Where Should You Travel to Become a Foreign Exchange Student?

Shanghai or Beijing

Shanghai and Beijing are proving to be attractive destinations for the adventurous foreign exchange student. Both are international cities with established expat communities and numerous international schools that offer various courses along a wide range of disciplines. Taking up a course in either of these cities is also a proven way to brush up and even master your Mandarin!

Beijing, which is the political capital and Shanghai, the financial capital, both offer amazing opportunities for education if you are looking to take up undergraduate or further studies. Both cities also offer a unique and in-depth look at Chinese culture as you immerse yourself in daily living in school and in your communities.

Choosing Between Beijing or Shanghai

Climate and Location

Beijing is known for its dry and frigid winters and hot summers. Shanghai enjoys more humid summers, mild weather in spring and fall and very hot summers. Students who are picky about local climates, especially those dealing with allergies and seasonal health issues should look at the different climates in both cities to see which climates are more suitable, and easier to adapt to.

Attractions and Things to Do

Being the cultural and political capital of China, Beijing is home to numerous historical and cultural attractions that draw visitors from all over the world. 

These include the Great Wall and the Forbidden City. Traditions and values are widely kept among the majority of Beijingers which is seen in their local attractions. Famous attractions include the Peking Opera and the Wanfujing Street Market.

Shanghai has a thriving expat population so you see numerous international attractions in the city such as Disneyland, malls, hotels and resorts. Sightseeing is also one of the main activities in Shanghai. 

People flock to The Bund, which is where you can see the world-famous Shanghai skyline. It is also home to the French Concession which is dubbed the Paris of the East due to its French colonial history. With a large expat population, Shanghai is definitely a great option for those looking for an international feel even while living in a Chinese city.

Universities

There are schools located in Beijing that do not have campuses in Shanghai and vice versa. Your course will often determine which city you eventually live in so it is important to look at universities and what courses they offer before making your decision. Both cities have national and municipal universities and private schools that accept international students. 

Courses are varied ranging from political science to finance courses, social studies and the arts to medicine and law. There are many universities such as Tsinghua University in Beijing that offer graduate level courses in English. Beijing is also home to other notable universities such as Peking University and BLCU. Shanghai, on the other hand, is home to Fudan University and Jiaotong University.

Cost of Living

Shanghai is more expensive than Beijing, especially when it comes to food and accommodations. For example, a meal in McDonald’s may set you back more in Shanghai than in Beijing. Apartments also cost more, with units 500-1000 kuai more expensive in Shanghai than in Beijing. 

University tuition prices are not exempted, since they cost more in Shanghai as well. However, there are many student-friendly accommodation and meal options in communities surrounding most universities and your host family, if you decide to stay with one, can help you make wise buying decisions so you can learn to stretch your kuai in areas that matter.

Beijing and Shanghai both offer rich academic experiences and opportunities for the global student. However, you can choose which city is the best fit for you by looking carefully at what each city has to offer and what your preferences are. With the right choice you can enjoy your life as an international student as you study and get to know local Chinese culture even more.

New Zealand

Congratulations – you have made the life-changing decision to study abroad as a foreign exchange student and stay with a host family in New Zealand.  While Asia and Europe are understandably at the top of the list for many students, you may also want to consider New Zealand, a country well known for its stunning scenery and laid-back lifestyle.

People and Culture

Like its neighbor Australia, New Zealand is well known for its casual and relaxed lifestyle, where spending time relaxing outdoors or at a cookout is just as important as working or studying. And like Australia, New Zealand has always been something of a melting pot, attracting people from all over the world looking for a better quality of life, although the country’s native Maori culture still thrives. The diverse population is reflected in the diversity of the food, and the culinary emphasis is very much on fresh, healthy and organic fare. If you visit here as a foreign exchange student, sooner or later you will probably be invited to a barbecue or cookout. When that happens, you can expect to be served fresh and tasty meats, fish and a choice of vegetables, instead of the usual burgers and hot dogs.

The Scenery

New Zealand arguably has some of the most beautiful and spectacular scenery anywhere in the world. Even if you have never visited the country before, if you have seen any of the popular Lord Of the Rings movie trilogy, you have already had a tantalizing glimpse of what to expect.

Snow capped mountains, fjords, lakes and rivers, and miles of unspoiled forests await you when you have some free time as a foreign exchange student in New Zealand. The country’s most famous and visited tourist attraction, Milford Sound, is a World Heritage site and has been described as the 8th wonder of the world.

