Work and study Chinese in Xiamen: my experience

One of the cities with the most tourism, with the best climate and without pollution

When I returned to China, in September 2014, I moved to Xiamen. To see new places in China after leaving 3 years in Kunming, but above all, to live near the sea. They say that those who are born near the sea are never accustomed to living far from it.  In my case, it wasn’t just a saying, it was a fact.

Xiamen (厦门) is an island in Fujian province (福建). It is in the southeast of China, not far from Taiwan. The whole island is a big city, modern and developed. There is a lot of Chinese tourism that comes to enjoy the good climate and its air without pollution and many foreigners that come to do business.

The island is known for having, since ancient times, one of the most important import and export ports in China. So much so that the name of the city means “Gate of the Mansion”, referring to its role as “The Gate of China”.

China - Fujian - Xiamen
China – Fujian – Xiamen

Special Economic Zone

Xiamen is classified by the government as a “Special Economic Zone“. It means that it has special economic policies and flexible government measures that make it easier for foreign companies to invest and create business.

Other areas of China with the same characteristics are: Shenzhen, Zhuhai and Shantou (Guangdong Province), the entire island of Hainan, and Pudong (a district of Shanghai).

Xiamen, a good city to live in

This special feature makes Xiamen a place full of foreigners doing import and export business, in contrast to Kunming, where most foreigners are wandering souls who pass through during a trip in Southeast Asia and decide to stay for a while.

In Xiamen, there are also many English schools looking for foreign teachers. It’s a very good option if you want to combine studying Mandarin Chinese with a part-time job teaching English. Access to the island is very easy as there are two bridges connecting the coast of China with the island. The bridges can be crossed by bus, car or BRT (Bus Rapid Transit).

I had understood that in China every province is a world, and in Xiamen I discovered that that saying was absolutely true. The food, the appearance of the people, the way of being, the rhythm of life, the language; everything was different. It could be said that Xiamen was rather more westernized.

Living in Xiamen - Xiamen Temple: tradition and modernity
Living in Xiamen – Xiamen Temple: tradition and modernity

Study Chinese in Xiamen: Jimei

As soon as I arrived, I contacted schools and universities to find the most suitable place to continue my studies of Mandarin Chinese. I immediately realized that if you don’t have a scholarship, studying on the island will cost you an arm and a leg. So living in the suburbs was a better option.

I ended up enrolling in the Language Institute for foreign students at Huaqiao University (华侨文学院), located right on the coast in Jimei (集美). The university campus was in a very quiet area and packed with students from all corners of the world. You could see Xiamen in the distance and, the BRT, reach the center in 30 minutes.

I quickly made a good group of friends, all classmates, mostly Latinos and Thais. During the week, we would go to class and study Chinese. During the weekends, we would go around the island and, of course, to party. It was curious to feel like a university again.

I learned a lot of Chinese because I went to class every day and passed all the exams, but I have to admit that it was quite tiring since many subjects only teach you to memorize or to know how to answer the question correctly even if you don’t understand what it means.

Xiamen - Jimei
Xiamen – Jimei

What to see in Xiamen?

Nanputuo Temple

Nanputuo temple is a famous Buddhist temple in Xiamen founded in the Tang dynasty. Its name means: South Putuo, because it is located at the south of a Buddhist holy site Mount Putuo in Zhejiang Province.

The temple is surrounded by beautiful mountains with many deep caves that you can enter. At the top of the mountain, there is an amazing viewpoint where you can see the University of Xiamen and the Lu River.

Xiamen - Nanputuo Temple Viewpoint
Xiamen – Nanputuo Temple Viewpoint

Visit to Gulangyu Island

I visited the island of Gulangyu (鼓浪屿). Gulangyu is a small and very touristy island with a surface area of 2 km² in front of Xiamen. It is easily reached by ferry.

If you go during the week and there aren’t many people you can take a quiet stroll through the narrow streets and visit the colonial buildings. It is also advisable to climb the Sunlight Rock where there are incredible views of the whole island of Xiamen.

On the other hand, if you go for a holiday or the weekend, forget about enjoying yourself and get ready to see only masses of Chinese.

Xiamen - Gulangyu Island
Xiamen – Gulangyu Island
Xiamen - Gulangyu Island - Beach
Gulangyu Island – Beach

What to see around Xiamen?

WuYishan and Tuluos

I lived in Xiamen for nine months until my student visa reached its expiration date. It was the time when I was least able to travel because I had almost no time.

Unfortunately, I didn’t have time to visit the mountains of WuYiShan (武夷山) and the Tulous (土楼), which are old circular buildings where about 800 people used to live together. If you have more time than me, I definitely recommend going to both places.

In June I returned to Spain, to Tarragona, to home. Since I first arrived in China almost four years had passed, of which, in total, I had only been at home for three months. I had to change the white rice each day for paella and ham sandwiches for a season. But, before that, I went to visit Hong Kong.

If you liked this post, help us to keep growing: comment, rate and/or share. And if you are thinking about going to live in China you can check this link where I talk about the most surprising things in China or my list of the best tips for travelling to China.

I fell in love with life, it’s the only one who won’t leave me without me doing it first.

Pablo Neruda –
China - Xiamen - Nanputuo Temple
China – Xiamen – Nanputuo Temple


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