university life (Chinese classes, meeting point for excursions, canteen, library, etc.).
Even if location is fine, I must be honest and say that comfort, cleanliness and service are not a strong point of this hotel. But! good news are that, while we were spending our last days of the scholarship, the hotel started to work on a significant renovation, which I am sure will make your experience better.
–> Do not confuse Sisu Hotel with Sisu Guesthouse: Sisu Guesthouse is inside the campus and it is a proper hotel with good reviews (it’s where students of the summer program without scholarship were hosted).
Your roommate can be anyone who is in a scholarship like you. Please take into account that during my stay at SISU there were three big scholarship groups:
- Spanish speaking countries program: the program hosts students from Spain and Latin America. Our scholarship lasted 6 weeks. Among others, there were students from Instituto Confucio USFQ (Ecuador), Instituto Confucio Madrid, Instituto Confucio Perú PUCP, El Colegio de México, Universidad Nebrija (Madrid), Universidad de Sevilla, Universidad de Alcalá, Universidad de Mendoza (Argentina), Universidad de Buenos Aires (Argentina).
- Russian program: students from Russia.
- ‘Belt and road’ program: students from Poland, India, Turkey, Morocco, Egypt, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, etc. Their scholarship lasted 4 weeks.
This means that anyone of these groups could be your roommate (if you are a girl, your roommate will be a girl and if you are a boy, your roommate will be a boy). When you check in at the hotel, you can ask to be in the room with a particular person that you might have met in advance. Just tell them the name of the person you want to be with (they might ask you to look it up on a list) or facilitate the room number where this person is already hosted.
The hotel has a laundry room where you can wash your clothes. I recommend you to take with you some soap for hand washing as many people were saying that the washing machines were destroying their clothes.
The hotel also had a poor kitchen with a full loaded fridge that you could barely use. Some rooms had a little private fridge (but not all rooms!). The renovation of the hotel might take away these private fridges, so do not count with it. Be ready for six weeks of no cooking.
What else? Oh, yeah. On the 2nd. floor of the hotel there is a restaurant some students do not notice during their whole stay. You don’t need to go there (you’ll be probably more interested in exploring the area) but just remember it in case of heavy-rain days (typhoons are frequent in summer and although they consist of more or less intense rain and wind, they can make you end up all wet in a couple of seconds when going out). Do not go late to the restaurant, because at lunch time, I think they close the kitchen around 12:30 and, for dinner, they close around 18:00 (approximately). They have a menu with pictures so do not worry if your Chinese is not good enough.
University, Chinese class and activities
Ten minutes on foot from the hotel, you will find SISU university. As I said before, SISU 上海外国语大学 has two campuses and this one is called Hongkou Campus 虹口校区, which is a nice and small-sized handy campus. The other one (Songjiang Campus 松江校区) is far away. In my year there was not any excursion planned to visit Songjiang Campus, which is actually the main one of SISU, so if you want to visit the main campus, you will probably have to do it on your own.
In Hongkou you have classrooms, a library, a gymnasium, the canteen, the offices for admissions, etc.
The library is free and to enter you just have to use your green student card. The green student card is not the same as the blue student card they’ll give you during your registration on the first day, but it is a different one you will have to arrange in a different office and costs something around 20 yuan. You also need the green card for the gymnasium, where additionally you will have to pay depending on which sport facilities you want to use and for how long.
During my scholarship our Chinese class took place in building number two (close to the central fountain).
The first day there was a little placement test to organize students in different levels. In my case, I was at the beginners class because I didn’t know any Chinese (so I was in level “1”) with around 10-15 other students from all over the world. Altogether there were 6 different levels. The class schedule is 8:30-11:50h from Monday to Friday.