Away from the sparsely populated countryside, the major cities of Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch offer everything you would expect in the way of shopping, nightlife and dining out, arts and culture and sporting events. Wellington is the most southerly capital city in the world, while Auckland was recently voted one of the world’s most livable large cities. And Christchurch may make you think that you are in England rather than in the southern hemisphere.

Extreme Sports and Outdoor Adventures

If you love exploring the great outdoors, there is no better destination than New Zealand. The residents of this small country like nothing better than skateboarding, mountaineering, skiing, white water rafting and bungee jumping; in fact, the sport had its origins in the country, and some of the highest jumps anywhere can be found here.

Queenstown has become known as the extreme sports capital of the world, although wherever you go, there are always plenty of sporting options available. Of course, you don’t have to be into extreme sports to appreciate the country’s glorious scenery, and there are plenty of tours available, allowing you to enjoy the best scenery New Zealand has to offer at a more sedate pace.

The Universities

There are only 8 universities in New Zealand, although they all have a positive reputation, and the make up of the students reflects the country’s diversity. The University of Auckland is considered one of the most innovative universities in Asia and the South

Pacific, and over a dozen of its subjects are ranked in the top 50 in the world. Like the other colleges, the University of Auckland prides itself on making overseas students and staff feel welcome and some of the subjects on offer at the country’s universities sound intriguing. Some of the courses offered include wine studies, anthropology and Maori/Pacific studies.

If your goal as a foreign exchange student is to travel, New Zealand makes an obvious choice. In fact, you can’t travel much further than that – the country is literally on the other side of the world. It’s different enough to feel exotic and exciting and make you realize you are in a foreign country, but at the same time has many of the familiar trappings of home.

And of course, they speak English in New Zealand. The high-quality food, welcoming and easy-to-get-along-with people, wonderful scenery, and opportunities for adventure sports and enjoying the great outdoors, make New Zealand a choice destination for travel.

Rural or Urban?

When it comes to a study abroad program, there are a lot of factors to decide on. Not only do you need to determine what country you want to travel to, you need to decide if you want to stay in a rural area or in the city. You may think that this will be something easy to decide on, but once you start researching, you may find that it becomes harder.

With that said, there are a variety of factors you will want to consider for both locations when you are trying to decide on a foreign exchange student program.

Urban Program

When considering a study abroad program, the first things most people consider is going to a large international city due to all the opportunities there. They have seen pictures in magazines, the Internet and in movies and want to experience it for themselves. There is also reliable internet, television and public transportation to get around. Depending on the age of the foreign exchange student, there are a lot of other elements such as clubs and dancing.

Cities also tend to have a lot of cultural areas such as buildings, museums, public sights and attractions to keep you busy. While you are visiting these places, you will probably be exposed to a lot of different people and a variety of languages which can enhance your experience.

One benefit to a large city is that you will be able to find things that are familiar when you are having a bit of homesickness. There will be a variety of shops that you can buy food you know and may even be restaurants that also reflect your home’s culture. It may be easier to find other foreign exchange student to talk to and learn what you should and should not do while you are there.

But, as with everything else, the above come with a price. In a big city, the cost of living is much higher. The cost of living, food and entertainment can be significantly more than where the student is coming from and can cause both financial distress and culture shock. For someone who does not have a lot of money, it can be a huge when looking at the various study abroad programs.

Not only can a person experience shock when they travel elsewhere for school but they may also have a lot more distractions. If they come from a small community, and now have access to a large city, it may be difficult to settle down to school work when there are movies, museums and any other variety of temptation outside their doors.

Depending on a person’s personality, it may be more difficult to adapt and become comfortable, as traffic, population density, and many other factors can be overwhelming for new city-dwellers. It can be harder to function and get around which could result in some loneliness and isolation. If you are in a study abroad program where you stay with a family, they can help you to cope with the changes and get comfortable.

Country Program

If you choose to take a study abroad program in a rural setting, you will likely have a very different experience than others that choose an urban area. Rural areas tend to be more natural and have less of the amenities that you may find in a larger center.

Typically, a rural foreign exchange student will be in a small center which will be less polluted, with less crime, and lower living costs. You will likely stand out as someone who is not from there which can be a good thing. People will engage you in conversation and want to know about life back in your home country and why you are visiting their country. Depending on the languages involved, this can be a good way to enhance your language skills and for them to practice theirs.

It is hard to say what you may or may not have in a rural setting. You could be in an area that is only a few hundred people and has limited access to things like Internet and public transportation. You could be in an area that is close to a larger center and makes it easier for you to travel to a nearby city to explore.

There is no right or wrong choice when it comes to where you should be a foreign exchange student. But it is important to figure out what you want to get from your study abroad experience when you are making your decision.

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