29 May 2024

ZSEM's handbook for studying in China: From Zagreb to Beijing

Our Ana Knežević, as the first generation of ZSEM students at the prestigious university in China, Tsinghua University, wrote a handbook for all future students who want to go on student exchange in China. With this manual, she wants to make it easier for all students so that they can prepare on time and enjoy the exchange of cultures and education to the maximum.


  1. Preparations for arrival in China

Before you go to China, it is important to prepare. Get an e-SIM with mobile data for China to cover the first few days until you buy a Chinese SIM card. Be sure to install a VPN (I recommend Mullvad VPN) before leaving, as many of the social networks we use are not available in China without a VPN (WhatsApp, Instagram, TikTok, Facebook…). Also, print and bring multiple copies of all important documents (passport, visa, fax confirmation that you have been accepted…) and prepare several photos for the documents. My advice is to carefully follow all emails that your future faculty will send you, because they will tell you exactly what you need to prepare. Also, consider that when you arrive in China, you will need at least a week to settle in and check in.


2. Visa

The process of obtaining a Chinese visa includes filling out a detailed form and preparing the necessary documents, which you can find on the official website of the Chinese Embassy in Croatia. After submitting the application, see on the page which documents you must submit to the embassy. Processing your visa usually takes 2-3 days. Most student visas are single entry, meaning you cannot leave China and re-enter without a new visa. However, it is possible to apply on campus to change your multiple entry visa status, which is useful if you plan to travel within Asia during your studies. Please note that any change request may shorten the duration of your original visa.


3. Accommodation and life on campus

Living on campus in Beijing is extremely convenient. Accommodation options include single room or AB room (you have your own room, but you share the bathroom with a roommate), which you can get at reasonable prices, approximately €10 per day. There is also a cheaper option of a room that you share with a roommate, and the bathroom is shared with the entire floor. The accommodation units are equipped with basic necessities (kitchen, study room and laundry room) and are often shared with other international students, which is an excellent opportunity to meet new people. The campus is equipped with modern facilities, including well-stocked libraries, sports centers, and numerous canteens and cafes that offer a variety of food at affordable prices. Living on campus provides a safe and comfortable environment that is ideal for students.


4. Cost of living

Beijing can be a relatively affordable city for students, especially when it comes to basic living expenses. Food and transportation are affordable; a meal in the student canteen costs around €1.5, and a taxi ride to the city center, which is 20 km away, can cost around €10. For daily necessities, local supermarkets and markets offer good prices.


5. Transport

Within Beijing, bicycles are a popular and economical mode of transportation, especially within campuses. Many universities offer the possibility of renting bicycles at very affordable prices. For longer distances, taxis are surprisingly affordable, and services like Didi (the Chinese equivalent of Uber) make it easy to order a ride through an app. Public transport, such as buses and the metro, is also well developed and accessible, offering an efficient way to explore the city.


6. Communication and payments

Communication in China mainly takes place through the WeChat application, which is an indispensable tool for everyday communication, payments and ordering services. Alipay, another popular application, is used for online payments, financial management and travel (trains, flights, hotels…) . Most transactions in China are done digitally, and scanning QR codes to pay is a common practice. Linking international cards to these apps can simplify financial management during your stay, but keep in mind that you shouldn’t be without the internet.


7. Language and social networks

English is not widely spoken in China, so it is advisable to install translation apps that can facilitate daily communication. Most of the activities are done through Chinese applications that do not have an English version (except for WeChat and Alipay), so you have to arm yourself with patience if you want to order food, delivery, arrange training, massage, hairdresser…


8. Social life

The campus is located in the student part of the city, and everything you need for life is nearby, you don’t have to go too far if you don’t want to. If you want to break the monotony and explore other parts of Beijing, I suggest Sanlitun. Sanlitun is a modern part of the city that is close to the center, where you can find international bars and shops. It is about 20 km from the campus which sounds like a lot, but you have to remember that Beijing is an unimaginably big city and wherever you go it will take you some time to get there.


9. Security

China is an extremely safe country, thanks in large part to an extensive system of surveillance cameras and tight public security. You can feel safe leaving your belongings unattended in coffee shops or libraries on campus. In addition, the crime rate is very low, which further contributes to the feeling of safety. However, it is always wise to be aware of your surroundings and not leave valuables unattended in public places such as metro stations or large events.


10. Food

Beijing offers a variety of cuisines that reflect China’s great geographical and cultural diversity. If you prefer something less spicy, the northern parts of China, including Beijing, offer dishes that are less spicy compared to the southern regions. For lovers of international cuisine, Beijing has a wide range of restaurants offering everything from Italian to Mexican cuisine. Prices in international restaurants are similar to those in Croatia, while you can try local dishes at significantly lower prices, which makes experimenting with local food and adapting to new tastes simpler and more affordable.


11. Academic life

Academic life in Beijing can be dynamic and demanding, but good organization and time management can help you get the most out of your studies. The number of lectures per week varies depending on your choice of subject. Sometimes it would happen that I have lectures every day of the week, and sometimes I would have only 1-2 lectures. In addition to regular lectures, many university activities and group projects will give you the opportunity to meet colleagues from different parts of the world and develop your professional and personal skills. We had the opportunity to participate in the International Day where students represented their countries. Each country had its own stand with domestic products and other characteristics of its countries, and thus Croatia had its own stand for the first time in the history of Tsinghua.