I received a message through my wushuzilla contact form today asking about training options in China, and more specifically about recommendations on someone who wants to spend an extended period of time training wushu and studying Chinese in China. I thought I would post up my answer here, since it might help others who are looking to figure out the same stuff for themselves.
Thanks for your e-mail.
You have a few options available to you. It sort of depends on your long-term plans and what sort of personality you have. Also, for the sake of this e-mail, and since I don’t know too many details about you, I’m going to assume that you do not currently speak any Chinese (or a limited amount — i.e. survival level) and that you have only been to China the one time. Your actual situation might be different.
There are essentially 4 primary factors that you need to consider when moving to China for an extended period of time: cost, training opportunities, location infrastructure and chinese language study methodology. Specifically …
: Not just related to financial cost, but also related to the emotional and personal cost of traveling abroad for 2 years. There is a big difference between a 3 month stay and a 2 year stay. You go through a lot of stuff when you are on your own, studying, training and possibly working in a new country. It is important not to discount the amount of emotional and cultural shock you might experience. However, even having said that, the payoffs (in my opinion) are often quite worth it. Not just in terms of developing skill in wushu or Chinese, but in developing an understanding and appreciation for the diversity of humanity and the rich cultural heritage that we all share on this planet.
Your financial cost options basically boil down to the following, which coincidentally have an inverse relationship with personal cost:
Expensive Financial Cost = Lower Personal Cost
Moderate Financial Cost = Moderate Personal Cost
Like a Local = High Personal Cost
: Finding a good coach who will nurture your interest in wushu can be challenging. But beyond that, you also have to consider the facilities you will train at, the quality of the other athletes, the number of Chinese vs. non-Chinese people training and whether or not they are accomodating to whatever particular needs you might have. Keep in mind that the foreigner who complains and asks for special consideration all the time is usually the foreigner they end up wishing would not be there. Often in China the squeaky wheel doesn’t just get the oil, it gets replaced with a better wheel.
Your training opportunities options are as follows:
Train at a Sports University/School
Train at a Sports Center
Train at a private school
: What sort of environment suits you best? And what location will give you the best training, living and learning opportunities. Not only that, but if you want to get really good at Putonghua, then does living in Urumuqi really make sense? Finding a location that balances the best training options with the best language study environment will narrow down your choices.
In China you have quite a few options on where to live. And I would say that a large part of it depends on where you already have guanxi (relationships). Sometimes that is ALL it comes down to, but I think that the following are the most important factors to consider with your location:
Regional Dialect / Accent
Chinese Language Study Methodology
: What type of learning suits you best. Are you good at learning through conversation? By reading a lot of texts? Do you need a structured environment or something more flexible? Are you a quick language learner or do you tend to take a while? Do you want complete immersion or do you prefer some other foreigners to keep you company? These questions and more should be answered in picking the best location for you to study Chinese. When learning Chinese you have the following options:
Directed Study (classroom)
A mix of both
Now, if I were a tour guide for students of wushu and chinese who wanted to come to China, I would probably break it down to the following three programs. Obviously there are a variety of possibilities, but these are the main themes that most people follow:
1. The Extended Tour
In this program you have everything taken care of for you and all you have to add is your hard work and curiosity. Usually available in the larger cities, you sign up for a study-abroad program through a University or large school where they provide food and lodging, as well as instruction in Chinese Language or Wushu (or both).
You are among a group of foreign students who are also participating in this program, and much of your time is spent studying, training and hanging out with your fellow students. In fact, it isn’t much different than the college experience back home, except that you are in a new culture and learning a new language.
In this program you aren’t necessarily “immersed”, but you are at least in the country itself, and it provides some good opportunities to learn more about China than you would have from daily visits to your local Chinatown.
At the end of two years, (assuming you studied and didn’t go clubbing every weekend with your foreign friends), your Chinese will have improved quite a bit and you will have developed some good wushu skill, (whenever your schooling didn’t interfere with your training).
Pros: Structured, secure environment with like-minded people that you can bond with.
Cons: Expensive and not very immersive. Slightly “watered down”.
This program can often be found at Sports Universities such as Beijing, Shanghai or Wuhan Sports Universities, which have specific foreign student programs.
