Grad School? China? Hmm?

In March, I made a spontaneous and skeptical decision to apply to grad school in Beijing. When I told my friends in America and my Chinese students my plan, both groups asked, “Why on earth would you go to grad school in China??!” Here’s what I told them after convincing myself these were legitimate and good reasons:

1) 10 months in China wasn’t long enough; there was more to accomplish! And if I’m going to stay longer, then I’d like to make friends, and if I’m lucky, also find that twinkle in my eye. It has been long enough.

2) A Master’s degree in International Development is relevant to my career goals.

3) Tsinghua University is the Harvard of China.

4) I can live in the dorms and have some privacy from my nosy parents.

So…in August, without great expectations, I moved into my dorm room single, filled it with plants and ikea goods, and stayed up ’til 3 in the morn’ because the bed is so hard.  Aside from an uncomfortable bed, controlled hot-water hours (very inconvenient, especially on weekends!), and mediocre dining hall food, living on campus is actually quite nice. The paths are lined with trees and there are plenty of sports fields (being built). There are also sculptures dotted around campus and even a famous water-lily pond, a hotspot for tourists.

Tsinghua University

Three weeks in and I’ve met dozens of people from all over the world, and for the first time in my life, the number of my Asian friends to non-Asian is greater. I’m surrounded by them! In my program of 17 people, we represent 10 different countries: America, Canada, the Philippines, Vietnam, Singapore, Peru, Ethiopia, Italy, England, and South Korea. The school of Public Policy, which I’m in, also has a Master’s program geared towards government officials from various African countries, Armenia, Uzbekistan, Grenada, Cambodia, Laos, Kazakhstan, and Pakistan, among many others. They’re a generally older crowd, and the fact that I am sharing a dormitory with these accomplished, government officials and leaders is somewhat laughable.

Judging from the first week of classes my professors are not stimulating enough. I want to be challenged, pushed, treated like a knowledgeable adult with lots of potential (I can pretend). But like I said, I didn’t enroll with high expectations. The International Development program is a relatively new one (to all of China, actually), so administrators and professors are still building it up. Unfortunately this means I’m one of the guinea pigs, but with a title of “Tsinghua University Graduate” it still puts me ahead of the game, at least in this country.

Tsinghua and Peking University are China’s Harvard and Yale, respectively (I think…does Harvard have a better reputation than Yale?), and getting into one of these top schools is the dream of every Chinese family. If you are admitted into one of these universities, you and your family will be forever celebrated in your hometown because it is such a great and near impossible feat that you’ll make your entire hometown, or even province, proud. When my family found out, I got text messages left and right and a personal phone call from my grandma in Chongqing congratulating me. Of course I didn’t tell her how unjustly easy it was for me, an international student, to apply (30 minutes to fill out the application including the personal statement, 2 emails to professors for recommendation letters, and an online request for my transcripts and graduation certificates to be mailed to Tsinghua). Chinese students, on the other hand, go through a grueling application and testing process. Might I add, they don’t have air conditioning or hot water in their dormitories (they have special shower areas); we do (international students live separately from Chinese students).

The choice to attend Tsinghua binds the next 2 years of my life–I’ll be 26 when I graduate, ah!–but I’m happy to be here. It’s a new experience and it feels great to be sharing it with a group of new friends (who are all brilliant by the way).

Okay. Now that I’m a student again, I must set a curfew that requires me to get into bed by a reasonable hour (it’s already 1 am). Then, it’ll take another 2 hours to fall asleep after tossing and turning on a slab of concrete. By the end of my 2 years, if I don’t learn anything valuable from school, at least I know I’ll have an iron back.



16 Comments on “Grad School? China? Hmm?”

  1. occultoantonio says:

    I hug you, Emily. Take care.

  2. My bed in China was also rock hard, must be a Chinese thing. All the best for your grad school, I think you’ve made a good choice.

  3. michaeljones909 says:

    Emily :),long time no see.Good to hear how your getting on:), spontaneity is the best,i think you’ve made a great decision and it’ll probably do your social life the world of good.2yrs will fly over,then its look out world! haha 🙂

  4. lostnchina says:

    Wow, I do admire you – going to grad school in China! How long is the program?

    A girlfriend of mine, originally from China but did her PhD at the University of Washington in Urban Planning, is now a professor at Shanghai’s Normal University (I probably don’t have the name right). She feels that, in general, the quality of instruction in Chinese universities doesn’t measure up to what we’d find in the States in comparable universities. Of course, she’s only teaching an introductory (elective) course, being a new prof. Not sure whether this is the case throughout China.

    Oh goodie! Now, I’ll be sure to see many more new and interesting posts from you!

    • Emily He says:

      My program is 2 years long and half the cost of grad school in the States, and about 1/4 the cost of 1 year of grad school in London (where I wanted to go, oh well). The thing is, my professors are geniuses, but they’re teaching in a second language (English) and they have to cater to an international group of students who are used to a different kind of teaching that Chinese profs are slowly adapting to (but failing of course). That’s okay though, Chinese people still treat me like a queen because I can say I go to Tsinghua. hahahahaha bring on the flattery people!

  5. I wish you well with everything. You are going to do great. I am in Taiwan, by the way. Hit me up when you come my way. 🙂

  6. annaamazhang says:

    Tsinghua was a nice campus! I miss it already! Let me know if you have any questions about the school, area, etc! 🙂

  7. Lynieeh says:

    So I stumbled across your blog while I was ‘intensively’ researching on grad school in China lol. I really admire your spontaneity…I’m dreading these long worrisome conversations I keep having with myself as I try to make up my mind. What was the program like?
    Would you recommend grad school in China? How would you compare it with education in the US? BTW I just finished a one year Post grad degree in London (also in Development) and you really didn’t miss much…it was over way too fast lol.

    • Emily He says:

      Oh my goodness lynieeh, I am SO SO sorry I never replied to your message. I assume it is WAY too late now to answer your question about grad school!! China blocked WordPress a couple years ago so I stopped blogging regularly…I’ve been out of school now for a year, and looking back on grad school in China, well… I made really good friends from all over the world, learned a lot about Chinese political history and economic development, didn’t learn too much about development as a field itself but due to the internship requirement for credit, I ended up running an educational NGO…now THAT was a truly valuable learning experience but none that I give too much credit to grad school for. As such, I don’t recommend grad school in China for the sake of learning, but rather as a good reason to be in China (you get a student visa!!!).

      Again, sorry if this is TOO late to help you in any way, but I hope whatever you decision you made, that you’re very happy with it 🙂

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