Books are provided by the school during the first day of class. On my level, the Chinese we learnt was the Chinese you NEED to communicate during your stay (greetings, nationalities, how to order in a restaurant, how to buy in a shop, etc.) so it was really useful and interesting. The teaching speed is not slow, so be ready to learn Chinese actively and try to study everyday at least one hour (ideally as much as you can), if you really want to finish your scholarship with real knowledge of the language. As you know, I am a teacher of Spanish as a foreign language, so I think I know what I’m talking about 😉 Both teachers we had were very good and hard worker. At the end of the course you will face a little test where you will evaluate your language skills and you’ll be given a document with your grade and participation in the course.
The scholarship’s program not only includes Chinese class in the morning but also lectures and activities in the afternoon: lectures about Chinese economy, about Chinese culture (we had a very interesting one about Tai Chi provided by Tai Chi martial art masters), classes about the art of paper cutting (剪纸), Chinese calligraphy, etc. and many amazing excursions (included in the scholarship). Excursions are always made on private buses and the meeting point was the central fountain of the campus (please be always on time or you will miss some excursions!). In my year we had: city of Suzhou and its beautiful gardens and Grand Canal (on a Saturday), city of Hangzhou including Lonjing tea fields (in the weekend, including overnight), Yu Yuan gardens in Shanghai (one afternoon after class and lunch), Shanghai Urban Planning Exhibition Center, Acrobatics Show, Huangpu river cruise (in the evening/night) and many others. You can see some pictures and a video of our cruise below.
My recommendation is: always be curious and attend all activities. You will learn a lot about China with each of them and also, you can bring to your home country a wonderful art piece like this one I started at the paper cutting class and I finished back at home.
Transportation in Shanghai
The metro of Shanghai works very well and it gets you anywhere in the city. The names of the stations are written and announced both in Chinese and English, so it will be very easy also for those of you who do not speak Chinese at the beginning of the scholarship. The ticket machines also have the English version software. It is so easy! Do not be surprised if a transfer between two metro lines require a long walk.
The price of the metro ticket depends on the distance of the journey. For example, traveling from the airpot to Chifeng Road (almost a two-hour trip) costs 7 yuan (less than 1 euro). But that is a long distance. For a trip around the city (let’s say from SISU hotel to the Museum of Shanghai at People’s Square) you will only pay 3 yuan (one way).
You have to validate your ticket when you come in and when you come out. You can buy single tickets or you can buy the Shanghai Public Transportation Card with a deposit of 20 yuan, which you can recharge with, for example, 50 yuan (always multiples of 10 yuan). I think the price of the ticket will be the same as if you buy the single ticket, but it is very convenient, as you can use it for the metro, buses, taxis, tourist buses, long-distance buses, ferries, etc. and it also applies to some buses and taxis in other cities like Suzhou or Hangzhou.
Once you have used all the credit on it, you can simply recharge it again. You can buy this card and recharge it at any metro station. To return it and get back your 20 yuan deposit, you can not do it everywhere. One of the closest places to Chifeng Road would be Zhongshan Park Station, where you will find a Service Center (if I remember well it has a green label) located inside the station but accesible only if you have validated your ticket to come out.
Sometimes you will need to take a bus to reach a particular area that is better connected with bus than with metro. Use your Shanghai Public Transportation Card and it will be just as easy as in the metro.
Taxis are very useful, specially when the metro is not operating (during the night). The prices, of course, depend on the distance (obvious). If you speak good Chinese, tell the driver where you want to go, but if you are not sure about your Chinese skills, always show the driver the written address.
I took a taxi on my first day, to go from Pudong international airport to SISU hotel, and I paid 165 RMB, as the taximeter said.
I can not tell you anything about companies like Uber or similar, because I did not use them, but I know they exist and are cheaper than a taxi, as you can expect.
Outside the main gate of the university (go out and then go right, it’s one minute walking) there is a bank where you can change your cash into Chinese RMB or yuan. They charge nothing and they guarantee the best rate available. If you want to save commissions and get the best change available, bring cash to China and change there (if you change money in your home country or in the currency exchange offices at the airport you will loose money).
