Here’s my Peking Spring program review post! The program details will cover my experience in Beijing and some tips about being in Beijing and China. Sorry if I don’t get everything because I’m writing this with what I though was interesting or important. Leave a message if you have any questions! Disclaimer: this is just my experience HAHA.
**For some Tsinghua please refer to this post. The two schools are right across the street from each other and share much of the same community!
Founded in 1898, Peking University is one of the top universities in China (or THE top university). It was originally known as the Imperial University of Peking and was the first modern university in the nation.
Peking University is located in the Haidian District (海淀) of Beijing right outside the fourth ring road and is surrounded by many of the other top universities in China, so it’s basically a giant university town. The campus was originally an imperial garden and the architecture on campus, whether old or new, still retains ta beautiful traditional Chinese essence. The campus features three lakes, with a main one named Weiming/Nameless Lake (未名湖) which is popular among students and tourists alike for relaxing and taking photos.
The university, as all the other universities in the area, is a bit far from the districts of Dongcheng and Chaoyang which is where a lot of the newer and trendier places to hang out are, but the area has its own specialties. Wudaokou (五道口) is a popular area right outside Tsinghua university that offers tons of Korean food and other cuisine options and is becoming a famous place to eat out in Beijing. The nearby Zhongguancun (中关村) offers lots of shopping options. Nearby also is the Summer Palace which was another imperial garden and a must see in the spring and winter. The Old Summer Palace which was the original main palace before being destroyed in 1860 by Anglo-French forces is located just north of the Peking University Campus and is also a must visit sight to learn some little known Chinese history.
I chose to go to Beijing in the spring because I wanted to see all the flowers blooming and I heard that Beijing’s spring was something that you could never forget. The flowers especially all around campus are a sight to behold with different species blooming into June. The air quality is also better during this semester with an almost always blue sky except for a couple of sandstorms from the desert and earlier on during the winter.
Why did I choose Peking instead of Tsinghua?
Peking University is more known for its liberal arts majors compared to Tsinghua which focuses more so on STEM subjects. I am an Asian Studies major and previously an International Studies major so I thought it would be a great opportunity to study at the renowned International Studies department at PKU.
The student body at Peking University is very, very diverse with a large population of international students studying abroad or earning a degree there. It’s very easy to make friends at PKU with people in class or even at the dorms. Usually, you’ll first get to know people through Wechat groups (more on that later) or for UCEAP, through our orientations and tours. By the end of the program, you’ll probably have friends from all over the world. Everyone is super welcome to making new friends and meeting new people. It’s bad to say this because we take it for granted but everyone knows English so don’t be afraid to hit up a conversation-as awkward as it can be in the beginning. Making friends from around the world is a really great part about the PKU program where there’s a relatively equal amount of people from everywhere rather than a saturation of Californians like my other two programs. You really get to hear other’s stories and experiences, and exchange a lot of views.
Local Chinese students at PKU usually have a grasp, or a really, really good grasp on English and if your Chinese isn’t up to your standards of being able to communicate with them, go ahead and try English. There is definitely a culture difference in approaching people to make friends though so pay attention to that! Good places to make more local friends would be when you’re out and about in town, eating in the cafeterias, or in class. For UCEAP, we were assigned language buddies who were in general really passionate about their role and they’re a great way to get to know more about local Chinese views, customs, and cultures as well as getting to know more people (like their friends) and practicing your Chinese.
Another really, really great way to meet new people is to join at least one of the countless clubs on campus. The people there are usually very welcoming, and even if you don’t know Chinese that well, they’ll try their best to help you adjust to the group! Also if someone doesn’t seem too open with talking to you, don’t persist and make them uncomfortable. Respect others!
The program structure for UCEAP and study abroad in general at Peking was very different from my previous two programs in that international students were fully integrated into the normal school system instead of being given international student specific courses. PKU offers tons of English taught courses each semester and if your Chinese is good enough, you can also try to take the Chinese taught courses. I had friends taking everything from biology, business, economics, environmental sciences, to international studies courses and even people doing research.
The nice thing about the program is that you sign up for classes while on campus during the first week and you basically write down what you want and a local student will help you sign up for the classes right on the computer. The first pass is lottery, similar to in Yonsei and after that you can try to get into classes if there are still spaces left or if someone drops. For UCEAP, you can also request the professor to send the grade directly to UCEAP Beijing (the office is located in the same housing community as the international dorms and we have two awesome advisors there ready to help you out!) if you really wanted a class and couldn’t get into it.
