Life Abroad
10 min

The Pros and Cons of Studying and Living in China

China is one of the most sought-after Asian countries among students. People come here for its unusual culture, good education and career prospects.

StudyFree mentor Stasya Skolozdra moved to the Celestial Empire for studies four years ago. In this article, Stasya told us why she likes living and studying in China, and what can be difficult for a non-local student.


I completed my BA in Aerospace Engineering in the Northwestern Polytechnic University (NPU, 西北 工业 大学) in Xi’an and recently started my Master’s in Management Engineering and Science at the same university. In these four years in China, in addition to getting a specialty, I learned Chinese at a good-enough level to communicate with the locals, made some friends and learned a lot about this ancient and interesting country. In this article, I will share my experience and tell you what are, in my opinion, the pros and cons of living and studying in the Celestial Empire.

The Pros of Studying in China

There are many opportunities for growth. China is a developing country with a multi-billion dollar economy. The government and companies invest huge amounts of money in its development, so highly-skilled specialists are greatly valued.

There are many opportunities for international students in China, but in larger cities they are literally all around you. It is important to know what you want professionally, to be active and self-motivated. A large number of educational events and projects are constantly held at universities that can help with your studies and career.

 For example, thanks to my university, I went to conferences on aerospace engineering, and my friends from the management department received grants and worked on real projects. As a team member of Model United Nations from NPU, I attended four conferences in different cities in China and trained new members.

International community.  Almost 500 thousand foreigners studied in China in the 2018/2019 academic year. Your university will likely have many international students from all over the world - use this opportunity to make friends and work together on projects. This is an unforgettable experience that will expand your worldview and definitely help you in the future.

The school is not the only place where you can meet foreigners. I advise that you find out about other activities in your city, so you can build your network or simply have a good time. It can be conversation clubs in English and Chinese, hobby clubs, exhibitions and even just bars.

High chances of getting a scholarship. The Chinese government awards thousands of scholarships to international students of various levels and specialties every year. For example, here, we wrote in detail about the Chinese Government Scholarship. And here, you will find the story of StudyFree mentor Dasha Oskina, who is currently getting her MBA for free thanks to the Shanghai Government Scholarship.

You can get funding from specific universities. Therefore, you have every chance to study in China for free and even get a scholarship for life.

Student discounts. After registering at the university, you will receive a student card, which you use to enter the dorm, academic buildings and to buy food in the campus cafeteria. The student card gives discounts on many museums and parks in China. For example, in Xi’an, students receive up to 50% discount on local parks and the city wall.

The Pros of Living in China

Inexpensive life. With a budget of $ 450-550  (32,300–39,500 rubles) you can have a pretty decent life in most cities of China. It is much cheaper than living in Europe and the United States. At the same time, you get a lot of opportunities, products and good service.

If you want to live in Beijing, you will have to spend at least  $ 800 (57,500 ₽). Living in Shanghai costs a little less - from $ 750 per month (53 839 ₽).

Digital society. Technology is so well developed in China that almost everything can be done from your phone. The Chinese are used to handy and fast applications like Wechat and Alipay. Want some food delivered? Will be there in 15 minutes! Want to buy a car? Here is a link! Do you need to take the subway? Scan the code here! Even the apartment door often opens with a code or a fingerprint, so forgetting your keys is definitely not a problem anymore.

A paradise for tourists. China is huge and very diverse, from the hot south to the cold north, from modern Shanghai to traditional Urumqi. While studying, there is not much time left for exploring, but during the winter and summer breaks (usually they last one or two months) you can get to know the country better.

You can get around China by plane, train (regular and high-speed), or bus. Studying in China is a great excuse to visit neighboring countries like Malaysia, Indonesia, South Korea, Japan and Vietnam.

Increased attention. In China, foreigners really stand out from the local population, so you’ll most finitely get an extra dose of attention. In big cities, this is less of a thing, but Chinese people from small towns may stare at you and ask to take a picture. It can be uncomfortable, but it can also lead to good connections. For example, I was often asked for interviews on the street, I met interesting people and even received job offers.

The Cons of Studying in China

Competition is very high. In a country of 1.4 billion people this is especially true. To achieve something, locals study and work a lot - we wrote about this in a separate article. To adequately compete with these hardworking locals, foreigners need to do their best and try even harder.

The Chinese have few days off: a week in October, a few weeks for the Chinese New Year, and just a few days in April, May and July. Students have only summer holidays beyond that. Work-life balancers can find it difficult to adapt to this environment.

So far, education is only online. In March 2020, China closed its borders, and for almost two years now, foreign students have been unable to physically attend classes. Now all lectures, workshops and exams are held online.

On the one hand, this gives you freedom to be anywhere and still get an education. On the other, however, it is quite difficult to study online all the time. And, of course, this is not a full-scale study experience in China. There is hope that the country will soon reopen its borders.

Not everywhere in China people speak English. Therefore, foreign students need to learn at least the basic spoken language to survive. Spend a couple of months on the courses, but it will make your life in China easier and much better when it comes to quality.

Remember that different regions of China have different dialects. One day my friend and I went to a neighboring province and ordered food. We wanted to chat with a local woman who made our dumplings, but we were surprised to realize that we did not understand her at all. But when she wrote her words in hieroglyphs, we were able to make out what she meant. Therefore, China has Mandarin Chinese - a unified language spoken by all educated residents of the Celestial Empire. If you speak it, you won’t ever get lost.

The Cons of Living in China

 Censorship everywhere. China is a socialist country, and you must be ready for this. There are cameras, slogans about love for the country, hard work and obedience everywhere.

In China, even the Internet is being monitored. There is a firewall in place that blocks many of the sites you’re used to: Google, including Gmail, YouTube and Maps, Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp. Sometimes even Wikipedia “gets a beating.” That’s why most foreigners and locals in China use a VPN.

Rumor has it that the government is monitoring the correspondence on the Internet and “wrong” statements can cause a lot of problems. Therefore, I advise that foreign students especially watch their behavior.

Other culture. The real China is not at all like we are used to seeing in films or Chinatowns when traveling. This is a country with a thousand-year history, with its own rules and schticks. Much here may seem strange, even crazy: loud locals, a complete lack of personal space, the food, attitude to work, all the champing, long lines. Therefore, before moving, I advise you to prepare: read, watch a video, talk with other students. But if you are open to new experiences, you will definitely like it.

You will never become one of them. No matter how long you live in China, no matter how well you know the language and culture, no matter how many friends you make, you will always be “different” for the Chinese. The Chinese society is a very closed system, and you need to take it philosophically.

In big international cities such as Shanghai, there is at least some chance of assimilation. But as soon as your visa expires, you will again have to earn your place in the sun.

By Stasya Skolozdra