Sunday, November 1, 2015

Studying in Tsinghua University - a dream come true?

I’ve lived in Beijing for almost two months now and there’s one thing that I am 100% certain – I live in one of the coolest campuses and study in one of the best universities in the world.

Home, Building number 6

Course registration and my final selection

My first days and weeks in Tsinghua were a mess. I cannot even count the times I wanted to hit my head against the wall because of all the paperwork I had to do or because of the stress that the online course registration caused. By the end of the second school week I was already ready to give up because the course registration was about to end and I still didn’t have enough credits.

The problem was that some of the courses I really wanted to take turned out to  be in Chinese, and by that I mean I was the only Western person in the class (or one of the two only ones). Like imagine yourself going to the class called English News Reporting  and it turns out that oops the professor is actually giving his lectures in Chinese and all of his slides are in Chinese. Or you go to this public speaking class and look around and everyone is Chinese and no one even understands English.

Luckily the third school week turned out to be a game changer. By the beginning of my October holidays I actually had all of my courses figured out and the stress was almost gone. This means that I am now left with 11 credits (16,5 ECTS) and five masters courses. And the best part is that I actually like all of them.

-           The Principles of Area Studies (it’s actually more of a Chinese political economy course)
-           Ancient Chinese Thinking of Foreign Policy
-           News Writing and Multi-media Reporting
-           Overview of International Energy and Environmental Governance
-           Chinese

Two of the courses are taught by American and three by Chinese professors and I can honestly say that they are the best among the best. For example, my ancient Chinese thinking professor Yan Xuetong was named as one of the Top 100 public intellectuals in the world by Foreign Policy in 2008.

Studying in Tsinghua is not easy

Studying under the best professors in a top university also means that you need to work twice as hard to get good grades (or to pass the class). For each class you have to finish a massive amount of readings plus hand in home assignments. Compared to the European system where you just go to lectures and pass the final exam it is definitely more difficult, but it is also a lot more effective.

But life is actually a lot easier for the foreign students. The Chinese undergraduate students take at least twice as many credits as I and study three times harder because even though they have already gotten into Tsinghua University, which only accepts 1% of the students, they also have to stand out among the best.  If you want to get into the graduate programs or want to study abroad you must have a killer GPA.

But if you thought it would get easier when you get into a graduate program you are mistaken. My roommate is on her second year of masters and she leaves home before 9AM and returns after 11PM. Most of her days, weekends and even holidays are spent in the lab. The general requirement for her is to spend 40 hours a week in the lab, but since they also have additional homework and projects, the days are a lot longer.

An example of how Chinese people can really sleep everywhere

Outside school activities and the Tsinghua campus

I've always believed that in order to keep yourself healthy, you need to find a balance between physical and mental exercise. Luckily the students in Tsinghua university think like me and therefore there are about a few hundred different student associations here.

Since I am in China, which already seems a bit weird for a lot of people, I decided to do something different this semester and join organizations that I would probably never think about joining back home. Therefore I auditioned for the traditional Chinese dance team and the musical club and got accepted to the latter. Unfortunately I won't be able to do the whole musical since I'll be back in Estonia by then, but I can perform in a show where we will be doing a few numbers from Chicago, Burlesque and some other musicals. Life is an adventure!
But overall, the campus in here is amazing. We have tens of canteens, restaurants, supermarkets, stadiums, parks, a fruit and vegetable market, a gym, swimming hall, concert hall, movie theater, etc. The campus is seven square kilometers and it accommodates about 40 000 students (yes, the campus is bigger than my hometown). The huge amount of students isn't usually a problem, but it is pretty obvious during the breaks between classes when the roads are packed with people on their bikes. Since no one really cares about the rules here, it all looks pretty chaotic (to be honest I am still afraid of dying every time I ride my bike).

But other than the fact that the traffic is crazy, everything is pretty great. Okay, actually there are so many things that are not normal at all and things I could never get used to, but this is what I like about living here. I love that it is not easy - it is a challenge, but at the same time it is so exciting!

The concert hall

One of our libraries

Final note: USNews recently published an article about the top engineering universities in the world and Tsinghua University was number 1 (followed by MIT and Berkeley).
TopUniversities has ranked Tsinghua as the 25th best university in the world.

Tsinghua University campus at night

Yours truly,


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