News & Events

University of Edinburgh’s Residence in China Placement

Posted on 30 Aug 2019 in CLTalk


‘Read ten thousand books, Travel ten thousand miles’ (读万卷书,行万里路) is a famous Chinese proverb. This well-known saying means there are two different paths for people to acquire knowledge; one, through a word-mediated tradition and the other to directly experience the infinite and expansive world around us. Taking this path, people are able to exercise their knowledge in the real world, and this direct participation in return will reflect and teach them the value of knowledge and life.
The Masters programmes in Chinese Studies and LLM in Law and Chinese at the University of Edinburgh (UoE) are the kind of courses which weave the learning of knowledge and the culture of learning together. These two-year postgraduate degrees are offered to both applicants without prior knowledge of Chinese as well as those with Chinese language background (up to intermediate level). Students from Chinese Studies or a combined Law and Chinese degree at the UoE will spend their first year in Edinburgh studying Chinese whilst also building their knowledge about Asian related subjects such as politics, history, and media, etc. From July of their second year, students will then spend six months abroad (known as the Residence-in-China placement) to further strengthen their Chinese language in one of the most prestigious universities in China; Fudan University. Fudan University was founded in 1905 and is located in Shanghai. It has a very strong close friendship with the University of Edinburgh through the platform of the Confucius Institute for Scotland.



The Residence in China programme is funded by the UoE and is taught at the host School of International Cultural Exchange at Fudan University. Students are still enrolled at the UoE, enjoying the full range of services and support UoE offers, both academically and pastorally. The main aim of the Residence-in-China is to offer students a real life opportunity to develop fluency in Chinese, which will boost their confidence and provide inspiration for their studies in return.
In July 2019, being the Residence-in-China programme co-ordinator, I paid a pastoral visit to our five postgraduate students in Shanghai. This pastoral visit offered students one-to-one support. For a successful pastoral visit, the following questions should be considered: Who are the students? Is the teaching appropriate to them at the host university? Are there any problems that an individual student is facing? What sort of support do they need? Is there any action needed? How to encourage the students? The pastoral visit is essential to any study abroad programme. It is the opportunity to bond with students and to offer a direct support if needed.
The pastoral visit started with a one-to-one meeting with students. A coffee shop was deliberately chosen as the location. In a comfortable informal environment, students were more willing to chat with me rather than thinking “this is an interview”. During the chat, I checked students’ study progression and their life in general and provided advice for any difficulties they experienced living in Shanghai. The topics are random from the different teaching and learning styles in Chinese universities, to intercultural awareness between the West and China. Often students find some very ordinary routine day to day life experiences they take for granted at home to be very different and sometimes challenging in China. For example, what is the proper way to talk to a taxi driver? Why some Chinese elderly people speak so loudly, or how to negotiate with a landlord. The chats are about listening to their concerns, answering their questions, alleviating their doubts and providing some useful strategies to overcome the cultural differences living in China. It is all about the intercultural communication and real life experiences of how to engage in a brand new society. Sometimes, we find that speaking fluent Chinese doesn’t mean you understand Chinese. In other words, even though you can speak Chinese, it doesn’t mean you can talk with Chinese! A good piece of advice often giving to these students is, do not expect. What does that mean? It tells us, do not set up an expectation or hold any stereotype of wishing and guessing what China should be. Students might find what the books describe are correct, or they might equally find this is not the China they learned from reading the books. Be open to accept.


Often students find studying abroad feels like moving from one classroom to another. In fact, for students studying abroad, is not only about studying a foreign language in class, but also its culture, its society as well as their own life experiences in China. This is because a language spreads across its culture, and culture in turn impacts the language. Real life experiences of participating in and experiencing the culture and society will improve a student’s language learning competence. For this purpose, I took the students on a trip to Tongxiang, a thirty minute train journey from Shanghai.


After four weeks’ intensive language learning on campus, students had not had the chance to travel beyond Shanghai. This opportunity of traveling with the students became a great adventure. So, the first question students and I faced was not the fluency of their language, but a real life challenge – how to purchase a train ticket? Being the first time and not knowing how else to purchase a train ticket, students had no option but go direct to the railway station. This all raised the following questions: how to get to the train station? how to buy a ticket? where to find the timetable? how to read a ticket? and where to find the right waiting area? and where and when to queue? Students found although language is important, it is not essential. The essential knowledge of life is to understand how things work within a Chinese context.

My role now was to guide and encourage the students. For example, in order to search the train lines, it was important to provide them with the right Chinese official APP called 12306. This useful APP enabled the students to search the trains, station, times, availabilities and prices. After introducing the APP, I got the students using their new language skills to search for the necessary information. At the Shanghai Hongqiao Station, students were encouraged to recite what they learned in class with regards to the common phrases of buying tickets, such as 我要买一张去往桐乡的票,要9:30的。(I would like to buy a ticket to Tongxiang, the one at 9:30.) When it came to the day to travel, they faced a challenge; the tickets were all sold out! This prompted; “What should we do”? I purposely didn’t get involved believing they themselves could handle this. It wasn’t language support they needed. It was mental support so they calmed down, worked together and came up with a solution; 我要下一个火车,去桐乡。(I would like the next train to Tongxiang.)Although their Chinese may not have been perfect, the communication was successfully achieved. When they took the Rejuvenation high-speed train, their joy did not just come from the scenery outside and the fantastic high technology train, but also from the practical way they had used their Chinese. When the students finally arrived in Tongxiang, I gave them a task to buy a return ticket for later that day. This time, I stood far away from them, and they all bought their tickets without any further support.

Back to the beginning, the famous Chinese proverb tells us how important real life experience is. However, the reverse is the same. Why do we want to travel ten thousand miles? It is because we desire to learn.
In Tongxiang, students had an opportunity to meet students at a local Book Club. Together with these local Chinese students, they learned ‘Great Learning’, one of the Four Books in Confucianism, and read and recited ‘Tang’ poems. Students were divided into several small groups, and worked together to study the meaning of the ancient master piece. This gave students a chance to speak and practice Chinese around a shared subject. Both groups of students benefited massively from this exercise through learning and helping each other as a team. After that, the head teacher of the local book club, Ms. Li took the students to Tongxiang Museum to discover the ancient history and civilisation of China.
Studying abroad is one of the most beneficial experiences for students. By studying abroad, students have the chance to take in the allure and culture of a new country and in our case China. To experience the way the Chinese live; to practice the knowledge they have learnt. These unique experiences will strongly contribute to their language learning. And what is the role of the coordinator/teacher in charge of this programme? It is to be there, but also not to be there.
Written by Dr. Duo Luan
Residence in China Programme Co-ordinator