You can also open a bank account and get a card (I am not sure but I would say it is a debit card) for only five euros, if I am not mistaken.
You will see that Chinese people pay everything using the app Wechat which is not only the instant messaging Chinese app (there is no Whatsapp or Telegram in China, at least during the time of my stay) but also the mobile payment app in China. I am not sure if you can link up an international credit card with the app, but try! Of course you will be able to linking it if your card is Chinese.
During my stay, we were provided with food tickets (so the scholarship includes also food) that you could use at the university canteen. There is also a halal SISU-canteen two minutes away from Hongkou campus. The canteens do not offer western food so be ready to eat Chinese dishes! On the second floor you will find more choices than on the first one (first floor in China means zero floor, by the way).
The canteen university is not really bad but the problem is that eating there three times a day during six weeks can be really annoying. We were told that students of previous years were sometimes provided with cash. Of course that would have been much better, so you can change restaurant and administrate the budget your way. I hope you are luckier than me and you can diversify a little.
And… what about coffee or tea? Nor coffee neither tea will be provided at the canteen.
There are two or three coffee shops in the campus as well as outside of it, where you can get good to go coffee for European prices. If you want to save some money though, buy instant coffee at the supermarket (you can also buy individual nescafe sachets at any convenience store), buy a thermo bottle and use the hot water dispensers you can find at the library or some other buildings to prepare your coffee. The same about tea. Actually you will see that all Chinese students and teachers bring along a thermo bottle with tea leaves that they refill during the day thanks to the hot water dispensers I have already mentioned. You will also find them in train or bus stations (see picture).
Other restaurants in the area
I will tell you only about my two favorite restaurants, so you have the chance to discover your own and share them with us in the comments below!
On one hand, there are very good restaurants at Hongkou Plaza mall. [Good restaurants in a mall?? Yes. In the European countries I’ve been living (Spain, Germany and Italy) it is not easy to think that there is a good restaurant inside a shopping mall. Well, in Shanghai you have to leave your prejudices behind]. Thanks to my Chinese teacher in Shanghai, I got to know this restaurant (Thank you, teacher! You were such a great help! 谢谢 老师 ). One station away from Chifeng Road station there is Hongkou Stadium station (metro, yellow line). Once you get off, follow the path as you would like to change to line 8 and just after you cross a hanging walkway (around 1 minute after you got off) you will see a way out of the metro (where you validate your ticket). WOW! You are already inside the mall. If I remember well, you are directly on the second floor. (Or maybe on the 4th?). Now, go find Grandma’s kitchen restaurant. Part of the menu has pictures. You can order your favorite Chinese dishes because they will probably have it! And do not forget Shanghai’s specialty xiaolongbao 小笼包 (see picture on the right and admire these little steamed bun delicacy). A dinner for a group of four, for example, should cost something between 40 and 60 yuan per person. And! if you go on your birthday they will play for you the birthday song and I would say they give you something for free (maybe a sweet), but I am not 100% sure.
If you are looking for halal food, everyone recommends Yē lî xiā lì Uyghur restaurant (Xinjiang cuisine, which is predominantly halal). Also at Hongkou Plaza (5th floor, I think).
On the other hand, just behind Chifeng Road station (Guangji Rd., let’s say “the street behind the KFC”) there is an amazing Chinese simple place for Wonton (in mandarin they say huntun 馄饨). I got to know this place thanks to an Argentinian friend! (Thank you! This tip was not a boludez at all ;)). You’ll be able to find this restaurant it if you retain the following image on the left (the restaurant on the left where there is a woman coming out).
Amazing fresh hand made huntun 馄饨 for a great price. I used to order the vegetable small huntun 小馄饨 in soup (picture on the right), with 25 units (important information for vegetarians: I am not sure if they had a very little amount of meat so if your Chinese is good enough, ask!). As you can see in the picture, the price is 8 yuan. Something like 1 euro.
