Impression of NJU

I had only been in China once, before applying for my exchange semester at Nanjing University. I chose to go to Nanjing University rather randomly, as I had never visited any of the Chinese cities nor universities that I was able to choose from at my own university’s international office. Looking back now, it seems like I made a good choice. Nanjing is a big city – from a Dutch perspective anyway -, but it doesn’t feel that way. Its alleged seven million inhabitants are not crowded upon one another in a tightly-knit metropolis, but spread out over a vast area that is easily travelled by the many metro lines and abundant buses. As a Dutchman, however, I wouldn’t feel comfortable anywhere unless I could ride my bike, so that’s what I did. Already within the first week of arriving I managed to obtain a nice – though admittedly small – bike on which I was able to fully explore Nanjing’s downtown area. Don’t let the sheer amount of bike lanes fool you, though. They provide one with some respite from the organized chaos that is Nanjing traffic, but that certainly doesn’t mean you are able to ride around carefree. There are still the numerous dead-silent and unexpectedly fast electric scooters to contend with. However, once you get used to the scooters and appreciate your rightful place in Nanjing traffic’s pecking order as a cyclist or pedestrian – which is definitely at the bottom – then you will notice how easily this city is travelled and might even find some joy out of it. Failing that you might want to try using a taxi, there is always one near and available; when it’s not raining that is.

Feeling fully confident about my limited knowledge of Nanjing’s downtown area, I turned my attention towards registering at the university in my second week after arriving. In the big line for the registration office I saw many international students greeting friends that they made during a previous semester at Nanjing University. To me, it showed that people like it there and come back when they have the chance. At the time I would’ve never thought I’d be preparing for another Chinese exchange 18 months later, but that is exactly the case: I’m leaving for Nanjing again in September 2015.

When attending Nanjing University you are automatically enrolled in the university’s Mandarin-Chinese language program. This entails daily Mandarin classes on your own level (Monday through Friday, from 08:00 am until 12:00), plus homework and the occasional exam. I found the program to be quite efficient, with apt teachers and the possibility to easily switch between levels whenever needed. In one semester I went from complete novice to reasonable conversational level; about HSK 3 – or so I’m told. During my coming exchange, which will last for a year, I hope to reach a level with which I will be able to learn about the language through conversation in Chinese. Right now I am still dependent on English translation for all of my studying efforts. Next to the language-program there are quite a number of other English-taught classes that you can attend, which I definitely recommend. It gives you an opportunity to experience actual Chinese classes taking place, with Chinese classmates. Also make sure to sign up for The Great Thinkers of China; a great Chinese philosophy class taught by Julius from Lithuania!

The university provides housing in Xiyuan Hotel, which is just off-campus in downtown Nanjing, and adjacent to the building in which the Mandarin-program is taught. After a quick snack at one of the Chinese breakfast stalls in the morning – or a cream cheese bagel with coffee for the less adventurous-minded breakfast enthusiasts, it is only a two-minute walk to the classroom – which does include a flight of stairs I’m afraid. After class there are restaurants of many Chinese cooking regions to choose from for a well-deserved lunch with your classmates. There are also options for living outside of the international student community. Renting an apartment is quite affordable, but does require some help from locals that are familiar with the ins and outs of the Nanjing housing-market. Someone that might be able to help you with this is your language-buddy; make sure you sign up for that program! These are English-speaking students that are able to help you with some of the more difficult logistics involved in setting up a life in China. It is a great way to get in touch with a local student in the initial stages of your stay; someone that can show you around. There is much you can both learn from this contact, so make sure you treasure it. I was very happy to meet my language-buddy and ended up being friends with him up to his day.

There is a lot more I could talk about really, but I think the best advice I can give you is: just do it. I have met few people that have regretted coming to China, or Nanjing. It is fun, interesting, at times confrontational and overall a great experience; especially if you stay open-minded towards different ways of living a life. It is easy to complain about a lot of stuff, as many international temporary residents frequently do. But actually digging down through stuff that might at first feel outlandish and awkward gives you the reward of starting to understand a bit of other ways of being that might not be as ‘other’ as you had expected.

For any further questions, you can contact me at
Don’t hesitate to ask! (Schrijvers)

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