My exchange at Renmin University, China

Hi there, my name is Marc NEDELEC and I chose to go to Renmin University in Beijing, for my 2016/2017 third year exchange.

Why am I am writing this article now?

  • It has been 5 months since I left China, I believe I can better analyze my experience and writing about it is nice since I am starting to miss it.
  • “The best way to predict your future is to create it” and I understand the allocation of a place is getting closer to you: February!
  • Before taking your first step into a larger world, I believe that there are a great many things for you to know about China so that you base your choice in more than “Well it’s an Equis and AASCB accredited School, China is the second economic power and I am sure pollution is not that bad”.
  • To give you my opinion about China and to give an answer to this question: How to make the best out of your exchange?

I spend a total of 365 days in Beijing. While studying at Renmin University, I had this constant feeling that “Wow, time is flying so fast, I still have so much to learn”. Thus, I looked for solutions to stay longer: I eventually found an internship there to remain until the 31st of August at Mazars, the French audit and advisory leading company.

Small quiz to start with: Is China the right place to go for you?

  • Are you willing to “get out of your comfort zone”: when you struggle to understand the other’s way of living, what will your reaction be? “What am I missing?” or instead “this is stupid”
  • Are you willing to discover new things, generous people, stunning places and traditions you never thought existed and that you’ll never forget: are you willing to let go of your preconceptions? Or you would rather try to tell them why your way is a better way?
  • Are you willing to let China and its people inspire you towards new horizons? To give you the chance to develop your ability of “thinking outside of the box” to become changemakers for a better society? Or you think that the Chinese are crazy working, nonsocial people with whom you will never learn anything?

If you answered yes to most of the first part of these questions, then I would be very interested in meeting you, since you are probably very curious and willing to learn continuously. China should be one big springboard in your personal and professional development!

Among the many opportunities IÉSEG offers us, what drove me to choose China?

1) I believe that we learn more from people who are different to us than from the ones who are similar to us. IÉSEG is a great school with plenty of opportunities. During my second year, and part of your International Club in Lille, I blossomed through contact with International students. This helped me realize how Asians are different from us. Chinese people are more introverts and therefore it was very frustrating when they didn’t attend our events and I realized that I should have made more of an effort to really meet and understand them!

2) I was also learning Chinese at IÉSEG and I quickly realized that if I didn’t go there, I would never be able to speak the language.

3) Finally, I don’t know about you, but before choosing, I heard as many positive as negative feedbacks from IÉSEG students who went there. What’s more, I heard that Europe was considered by Asians and Americans as “the old continent” and China as the “future”. I wanted to make my own opinion about this country which, after all, might become the most powerful country in the years to come.

Good news: except for my visa, spending great and memorable last few moments with my girlfriend and starting to work on my Chinese, I didn’t have to do anything special before arriving in China!

Once you get to Beijing, you might have a cultural shock because, in most places that you will find yourself, you will be blind, deaf and mute (you can’t read Chinese characters and you probably can’t speak or understand Mandarin). Two great news out of this. First, the university has international dorms with very helpful English-speaking staff, not to mention you will not be the only international in this situation. Second, you will really understand that 93% of communication is non-verbal. Adopting a friendly and curious attitude towards Chinese will help you much more than you could think!

On campus, life is easy! In Chinese culture, Foreigners must be treated as guests. The international staff is very helpful. For example, they will organize a bus ride to do the medical check requested in a Chinese hospital.

The campus is like a small city inside Beijing:

  • more than 20 000 Chinese students coming from across the country, since the university is really good + 400 international students located in the same single or double room dorms.
  • Many facilities: convenience stores, gyms, an Olympic stadium, football/basketball courts, a swimming pool accessible for 1€ (the cleanliness can be questioned but for my part, I didn’t catch anything), a huge library, bars, restaurants and canteens like you could not imagine, etc.

Renmin University is well known across the country for two reasons: the number of students that pass the exams necessary to join political parties is one of the highest (#networking) and the canteens are the best! I can definitely confirm this last point. Besides eating delicious and diverse -but oily- food for less than 2€, I used to go alone in the canteen, to sit in front of some unknown Chinese and to start chatting while adding their Wechat.

China is like a business: information is not shared easily. Thus, and especially as a foreigner, it is hard to get a broad picture of how things are run (here comes the pros and cons of being treated as a guest). My only advice would be to consider this situation as a great challenge, never give up and just spend a lot of time with the Chinese. Armed with patience and nonjudgmental attitude, I can promise you that you will really have taken your first step into a larger world. The “canteen attitude” helped me learned a lot. For example, I learned how the student associations there worked. I eventually joined their climbing association as a beginner. From time to time, we went climbing during Week-Ends in the mountains near the Great Wall (amazing !!). Spending full Week-Ends with just Chinese students is a great experience. These special moments helped me realized how nonlinear, stressful and tough their life is compared to ours but most importantly that it might be because of this constant struggle that Chinese develop such generous and human qualities.

