A Semester in China

Going to China was not the first time I left the country. As a child, I went on a family vacation to Cancun, Mexico and about ten years later I went on a work and witness trip to Costa Rica. Both trips were wonderful experiences, but going to China is what truly kicked off my love of travel and experiencing other cultures.

In the spring of 2015, I was fortunate enough to spend a semester abroad in Qingdao, China. The city is located along the coast of northeast China. Qingdao was the host of the sailing competition in the 2008 Olympics, was occupied by Germany in the early 1900s, is home to Tsingtao Beer (which costs about $0.80 for a 40), and has an interesting mix of architecture – modern, old, German, and Chinese.

Although I could go on forever about my trip to China, I’m going to try to make this relatively short. If you would like to see more, head on over to my old blog, Tyler’s Terrific Travels. The university I attended was Ocean University of China. I actually had a view of the ocean from my dorm room! I was in the Intensive Chinese Program and had classes every weekday from 8am-12pm. I used all of my breaks (plus some) to travel to Shanghai, Hangzhou, Zhangjiajie City, Zhangjiajie National Park, Beijing, and Hong Kong.

Here’s a few of the photos I took during my travels – starting with the panoramas.

Qingdao, China – The mountain behind the buildings is Fushan


The view from the top of Fushan, behind campus

Climbing this mountain took a few hours. The first time I went, I tagged along with someone else and learned how to make it all the way to the top. Getting down was a little more difficult. You can either follow the path you took all the way to the top or follow the road down the opposite side of the mountain and catch a cab back to campus. I’ve done both, and raced the sunset on both occasions.

The Great Wall was a necessary stop

If you go to the Great Wall, make sure you know how much time you want to spend there and choose your tour based on that. If the tour is covering 3 places in a single day, you may only get half an hour or so on the Wall (even if the itinerary says you’ll have more time) because traffic is an unpredictable monster in Beijing.

Hong Kong
Have you ever seen Journey to the West?

This beach was across the bay from Qingdao in Huangdao. A friend and I took a ferry to get to Huangdao and then boarded a bus to reach the beach, where it proceeded to storm on us fifteen minutes after we arrived. Honestly, it was a good trip.

Qingdao and the Olympic rings

This picture was taken outside of a Starbucks. I am not ashamed. I only ever went to Starbucks to get the specialty drinks not found in the U.S. – Green Tea Java Chip Frap and Triple Coffee Frap – my guilty pleasures.

Zhangjiajie National Park – Yellowstone Village

Yellowstone Village is not an actual village. It is the name of the rock formations visible in this photograph. I feel the need to inform you of this because I 100% thought I was going to see a lovely little village at the top of the cable way I took to get to the top of the mountain.

Zhangjiajie National Park – Three Sisters Peak

Zhangjiajie National Park is massive, but buses and cable ways are available to make travel easier and faster. It’s easy to cover the entire park plus surrounding attractions within a week. The pathway I’m on above is 10 Mile Gallery. It is not 10 miles long.

Zhangjiajie’s Grand Canyon

About a 45 minute drive from Wulingyuan (the little town adjacent to Zhangjiajie National Park’s entrance), is Zhangjiajie’s Grand Canyon. To get to the bottom, you walk down staircase after staircase through a crack in the mountain (above). No need to worry though – there’s a boat ride back to the entrance and you don’t have to walk back up the steps.

Zhangjiajie National Park
TianTai Photo Op – Zhangjiajie National Park

There’s a path to Tianzi Mountain that requires you to walk up 8,000 steps. Or you can take a cable car. Unfortunately, the cable cars were under repair during my stay. So my friend and I spent four hours walking up steps. We took an excursion and walked up an additional 120 steps to TianTai. There was a photographer at the top of the mountain that took our photo, printed it for us, and offered to take our photo again using our personal phones and cameras.

Back on top of Fushan
Zhangjiajie National Park – Monkey!

If you explore all of the park, you will find the monkeys. I believe this photo was taken in The Back Garden.

Zhangjiajie National Park, yet again
Super excited about walking alongside a crazy high cliff

Tianmen Mountain – accessible by cable way from Zhangjiajie City. There are two main types of tickets. The first ticket gets you a bus ride to the base of the mountain, where you’ll get to climb up 999 steps to the elevators that will take you the rest of the way up to the top of the mountain and then after you’re finished hiking around, a cable car ride back into Zhangjiajie City. The other ticket does just the opposite. The first option was strongly suggested, so that’s the one my friend and I went with.

Glass floors are the best floors

I’m scared of heights, but by the end of this trip, I had gotten used to being ridiculously high in the air.

This lady knows how to ride in style

The day we climbed up 8,000 steps, we were followed by guys with one of these chairs. They watched us climb, take a break, climb, take a break, consider paying them to take us the rest of the way, and then climb again over and over and over again.