There is also the option to take Chinese language courses at PKU with the HYXY (汉语学院). Classes run from 15-20 hours a week depending on your level with higher levels having less hours. Usually if you’re taking HYXY classes, you will have two courses: a language course and a grammar course. Alternatively, if you want to improve on specific Chinese language topics such as business or ancient Chinese, you can also sign up for those.
The Peking Spring program runs on a semester system and you can also start in the fall for a fully year. For UC students other than Berkeley and Merced, information load will seem heavier than the quarter system. The semester usually runs from mid-February to early-late June depending on your class finals.
During the program with UCEAP, we were treated with a trip to Nanjing where we got to meet up with the UCEAP students studying at Fudan. Apparently, more people study in Fudan in the fall and less in the spring while Peking has the opposite situation.
We have a UCEAP center for Beijing as stated earlier and the main UCEAP office is in Shanghai at Fudan University.
Relating to signing up for classes, I will talk a little about my experience with PKU courses.
Peking University courses are definitely a challenge, Chinese and English taught. I think my semester at Peking was the hardest one I ever had…or maybe because I was eating and sleeping away my days. Anyhow, studying so much was also a great way to explore the school because there were so many cool places to study on campus and even though I felt like my brain would explode, in the end, I came away with a lot of information and knowledge that I probably wouldn’t have had the opportunity to learn back in UCLA (at least not from the same point of view).
I took the two HYXY course package and an English taught international studies course which doesn’t seem like much but in reality, you really had to put a lot of time and effort into them. My Chinese reading skills definitely improved exponentially and since I was elected class president, my communicating skills (aka convincing my teachers that my classmates were going to come to class) really improved as well. The Chinese courses were an excruciating experience since I ended up with an 8am everyday (not everyone’s schedule is like this, depends on which class you’re placed in) and there was so many words to learn every week. In the end, it was definitely worth it and I would recommend anyone to take HYXY courses to improve your Chinese. Learning a language while in its environment doubles the effectiveness and you learn a lot more about local cultures and applications through it as well.
My international studies course was called Chinese Perspectives on Global Affairs and it was the hardest class ever. This class was technically a PKU-Cornell for Cornell’s China and Asia Pacific Studies major (yay advertisement for Cornell) joint class but I didn’t know this. Basically, my friend and I were the dumbest kids in class and we were always eating because of the class time and the Cornell kids knew everything, but it’s okay, everyone suffered together in the end and we built a class bond like no other hahahaha. Although the class is titled “Chinese Perspectives,” it actually covered a lot of other perspectives and with everyone coming from all over the world, discussions were really fun. We also went on a class field trip to Museum of the War of Chinese People’s Resistance Against Japanese Aggression (Googled the name because we couldn’t even remember it the day we were there…it’s so long why) and to the Marco Polo Bridge.
Some people come in thinking that courses in political science or international studies at a university like PKU that has churned out so many officials would be really biased in teaching but it really isn’t the case (although there will definitely be some instructors who are). The class was not skewed towards a specific perspective (aka this is what the government wants you to know) but instead a course where you look at was has happened and was is happening in relation to China and the world and what internal and external factors or methods that are being taken globally. Even our field trip, where the museum was literally CCP this, CCP that was a tool for us to understand all the different perspectives people have on history and current events. I don’t really know how to describe it…at the same time that you get an in depth look at the internal workings of the Chinese government and it’s plans, you also get a bird’s eye view of everything together. Nothing was said to be right or wrong and everything was up for discussion.
Among my friends and also the UCEAP students at Tsinghua, we experienced a wide variety of professors and classes. There was a general consensus that classes were pretty hard. This program is not an all-play study abroad experience (but we definitely played more than studied still so), but study abroad should be a learning experience culturally and academically. Peking University is the top university in China and only the top almost 1% of students from each province can get in and as an international student studying there, you’re learning along side these top students. It’s not an easy road, but it will be a rewarding one! A lot of people had confusing professors but there were lots of awesome professors too so it really depends on your luck. Despite the heavy workload, everyone was going out everyday and traveling on the weekends!