Preparing to go to China!

As you may know, I’m going to China this fall, and I thought I’d share a bit about the process of getting ready.

Getting ready for China kind of comes in waves. There’ll be a ton to do for a while, and then it’ll seem like you’re done for a few months before another wave of stuff to do rushes toward you. The first wave of activity was in the beginning of spring semester when I applied to study abroad programs. I started out by applying to three exchange programs on OU’s study abroad website, Yunnan University, Xi’an University, and Minzu University. I also applied to the Confucius Institute Scholarship (we at OU are lucky to have our very own Confucius Institute. It’s very convenient.) with Dalian University of Technology as my first choice, mainly because my Chinese speaking buddy from high school is studying there this year. It seemed like having one person I knew would be ideal, because I’d still be forced to spend plenty of time interacting with people I didn’t know but I wouldn’t be completely alone.

After applying, it took a long time for me to figure out where I was going. Application decisions for OU exchange programs came out pretty quickly, before school ended. I didn’t get any information about the Confucius Institute Scholarship, however, until early July. I did end up being accepted for the Confucius Institute Scholarship, so I will be going to Dalian this fall.

Once I finally got that acceptance letter in July, the second wave of being busy came along. I had to get a visa and plane tickets, which could have been simple if I had known what I was doing, but was instead quite stressful because I didn’t know what I was doing. For my visa, I used China Visa Service Center (mychinavisa.com), which worked extraordinarily well. They have a simple list of everything you need to send in to get a visa and you can call them for help if you’re not sure how to fill out part of the application form. If you need to get a Chinese visa, just use the list on their website (or the identical list on the Chinese embassy website). Instead of being sensible and just trusting the Chinese Embassy website, I decided to check a bunch of Chinese travel forums. They told me that I needed proof of airline tickets and hotel reservations (I didn’t) and there were countless horror stories of people making one harmless mistake on the application form and going through all sorts of trouble only to get their visa after they had planned to leave. After reading all that I was pretty nervous since I only had about a month to get my visa, and I rushed to book flights and get hotel reservations, believing that I needed them to get a visa.

Getting plane tickets was the hardest part because finding out specifically when school starts and ends is simply not possible. I do finally have a good idea of when registration and orientation are, but the most specific answers I received for when school ends, from school officials, were “around the middle of January” and “Maybe January 15th”. So I bought a plane ticket for the 18th, hopefully school will be over by then.

Finally, after buying plane tickets and reserving a hotel room, I sent in my visa application. The application, an admission letter, and passport has to be taken in person to the Chinese consulate that serves your state (I live in Colorado and our Consulate is in Chicago). You can have someone else take it for you (which is what China Visa Service Center is for) but it has to be handed to them by a person, it can’t be mailed. So applying for a visa would either entail a 6 day trip to Chicago, or mailing my passport and documents to an agency who would take then in for me. I opted for the latter, because the stress associated with mailing my passport to someone I didn’t know seemed better than the price of driving to and staying in Chicago for a week. That ended up being a great decision, because less than two weeks after I mailed it, I received a FedEx package containing my passport with a visa, my admission letter, and my JW202, all of which I’ll need to register for classes once I get to China.

Now, I just have to figure out what to pack, get a physical examination, and practice my Chinese!