Just too adorable!
Cooking lessons in Beijing
He really had the fire goin’

Cooking lessons ended up being more of a “watch and learn” type of experience. We still learned a lot, though. And it was a lot of fun. And delicious.

Baofeng Lake
Baofeng Lake

A boat ride is included in the price of admission.

Cable car views – Tianmen Mountain

That road is the road the bus takes on the way up the mountain. The drivers waste no time in getting to the top. Going back to the city in the cable car is awesome. You get an incredible view and a few photo ops like the one above.

And last but not least, I must include just a few pictures of the food I had while in China. Because authentic Chinese food is some of the best (and weirdest) food around.

Here we have…

Various types of tea, the best sandwich you’ll ever have, Chinese BBQ (served street-side), a matcha latte served in a giraffe mug IN A GIRAFFE THEMED CAFE, a monster zucchini, cheddar cheese flavored soft serve, chicken feet and heads in our lunch, and stinky tofu!


How did I afford this trip?

Obviously, living and traveling around China for five months is not inexpensive. So, I’ll explain exactly how I was able to afford going on this incredible trip.

First of all, I planned well in advance. I knew about two years ahead of time that I wanted to study abroad, so I got a summer job. In the fall, I found a job on campus and added hours as I felt more comfortable balancing school and work. This helped me pay for books and regular expenses before leaving as well, so it didn’t put a huge dent in my travel fund, but it did help.

The bulk of my finances came from scholarships and because of this I knew my best choice would be to do a direct exchange program with a partnering university. This meant that all I would have to do is pay tuition and room and board at my university and all university expenses in China would be covered.

I was fortunate enough to earn enough scholarships to cover all of my university expenses plus another $2,000, which paid for my plane tickets. The biggest scholarship I earned – a $10,000 one for the academic year was a major reason I was able to afford my trip to China. Believe it or not, I didn’t even think I would even be a contender for the scholarship. I decided last minute to enter – and submitted my resume and essay on the day of the deadline.

My advice to you is this – find all the scholarships you can. If you don’t think you’re “good enough” to earn them, cut the negative thoughts and enter anyway. Ask your study abroad office about any study abroad scholarships that may be available. I received two scholarships – one in China and one at my home university – for being in the Chinese Program. You don’t know what’s out there until you ask.

Alright. I was fortunate enough to come up with enough money for my trip, but I still had to budget and plan so that I could do everything I wanted to without going broke. My main financial goal for returning to the U.S. was to have at least some money.

When I got to China, I created an Excel spreadsheet on my computer and tracked my day-to-day expenses and then copied them down to estimate about how much I’d be spending on food for the semester. I added in estimated airplane ticket prices for the trips I wanted to take so I would have an idea of what I could spend. To find ticket prices, I used the Ctrip website and app. To find lodging expenses, I used Booking.com. I always tried to find the least expensive prices and I never splurged on hotels – you can find really nice hostels throughout China for less than $30/night.

As for gifts, souvenirs, and anything else I just wanted to buy, I paid attention to how much money I had and tried to balance being responsible with treating myself every now and then. I mean, how often do you get to be in China??

Final Cost (out of pocket expenses) ~ $3,500



It’s been brought to my attention that doing a breakdown of costs would be helpful to readers. So, here it is!

Food – $1,100 – I love to try new things, so I spent plenty of money on snacks and special treats. Breakfast averaged around $0.75, but lunch and dinner varied because I usually went out to eat. Lunch and dinner ranged from a few dollars to $40 (international buffet at the Shangri-La). It just depends on how often you want to treat yourself. I also spent close to $50 on Starbucks.

Transportation – $1,100 – Riding the bus cost $0.16. Taxi rides around town (under 20min) were under $5. The bulk of the money for transportation went to plane rides and trains. Qingdao to Shanghai was $50 one way. Beijing to Qingdao was $170. Qingdao to Hong Kong was $400. Train ride from Qingdao to Beijing (5hrs) was $50.

Lodging – ??? – To be honest, I didn’t do that great of a job tracking costs for hotels and hostels. Many were split between two or three people. Lodging costs can be found on Booking.com. You can spend anywhere between $20-500+ per night. Traveling with someone makes it less expensive. This was not a huge cost.

Expenses and “Needs” – $375 – I spent $13/month on my phone and $50 for 3 months of WiFi. Water cost $1.50 for 4 liters – you cannot drink the tapwater in China. I also purchased a hairdryer, kettle, mug, chopsticks, and a bowl. It got much hotter than I expected, so I had to go shopping for shorts and lighter clothing. Clothing was the bulk of money spent in this category. $50 went towards a suitcase to get all my extra stuff back home.

Gifts – ~$300 – Gifts for my family, friends, and myself.

Fun – The rest of the money I spent went to karaoke, clubs, getting my nails done (once), and entrance fees to places on vacation.



Have a question about this trip? Want any other tips on living in China?

Leave a comment and I’ll get back to you as soon as possible!


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