Many great other things I did with and thanks to the locals:

  • Karaoke in the evenings (this is the only activity where Chinese people can really go crazy like we understand it and this is really fun to see ).
  • I participated in a Triathlon in Ningbo where I was sponsored by a Chinese brand (southern part of China).
  • During the two months winter break, I organized a trip where I stopped everywhere I knew Chinese friends from the university who were back home and helped me visit their hometown (Shanghai, Guangzhou, Hong Kong, Guilin and the beautiful countryside of Shaanxi and Yunnan southern part of China to escape the winter cold).
  • I ate all sort of foods, often without really knowing what it was (might be better this way).
  • I was invited to their graduation ceremony which was quite an event!
  • I learned to use chopsticks as “bottle opener”. 😉
  • I learned to work harder and with more pleasure: being in such a working environment (It is true that the local students there work like hell) and at last truly realizing this chance we have to have easy access to education makes it wayyyy easier to seat in the cosy seats of the library.
  • Back in France, I became savvier to the dismay of my flatmates 😊

Three human stories that marked me for life:

  • A Chinese friend who told me that because of the One Child Policy, when she was born, their aunts wanted her parents to sell her so that they can have a boy instead. Their parents refused and gave her the best education possible: she is now doing her master degree at the London School of Economics.
  • My Chinese buddy’s life path: coming from a poor family, she had to be among the top 0.05% (1 out of 2000) best high school students to have access to Renmin University. Because of her parents’ financial trouble, besides her studies, she worked every weekend 10 to 12 hours a day to help them for the equivalent of 20 euros a day.
  • When I reached the southern part of Yunnan with my backpack, the poorest region of China, I met two 14-15 years old teenagers who spend a day with me walking through beautiful rice terraces and kindly teaching me how to harvest the rice. I understood half of it and I forgot the other half I must admit. 😉 Without being really good at Chinese, I was stunned by how low their level of education was when I discovered that I knew probably more Chinese characters than they did.

What’s great and at the same time can be dangerous about being an international student there:

  • The “nightclub business model”: in Beijing as in major Chinese cities, nightclubs have free entrance and give almost unlimited access to alcoholic drinks for internationals. Indeed, on one hand, having internationals attract these so-called “new rich Chinese” inside the club. On the other hand, these Chinese are not always mannered, they love showing off and buying dozens of Champagne bottles. As an International, I let you imagine what it means to party for free and I don’t think we should deprive ourselves of this situation as long as we know that it is not the true representation of China.
  • The wrong “White superiority syndrome”. As any human being, Chinese are attracted by what is rare. All of them have black/brown hair/eyes, thus the more different you are, the better you look to them. It obviously doesn’t mean you are. This sensation of power is tricky. For example, on the long run, when being asked to take a picture, some Europeans develop that conceited attitude of refusing, etc.

What’s your strength as an IÉSEG Student when going to Renmin University?

  • On average, we are much more extroverted than Chinese. Now you know that it is easier for you to make the first step rather than the other way around.
  • The content of the classes is relatively like the one we have at IÉSEG. The difference lies in the bad English some teachers have and their tolerance when grading Internationals copies (be careful, not all the teachers are tolerant!!)
  • You can choose classes a bit outside of the classic curriculum (I took “Contemporary Chinese Society” from the school of Journalism and it was definitely worth it!)
  • As you can see, there is no typical day at Renmin University, this gives you the chance to spend everyday as you wish

All these instructive and significant encounters turned almost every single one of my days into a real adventure. What is also very true is that I really appreciated going back home to slow down a bit for a semester after this experience. Now I am ready for my next adventure: QUT dual degree in Brisbane, here I come! (another article to come ?)

This tremendous experience helped me realize how, in such a complex world, IÉSEG life is relatively easy and can be for any IÉSEG the springboard to becoming a true changemaker for a better society (as long as one seizes the opportunities IESEG is offering). I am now a true believer of this “you can if you want”. Armed with good habits, perseverance and surrounded by people we trust, nothing can stop an IÉSEG student’s dream to come true 😊

Last tip coming out of Abraham Lincoln’s mouth (or pen, I never really knew), when you find yourself angry or in doubt tell yourself: “I don’t like that man, I must get to know him better”.

Marc Nedelec, Campus Lillois


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