Over the past few years, I’ve had first-hand experience of several short and medium term programs in China, as well as meeting other international students who had participated in other programs. If you’re considering doing a short-term program in China, perhaps during a university summer holiday, I’d definitely recommend it as a great way to get a taste of Chinese culture and learn new skills – and there are several different options available to you.

Chinese language summer school

During my year abroad, I participated in the Harbin Institute of Technology Chinese Language Winter School – a program they also run in the summer. The set-up is similar across most universities, involving around 20 hours a week of intensive Chinese language classes alongside extracurricular cultural and travel opportunities, usually for 4-6 weeks.

Advantages:

  • Quickly improve language skills in a fully immersive environment
  • Opportunity to meet other international students and travel together
  • Accommodation etc. all organised for you
  • Often include free cultural activities and trips to nearby sights
  • Weekends and usually afternoons too are available for you to travel
  • Usually quite cheap (e.g. at HIT total cost for a month was under 5000RMB for tuition + accommodation + food)
  • Although each university has fixed course dates, the wide range of options available across the country means you’re almost guaranteed to find one fitting into your summer schedule
  • Can occasionally earn credits towards your degree (check if your home university accepts them)

Disadvantages:

  • Few opportunities to learn other subjects
  • Some universities will only teach spoken Chinese for short-term programs
  • Students come from a wide range of language study backgrounds so classes can be quite mixed ability if you attend a smaller summer school

Other summer school

In 2013, I participated in a summer school covering various Business and Chinese language/ culture subjects at the Shanghai University of Finance and Economics. There are a variety of options available across universities, many business focused but some offering courses in STEM or humanities subjects.

Advantages:

  • Can chose a subject relevant to your degree major/ another subject you are interested in
  • Opportunity to meet international/ local students and travel together
  • Often include trips to nearby cities/ company visits
  • Usually conducted in English
  • Various program durations (2-8 weeks) means it is flexible, low commitment and gives you time to travel/ do something else during the summer if you want
  • Can earn credits towards your degree (check if your home university accepts them)

Disadvantages:

  • Can be very expensive (although there are often scholarships available if you attend a partner school)
  • Often only offer introductory level courses

University organised internships

In the summer following my year abroad, I opted to extend my stay in China by participating in the Shanghai Jiaotong University Summer Research Program. This offers international students the opportunity to carry out research in one of several science/ technology labs alongside professors and PhD students for 6-12 weeks. I was working in the School of Pharmacy on the synthesis of new drug molecules for Alzheimer’s Disease and really enjoyed the experience.

Advantages:

  • Can be free/ paid (e.g. I was awarded a “scholarship” covering all program and living costs with money left over to travel)
  • Great work experience for your CV
  • Usually conducted in English
  • Opportunity to contribute towards work published in a scientific journal (and possibly be a co-author)
  • Most universities will organise trips around the city and nearby sights at weekends
  • University will usually organise accommodation etc. for you
  • Can earn credits towards your degree (check if your home university accepts them)

Disadvantages:

  • Working 9-5 all week means you don’t have many opportunities to travel except at weekends
  • Need to commit to several months, which may be difficult if your university has short summer holidays
  • Limited range of subjects (generally only STEM subjects)
  • Not many universities offer these programs and some charge high fees
  • Can be very competitive and require a complex application process

Private internships

Several of my close friends participated in private internships organised through CRCC Asia or InternChina. These are private organisations which match students up with local Chinese companies for internships, generally over the summer vacation. WARNING: check the organising company is reputable and offering appropriate visa support. DO NOT independently organise an internship and enter the country on a tourist visa.

Advantages

  • Internships available in a wide variety of fields
  • Often not too competitive or complicated to apply for
  • Generally very flexible in terms of program length and dates
  • Often no Chinese language requirement, although you could opt for a local company conducting business in Chinese if you wish to practice your language skills
  • Some companies may be able to offer further internship/ job opportunities after graduation
  • Options for them to organise accommodation and Chinese language classes for you (although it may be cheaper to do this yourself…)
  • Can earn credits towards your degree (check if your home university accepts them)
  • International work experience helps you stand out when applying for jobs

Disadvantages

  • Generally very expensive (although for UK students you may be able to get a scholarship from the British Council)
  • Most previous participants I have spoken too haven’t been given many responsibilities or major projects and sometimes just end up shadowing employees the whole time
  • Sometimes those companies with no official Chinese language requirement actually only have one/ two English speaking employees, limiting the work you can get involved in without language skills
  • Although when applying you can select industry preferences, there is no guarantee you will end up in a company working in an area you are interested in or doing a job you are interested in

Teaching English

Something I am considering for my next summer, teaching English in China can be a great way to experience a different side of the country, gain professional work experience (particularly helpful if you are considering a career in teaching) and have fun.

Advantages:

  • Opportunities available across China in all different kinds of cities
  • Many programs are free or even offer funding towards travel and living costs
  • Doesn’t usually require any previous teaching experience/ Chinese language skills
  • As well as academic teaching, you can also get involved in organising and leading extracurricular programs such as sports
  • Opportunities to travel during weekends off/ after the program
  • Accommodation usually organised for you

Disadvantages:

  • Generally unpaid (for short-term programs), and going through a travel agency organised program can be very expensive
  • You may end up volunteering to teach children of the ‘elite’ rather than those from disadvantaged backgrounds (depending very much on how the program is funded – i.e. whether the students pay or not)
  • Requires full commitment to the program (can’t take days off for travelling), often including working at weekends or long days
  • Bit of a legal grey area in terms of visas, particularly with recent government crack-downs on non-native English teachers and those without degrees/ Z visas

Note: be wary of any programs offering paid work in China and not offering a Z visa – it is illegal to work on any other kind of visa (volunteering and unpaid internships/ those effectively paying via a “scholarship” being something of a legal grey area depending on whether you consider them to be studying or working). In particular, NEVER study/ work on a tourist visa, always have at least a student/ business visa. Try and talk to previous participants or at least the organisers of the program if you are at all unsure whether the program will suit you.

Travel

OK, not really a “short term program” but something definitely worth considering if actually you are not all that interested in learning new skills/ knowledge or committing to a several month long program.

Advantages:

  • Do what you want, when you want – no commitment
  • Visit cities all over China without being tied to a particular region near where you are studying/ interning
  • Generally pretty cheap compared to travelling in Europe
  • Very simple to organise and obtain a visa
  • Easy way to see if China is a place to consider studying/ working in the future (e.g. do you like the food? How friendly are the people? Can you cope with the cultural differences?)

Disadvantages:

  • Still costs some money – no scholarships available (although check with your university if they offer travel grants)
  • Harder to sell on your CV (although does show independence, organisation skills, cultural awareness, etc.)

 

There are clearly a huge range of options available and this is only a brief summary of the main opportunities I am aware of. Depending on your interests and what you hope to get out of the program, different programs would suit you – for example those hoping to develop language skills would be best off doing an organised language program whereas those wanting just a short taste of China before they commit to anything longer term may prefer a short summer program. When it comes to work experience opportunities, I would definitely recommend avoiding paying for an expensive privately organised program unless you are sure you will learn useful skills/ degree credits from it.

 

Don’t forget to let me know what you think of this article and any plans/ experience you have in China in the comments section below!

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