10 Surprises in Beijing for International Students

by Published

What You'd Never Expect from Study Abroad in Beijing

China's capital city, with a history spanning back more than 3000 years, is full of life, rapid growth, constant expansion, and lots of people (over 21 million!). Whether you're exploring the old temples, Forbidden City, or simply navigating within your modern university campus, you're bound to encounter the unexpected studying abroad in this ginormous megacity. 

Interns on a field trip in Beijing, China

Classmates on a field trip

If you're thinking or preparing for study abroad in Beijing, here are 10 surprises that await you:

1. Tech pay is popular.

What do I mean by tech pay? People here often use WeChat or Alipay to pay for items. These two platforms are like ApplePay, but are much more advanced and used across the country. It makes it easier to manage your money in your online wallet and adding money to your online wallet from your bank account. The two are apps from the App Store, it's easy to download and access if you have data. And, the two are both secure, so you don't have to worry any theft. It's convenient for when you're ordering items online or even food.

2. Plethora of employment opportunities. 

Depending on your major, situation, and program, there may be a job opportunity for you in Beijing. There are plenty of finance and teaching opportunities in Beijing. If you're into foreign relations, Beijing is the place to come. Interning in Beijing can open doors and help with meeting the right people. And, don't worry if you don't speak Mandarin there are plenty of English speakers around. If you have chance to volunteer or intern in Beijing, do it! 

I was lucky enough to go to The Beijing Center, where prior to arriving they ask whether you want an internship and they match you with a company based on your major and qualifications. I worked as the Marketing Communications intern in the The Beijing Center office.”
Students listening to a presentation at an international company in Beijing

Students listening to a presentation at an international company in Beijing

3. The nightlife is alive and awake. 

Nightlife in Beijing is such an experience. There are tons of clubs, bars, and hutongs to explore and party at. They are nothing I've ever been in before. They're always filled with foreigners and Chinese students, so you're bound to meet new people. Also, the bars usually have live music and a welcoming ambiance. If you're looking for a place to chill, head to a local bar. The hutongs have a variety of things to do and explore. They're interesting because there are different shops and restaurants in specific alley ways. People in Beijing know how to have a good time.

4. The air quality has improved. 

The air quality/pollution in Beijing has improved in recent years. This year, there have been more clearer days than smoggy ones. Initially, I was concerned the air pollution, but I barely needed to wear a mask. If you're worried your health and the air pollution, you'll be fine studying in Beijing.

[Don’t be sacred—enjoy a semester studying in Beijing!]  

Locals and foreigners jumping at the Temple of Heaven

Locals and foreigners jumping at the Temple of Heaven

5. The food is both fantastic and cheap. 

The food in Beijing is reasonably priced (even on a student budget) and tasty. There's no "you get what you pay for". Your cheapest meal could be your best tasting meal of the day. It is easy to spend no more than $10 a day on food, and it's always filling. If you want to treat yourself to a grand lunch, the most you’ll spend is $15. China has the cheapest and tastiest eats for sure, which is a pleasant surprise for international students in Beijing!

6. A common tradition: family style food.

There will always be plenty of food to share and plenty of options. You’ll get used to the family style food in no time. In China they don't often do combo meals, so it's best to eat out with friends, which also makes it easy and cheap. The family style meals also make for a more intimate dinner experience.  

The first dinner I had in Beijing was family style. I was both shocked and uncomfortable...mostly because in all the YouTube videos I watched Beijing people they were eating in individual bowls. I was uncomfortable because I had to eat  a family meal with people I met five minutes ago at the airport. I have to say it did help with getting to know each other at the dinner table though.”
Chinas famous spicy hot pot

China’s famous spicy hot pot

7. The food can be spicy.

If spice is your life, you must try spicy Chinese food! The "spicy" in China unimaginably SPICY. Specifically, the Sichuan spicy is nothing nice. It will have your taste buds in flames. It's not a type of spicy you've ever experienced before; it's the type of spicy that turns you pink and makes you sweat. It doesn't quite hit you until the spice erupts while the food is going down. If you're really into that spice life, go ahead and challenge yourself to try all China's spicy food while studying in Beijing.

8. Hot water is a common beverage. 

If you're ever thirsty, prepare your taste buds for steaming hot water. Also, be ready to ask because you're not automatically served water, like in America and many other countries. In Beijing, you ask for water and when you're served the water is often hot. If the water isn't hot, then it'll most likely be warm. It was such an adjustment from being served ice cold water and having the option of cold fountain drinks. They serve hot water because the quality of the water isn't good. Brace yourself for a steamy beverage! 

[Need some convincing? Here are 10 Reasons to Study in Beijing]

Banquet meal in Yunnan

Banquet meal during the Yunnan Excursion trip

9. Multiple kinds of transportation are accessible.

Getting around Beijing as an international student will be easy, if you give it a try. There are several ways you can get around, and at a reasonable price. First, there are tons of bikes around the city you can pick up and rent instantly, called "ofo". If the distance from point A to point B is long or even short, just pick up a bike. They are all over university campuses and all over the city in general. Second, there are taxis and Didis. Didis are the equivalent to an Uber in China. Depending on where you're going and coming from, the cost of the ride will vary. If you take a Didi with a group of friends, the cost will never be more than $5. 

There are buses, subways, and bullet trains easily accessible throughout Beijing. Purchasing a subway card is quick and easy, and it's also acceptable to use it on the city buses. The bullet trains are for travelling in and out of the city. Regardless of which option you choose, getting around Beijing is never a hassle. If you study abroad in Beijing, you'll be able to get around with ease! 

10. You won’t be the only foreigner. 

Beijing is a major city for foreigners to visit, work, teach, and study in. Therefore, foreigners  from all over the world are everywhere. Don’t be worried that there won't be any diversity, because Beijing is plenty diverse. You’ll meet international students from Europe, Australia, and even Africa, so don't worry being the only foreigner while studying in Beijing.

Ready for the Surprises for Studying in Beijing? It’s time to find a program.

This article was contributed by The Beijing Center for Chinese Studies, an institution based in Beijing that provides unparalleled cross-cultural experiences for international students.