2. Pursue a Degree
This program is for the student who doesn’t just want to come and “hang out” in China, but really wants to make something of their time here. After 6 months of rather intensive Chinese language study (probably through a school specializing in the HSK, the Chinese Profiency Exam) you take the HSK and get accepted to a Chinese University as a student. During this time you were also training at a local wushu school, primarily for kids, which is lower in cost than training with a professional team or a sports university, but good enough for most foreign athletes who didn’t grow up with 6 hours of wushu every day since they were 8 years old.
Once you have been matriculated in to a Univeristy program, you can evaluate your degree goals. If your university doesn’t have a wushu degree program (i.e. not a Sports University) you can focus on Chinese language studies and practice wushu on the side at a wushu school. if your university has a degree program in Wushu, then you can focus on this, supplementing your training with Chinese language instruction to understand your course materials.
After two years you are half-way to a degree in Wushu or Chinese and your language skill, having been forced to adapt to a Chinese-only curriculum in school with few foreigners enrolled, has developed to a good level. You are functionally fluent and are well on your way to finishing your degree in China.
Pros: Better immersion in the life of a Chinese student. Gets you half-way to a degree. Less expensive, especially if you get one of the scholarships that China has avilable for foreign students.
Cons: Less integration between Chinese and Wushu studies and you might have to pick one over the other after a couple years. Student housing is kind of “meh”.
This program can be available in almost any city of more than 4 million people (which is a LOT of cities). You can even find it in smaller cities, and the limiting factor becomes much more about whether or not wushu is avialable.
3. Live Like a Local
This program is not for the feint of heart, but for those with the committment and focus, it can offer the highest degree of education and training available.
You come to a smaller city in China, or to the smaller areas surrounding a larger city, and become completely immersed in the local culture and customs. When arriving, you get a small apartment far from the city center (but hopefully close to a local wushu guan). Your building has no elevators and only goes 6 stories high. You learn to wash your clothes by hand and buy all your groceries at the local market where you’ve established a relationship with your favorite meat and vegetable vendors. You know the local bus routes by heart and your 20 kg bike cost less than 100 RMB.
During the week you take the bus to your Chinese study program at a local university or language school where you got your student visa. Or/and you ride your bike to the wushu guan where you train once or twice a day constantly berated by a coach that doesn’t know how to coddle foreigners and treats you like the rest of their students; with strict discipline, loving guidance and tons of eating bitter. On the weekends you tutor Chinese students in English to make some extra money for groceries and the occasional train ride to the big city.
If you survive this program, in two years you will be so fluent that people on the phone think you are a local. Probably because you’ve developed such a strong regional dialect in your day-to-day speech. Your wushu will have gone through the roof because your coach didn’t know what it meant to not force you to be the best you can be. But you will probably have cried more than a few times out of lonliness and dispair during the first few months, but that only lasts until you have developed some good guanxi with a few local students, athletes and neighbors.
Pros: Assuming you didn’t run for the hills in month 2, you are essentially Chinese.
Cons: Your parents might not recognize you when you get home.
Obviously I’m exagerating a little bit, but you get the idea. The basic idea is, the more “local” you want to be, the cheaper and more authentic your experience, but also it will be more challenging. The more “foreign” you want to be, the more expensive and watered-down your experience, and probably more enjoyable. You just need to figure out where your personal proclivities lie.
To answer your other question, I don’t train at a university. Every city and province in China is a little different, but here in Xi’an, the Shaanxi Wushu Team trains at a decidated sports school called the Shaanxi Provincial Sports Training Center. It is where athletes of all ages live and train in a wide variety of sports. Sort of like a boarding school for athletes of all ages, except they don’t offer any classes that you can take. If you want to train at a school, then your best best in Xi’an is to attend the Xi’an University of Physical Education (XPEU), which has programs for foreigners in both Chinese and a variety of sports. It is also relatively cheap compared to similar programs at Beijing Sports University or Shanghai University of Sports. They have a website here:
Most cities in China have a sports-dedicated university or college that you can train at, so this isn’t a unique situation. The larger the city, the more expensive it will probably be. Almost all sports universities and colleges have the exact same type of schedule and situation. You live on campus in a dorm or apartment, you train twice a day and take classes (if that is an option) in Chinese. Twice a day training is pretty standard in China, even though I train just once a day. But then, I’m over 20 years older than you so my body doesn’t quite recover like it used to.
I hope this is helpful to you. Let me know if you have any specific questions and I’m happy to answer them.
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