What to Expect on your Hainan, China Study Abroad


Have a free summer to pursue an advanced learning of Chinese language? Never been to China before? Then the Summer in Hainan study abroad program is something you should look into. I went on the Hainan trip back in the summer of 2006 and received a full year’s worth of language credit for it. This article will help you understand what to expect on your Hainan study abroad trip.

Here is Ernest, standing at the south gate of Hainan University. Ernest was in the 2nd level Mandarin class with me and also took most of the pictures used in this article.

1. You will sweat a lot.

The first thing you will feel when you step outside the airport in Hainan is the powerful humidity. Although the temperatures there are similar to Hawaii, the humidity is much higher and it is the humidity that makes you sweat (which is also how Las Vegas can be 100 degrees, but won’t make you sweat). There are air conditioners in your own, private room to provide relief from the humidity, but you cannot hide there forever!

One strange thing I noticed was that the humidity did not go away at night, like it does in Hawaii. When I would walk to the library at night to do homework, I would be sweating just the same as if it were daytime. For me, the humidity also made me very tired and I often feel asleep by 10pm.

In Hainan, you will be doing a lot of walking on the campus, so you should bring suitable clothes that will allow you to deal with the sweating. Shorts, tank tops, capris and athletic shirts are recommended for everyday wear. If you sweat a lot, try and avoid cotton, as your sweat stains will be very visible.

Aside from your room, the places on campus are not air-conditioned, including the library.

2. You will use Chinese in and out of the classroom.

The UHM faculty Resident Director for my study abroad program was Professor Ted Yao. He had a policy of “Chinese only.” He wanted us to speak Chinese the entire 9 weeks in Hainan to force us to practice Chinese. Well, the truth is that all of us spoke English when he wasn’t around, but everywhere else, we followed his rule. In his presence at lunch, we spoke Chinese only. With our teachers, we spoke Chinese only too. And outside of our classes, we were forced to speak Chinese with the locals on campus, restaurants, taxi drivers, and banks because most had no English speaking ability.

By the end of that summer, I was able to understand the 4 Mandarin tones, I had written an entire summer journal in Chinese, and my speaking was very fluid. Following Hainan, I took 2 more years of Chinese at UHM, but my Chinese never improved as much as it did during my study abroad in Hainan.

This was the 2nd year classroom during my trip. Expect to write, read, speak, and think in Chinese all the time.

3. The Chinese natives will be fascinated by you.

Many of the students at Hainan University are from remote areas of China, so they will be fascinated by you, a foreigner. If you’re white or black, you’ll stick out like a sore thumb and there will be stares. If you’re like me, an ethnic Chinese born in America, you’ll blend in… but as soon as you speak good English or speak bad Chinese, there will be stares again.

The main thing to understand is that their stares are not meant to be rude, but rather, the stares are because they find you fascinating. You can also befriend some of them as well. I got to know some natives and we enjoyed exchanging cultural stories and grabbing some beer.

Aaron, the guy at the very front, probably received the most stares of anyone on our trip. Aside from not being Chinese-looking, he is also about 6’6” and has a ponytail.

4. You will experience a different standard of living.

One thing you should be mindful of before applying to study in Hainan is that their standard of living is different than ours here in America. Thus, it’s important to keep an open mind when you travel there because some things are quite surprising. If you don’t have an open mind, you will probably have a miserable time.

One thing that was different for example, was that we did not have personal refrigerators. There was a water jug in our room, but the only refrigerator was in the lobby. Furthermore, I don’t think I once ever saw a freezer or ice. Another is that outside of your room, the toilet you use will probably be a squatter. And yet another one is that you’ll see people holding their nose and shooting snot out on the sidewalk. Then there is the driving — driving lanes and traffic signals seem to be optional for cars — all pedestrians need to be on alert when they cross streets. This is a just a glimpse of what really is a completely different way of living. Be prepared.

At the end of the day though, going abroad is not about experiencing the same type of life you have back home – it’s about expanding your horizons by seeing how other people in the world live and think. Please be mindful of this.

5. There will be plenty of opportunities to get to know the other students.

The entire group on our trip got along well. Although none of us knew each other at the beginning (for the most part), we all got to know each other by the end. Everyone’s room is on the same floor and everyone’s class schedule is the same, so there will be a lot of time to socialize. We would often gather around dinner time to try a new restaurant together. On several free weekends, I also remember going to the beach, the zoo, the mall, and also to a nightclub. There are multiple organized field trips on the weekends as well, so you should have lots of fun time outside of class. Also, you can consider traveling to different parts of China while you’re there. You’ll likely need a stopover in the Hong Kong airport to get back to Honolulu. I spent about a week in Hong Kong with a couple of other students on the trip on our way back to Hawaii.

Although many of us on the trip were different from each other, our common goal of learning Chinese and sharing the experience of visiting a foreign land provided us all a great foundation for bonding.

Luckily, we had Adam (blue shirt) on trip. Adam had been on the Hainan trip multiple times and took us to many places to eat off campus. I ate a lot of food from all over China while I was there. It can be tedious, because all menus are in Chinese, but it can be deliciously rewarding as well!

After dinner, we had one of the best desserts available: “bing qi ling”. It’s a frozen fruit smoothie of sorts… like a Jamba Juice that you eat on a plate with a spoon. I’m the guy with the baseball cap.

Organized field trips include trips to some scenic and historical parts of the island.

Here’s a photo of all of the study abroad students at a temple of sorts.

This field trip was to Sanya, a resort-area of China which has some nice beaches. Here we are playing volleyball in the water. The area has been popular in recent years with wealthy Chinese tourists. The area has also seen a tremendous amount of hotel development.

At Sanya, we also learned that our Resident Director, Professor Yao, was quite the “pool shark.”

You will also have free weekends to yourself. Here, Ernest, JP, I, and a Hainan University student visit the local zoo. That’s a real snake on us.

The Summer ‘06 in Hainan Study Abroad 2nd year Mandarin students finish their studies at Hainan University.

The Hainan Study Abroad trip is worth taking.

I am a man that looks at the value of things to consider making purchases. Looking back, the study abroad trip to Hainan was of great value. If you look at the cost of housing and tuition, the opportunity for cultural experience, and the amount of Chinese language learning, this trip is one of the best available in the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa Study Abroad Center. As long as you can handle the humidity and are open to cultural differences, I would highly recommend the Summer in Hainan Study Abroad program to you.

For more information, please visit Hainan University’s website at http://web2.hainu.edu.cn/enweb/ or contact the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa Study Abroad Center.



Author Bio

Ron Lum was a participant in the UHM Study Abroad Center Summer in Hainan program in 2006. He graduated from the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa. He currently runs a Hawaii Web Design business.