Things to do in the area
- Do not miss Lu Xun park 鲁迅公园 and its museum. It is a great place to run away from the stress of the city and learn about this famous writer. if you go early in the morning or late in the afternoon, you will see many Chinese retired people exercising. You will find this park just in front of the main gate of SISU (five minutes walking distance). It is for free.
- Go bowling with your friends. There is a big bowling alley in E Jiangwan Road (if you walk from SISU to Hongkou Stadium you will see it, on the lefthand side, 7 minutes-walk). One of you should understand some Chinese. The prices are different depending on the day and the time: Friday evening is more expensive than a working day in the afternoon, for example.
- Go to sing songs to a karaoke! There is a Karaoke (or, like Chinese say: “KTV“) inside Hongkou Plaza mall. I think you can bring your own drinks and snacks, by the way. If you don’t go during peak hours (I mean, for example if you go from 17 to 20h from Monday to Thursday) you will probably need no reservation, but always try to book it in advance. I went there with a group of 8 people, on a Tuesday at 17h and we paid around 20 yuan each.
Things to do in Shanghai
I will not focus here on the must-do excursions that you can find on every tourist guide book about Shanghai (museums, etc.) just because of that: because you can find better information somewhere else!
Still, I would recommend you to visit Fuzhou Road (3 minutes away from People’s Squaremetro station) and its bookshops:
1) There is a very big one, all about Chinese books, called (I think) Shanghai bookstore (see picture on the right).
2) There is the Shanghai Foreign Language bookstore SBT, with many books about China (History, cuisine, etc.) in English (that is the interesting part) as well as many foreign books.
Both bookshops have from 4 to 6 floors so take your time and enjoy. In both of them you will find HSK test preparation books and in the Shanghai bookstore I also found bilingual books to read in Chinese and English at the same time!
Apart from the bookshops, if you want to see the famous skyline of Shanghai from a great viewpoint, I would recommend to you the Bar Rouge (very expensive, but free on Thursdays!) or the Captain Hostel (which I discovered thanks to the person behind bacalaolaqueaoblog, 谢谢, Ra!) where there is a rooftop with a bar and views (expensive but with a more relaxed atmosphere).
As my scholarship took place in summer, the weather was VERY hot and VERY humid. Be ready for temperatures from 31 to 40 Celsius and 80-90% humidity. The first days are the worst, as you have to get used to the weather, but it will get better, I promise! Avoid being outside in the time after lunch (enjoy the library and study Chinese! It is a fresh and quite place).
It is possible that you face some rain, because summer is the typhoon period, so bring an umbrella with you or, even better, a rain jacket. Here you can find a video I made about Ampil Typhoon, that modestly stroke Shanghai on 22th July 2018.
You will find little convenience stores and fruit shops all around the district. Summer is the time for water melon or peach, so enjoy!
There is a big hypermarket (name: Carrefour) 10 minutes away from Sisu Hotel (Yutian Road with Quyand Road) and another one at Hongkou Plaza mall. Carrefour has food, drinks, a section of imported food (good one if you have any cravings of your home country), household appliances and household items (plates, bowls, thermo bottles, etc.).
Tap water is not drinkable so you will have to drink bottled water. At the reception of the hotel you can ask for a water dispenser for your room and a big bottle of water. They will bring it to your room (not extra cost will be charged for the transportation) and the price is better than buying big carafes at the convenience store. I think the price for the big bottle was 14 yuan.
and… I think that’s all!
I would like to take the occasion to send warm regards to all the nice people I met during Shanghai summer school scholarship at SISU university, in case you guys read this! Specially to my wonderful roommate and to my Chinese class fellow students and teachers (Ni hao Mading!).
ENJOY YOUR STAY, LEARN CHINESE AND MAKE NEW FRIENDS FROM ALL OVER THE WORLD!
If you have further questions, let me know by leaving a reply below.