Capital Normal University
Students who choose to study in Beijing through the Capital Normal University will be directly enrolled, without the aid of a liaison program. Capital Normal was founded in 1954, and is ranked consistently among China's top universities. At any given time, CNU is home to around 25,000 enrolled students. Students may choose to live either on-campus in dormitories, or off-campus through independent housing. Meals will be provided through campus cafeterias, and students will have full access to amenities such as the university library, gymnasium with basketball and football courts, and internet bar. Intensive Chinese language classes are provided for international students in addition to the general roster of university courses. For students with less experience with the Chinese language, for whom the program serves as an intense introduction, select courses are offered in English. This program is recommended to students interested in a driven year or semester of learning Chinese, as well as direct academic and cultural immersion in Beijing. Autonomy is a necessity, and students must be prepared to navigate their time abroad with little guidance. At least one year of college-level Chinese is recommended before applying for this program.
The academics were pretty straightforward, since the program was entirely centered around language acquisition. In this regard I would say that if you're going to China with the aim of improving your Chinese, this program is perfect. Although, sitting in a white-washed room for four hours a day listening to Chinese can, at times, prove to be pretty boring and repetitive. Other than the language classes, Capital Normal offers other 'elective' style classes such as Calligraphy and Tai-Chi which seemed to be sort of second-thought additions to the curriculum as a way to make the program seem more rounded. Housing is really great. I can't say that I ever wanted for anything during my time in the dorms. Cafeteria food is really cheap and pretty good. If you feel comfortable in Beijing, try finding an apartment off campus with Chinese people. Because you're living in an "international culture plaza", which is it's own campus dedicated in part to the Chinese for foreigners program, it's really easy to never leave the dorm building/academic building, and only speak english. I learned a lot about Chinese tradition and society, and my Chinese improved greatly. As a history major focusing primarily on modern China, it's hard to imagine continuing my education for the next two years without living in China, and gaining a more definite sense of the Chinese tradition and mentality.
Quality of instruction was consistently high, but study materials were often unsatisfying. I had one class each semester taught by an excellent teacher with an excellent textbook, but one class in the first semester and two in the second featured a capable teacher and a cripplingly poor textbook. Teachers in this position acknowledge how bad the textbook is, but continue teaching from it exclusively with very little classroom time devoted to anything else. Aside from these minor frustrations, I was consistently pleased with academics at CNU. I lived comfortably in the student dorms for the entire first semester and the first month of second semester, and then I moved off-campus into an apartment with Chinese roommates. The International Student Plaza is a comfortable bubble, or a bubble of comfort, where a maid will come and change your sheets once a week. I moved out not because of any physical discomfort; I just thought I would learn Chinese more quickly outside. Be sure you have completed at least one year of Chinese language study before you arrive. Once you get to Beijing there will be an unfathomable amount of Chinese hurtling at you from all directions, one should not go in without having learned the basics. If you go in already knowing the fundamentals of pronunciation, able to recognize a decent amount of basic Chinese characters, and in possession of open eyes and ears open, you will find yourself surrounded by opportunities to learn Chinese everywhere all the time. You can become a sponge and soak everything up if you are properly prepared.