The city had a few gyms and a swimming pool here and there, but in general I often felt stifled or cooped up. The partner university I went to was poorly administered, with poor facilities and a useless attitude towards its students (it must be added that this institution is no longer in partnership with Newcastle). Advice booklets on settling in were given to us one month after arrival (about a month too late!), we were forced to find our own place (more problems arose by the end of the year: we had been cheated by China Telecom and our landlady – be careful with your accommodation choice!). Locally I travelled once to Tian Chi (heavenly lake) which was stunning, and spent a night in a yurt (brilliant experience!). I visited the desert near Turpan which also made for some good photos; I would suggest you to get some mates and hire a jeep - don't take a tour bus. Some friends visited Kashgar and the point marking the middle of the Asian continent, both of which are really interesting. Hangzhou is pretty, Huangshan (Yellow Mountain) in Anhui would have been nicer if it wasn't raining, Beijing is always big with tourists and apparently Kunming smells like flowers all year round.
Useful local words: ‘Bu rao le!’ (Don't take the long route!), ‘Da biao!’ (Turn the meter on!), ‘Rachmad’ (Uygur language for "thank you").
What not to pack: Piles of clothes - perhaps I could have bought T-shirts in China instead of packing quite so many!
What to pack: Traveller's VISA card, deodorant, my laptop and my adapter plug.
Couldn't have done without: Finding the TEXAS CAFE in the Nan Men district as it's AWESOME. Paul and Jarrod (both from Texas) run it along with English-speaking Chinese staff.
Word of advice: My advice is to think carefully about the size and location of your city. If there's a place you want to go but your university says they won't set it up or give you insurance, maybe you should think about TRYING to set up a link and take your own insurance for it, sometimes I wish I'd followed my heart and gone to Jilin instead of opting for the university-provided Urumqi connection. Try to be positive regardless of a situation (I failed miserably at that). Talk to people if you are depressed or lonely! Force yourself to get out and do things and be active.
HJ, Chinese and Cultural Studies, Newcastle University