Differences between studying in Scotland and China

Hellooo! It’s been a little while. The only real reason that I haven’t posted a blog in a while is because I’ve been caught up in uni. It has for whatever reason felt very busy over the last few weeks. In just three weeks or so I have my final exams of the semester and, contrary to what I said in my last blog post, I’ve decided to take my HSK 4 exam in January instead of March. I was also trying to write a post about some aspects of the language, the characters or the learning process but it turned out to be quite a complicated and I think needs more time devoted to it than I have right now. 

SO! Instead I’m going to write about some of the differences between studying in Scotland and China. Some of these are things that I wrote down right as I arrived in China and was still settling in to DUT and some are things that I’ve discovered over the past four months. 


I will admit, this is why the blog is specifically using Scotland. I don’t have to pay tuition fees while studying at the University of Edinburgh, though that is obviously not the case for most people there. In China, university is also not free. I spoke to one of my Chinese friends about how much it costs for them to study at university (or at least at DUT) and she said that it depends on each course but is roughly 6,000-7,000 RMB a year (£650-760). When I was registering at the start of the year I almost had to pay 16,000 RMB (about £1,750) but the way it works for me as an exchange student is that Edinburgh pays any tuition fees to our host institution. (So this is kind of a half difference, I have fees, but I don’t have to pay them myself).

School rules

In our initiation talk there was a laundry list of rules and regulations, many very different from life in Edinburgh and with a few very surprising ones thrown in. No drugs and no excessive drinking were emphasised strongly from the beginning but for some reason I am inclined to take that a bit more seriously than most UK university students would at home. Part of that is because there isn’t as much of a drinking culture in China as in the UK to start with but also because of the general lack of leniency when it comes to breaking the rules. No missionary work outside of religious areas was a new one but not entirely unwelcome – it will be a nice break from dodging the infamous Mormons that roam the streets around George Square, looking for unruly students to convert. A similar notice that had me frowning slightly was the repeated affirmation that international students can enjoy religious freedoms. The specification of ‘international students’ was revealing, I thought, as it’s not necessarily a right that everyone in China is afforded. As international students, we are also required to register our presence with the police and let them know any time we move address. 

Miss too much class = DEPORTED 

By far the biggest threat to be thrown at us in that initiation talk. In comparison to the much more laid back approach that British universities have towards attendance, we have to have at least 80% attendance OR ELSE. I’m not entirely sure what the ‘or else’ starts with but it ends with deportation and I haven’t gotten anywhere close to finding out. There is also the added incentive of 1000 RMB (£100) prize for over 90% attendance which helps me get out of bed in the morning!

Class at 8am

Sometimes I need that incentive because class starts at 8am! I take back every complaint I ever had about my daily 9ams last year and will never again listen to any more complaints from anyone ever about a lecture. I drag myself out of bed at 6.30am and leave the house at 7.30am, arriving at class not quite bright eyed and bushy tailed but with just enough time to fill up my flask of instant coffee before we get going. 

One classroom, teachers move around 

The way my timetable works is two 90 minute classes every morning and both of the classes in my level are next to each other. This helps the teachers as it’s them that move around the different rooms and classes, not us. 

Classes are definitely not in English! 

Even my Chinese language classes back in Edinburgh were at least 50/50 Chinese and English but here it has been non-stop Chinese from the get go. It wasn’t a surprise seeing as I came to China to learn Chinese and the fact that there isn’t necessarily another common language among my diverse class. It still took some getting used to as my comprehension skills weren’t up to scratch when I arrived, though they have rapidly improved since. Some teachers do occasionally throw in some English words here and there to help explain what a word means or a certain grammar point. 

My name is not Sara

Following on, while I’m in class I’m not known as Sara, everyone is called by their Chinese name. Mine is 莫莎, pronounced Mo Sha and I got accustomed to it surprisingly quickly. A lot of people ask me how I got my Chinese name, both people at home and Chinese friends here. In my last semester in Edinburgh I had a Chinese language partner and she helped me pick it. Most Chinese names are two or three characters and I decided I just wanted two because why make things more complicated than they need to be! In Chinese the surname comes first so 莫 Mo is to represent Morrison and then 莎 Sha is the closest sound to Sara that there is. 

Very textbook based 

A lot of our learning comes straight from the textbooks we have. This is something I noticed in Honduras as well, though that was to even more of an extreme. It makes me realise how lucky we are to have a system at home that fosters independence, creativity and teamwork as much as it does. 


It comes thick and fast. Any homework we get given is to be done for the next day. A lot of this homework takes the form of a 听写 (ting xie, literally listen-write), like a dictation, where we are tested on the words we learnt in class the day before. As well as this, we have exercises from our textbook, writing assignments and dialogues for speaking class.

Not allowed to work

Due to certain restrictions around our visas we’re not allowed to work while here to study. When we were told this at that initiation talk, there was a whisper than ran around the room, that the stern police officer delivering the rules picked up on. He reiterated it and told us that every year there are up to 5 people that get deported for this. They really aren’t kidding. 

Chinese and international students are kept separate

This isn’t necessarily done on purpose but it’s frustrating all the same. Obviously it’s only international students on the Chinese language course but the international students are all put into their own dorms on the opposite side of campus from most of the Chinese student dorms. I found this FRUSTRATING to begin with but have since found other ways to make Chinese friends. There are of course some international students who study in Chiense language Bachelors or Masters so are mixed in with mostly Chinese students.

Lack of club culture

I’ve mentioned this in a previous blog but unlike British universities where many people’s social lives include or even revolve around their sports clubs or societies, there isn’t as much of that here. There are sports teams around but there are definitely more options for the male students. I really missed that as a way to socialise when I first arrived but I found other ways to do so, either playing sports with classmates or through the language exchange that I found and really enjoy going to!

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