One of the best things about studying abroad is that there seems to be no end to all the different kinds of things you can do. In a culture you’ve never experienced before, everything is new and exciting. Even a routine trip to the supermarket can turn into an adventure. This can make deciding what to do with your free time a difficult task. At first it may seem overwhelming, but here are a few tips to help you decide what to do with your free time while abroad:
1. Don’t wear out the same few places – never stop exploring, especially if you’re in a big city! Once you become familiar with your surroundings, you may feel the urge to just to stay in the same neighborhood and frequent the same few restaurants and bars. This may be cool for a while, especially because you feel a sense of accomplishment now that you’ve settled in and are comfortable and familiar with your surroundings, which is awesome! What isn’t awesome is missing out on all the different things your city has to offer because you keep going to the same places over and over again. Make it a priority to plan to do a few things you’ve never done before on the weekends, whether it’s scheduling an early morning trip to the Dirt Market or checking out the ethnic minority restaurants by hou jie. As a wise friend once told me, If you’re bored on a friday night in a city that you haven’t lived in for 10 years, you’re not doing it right.
2. Especially if you’re in a big international city like Beijing, you may find that there is a vibrant ex-pat community. While it may ease the homesickness to hang out around people with whom you share a culture and native tongue, resist the urge to cling to places teeming with ex-pats! It can make immersion more difficult as well as alienate you from the native culture. Also, especially in places like China, it can end up being SUPER expensive. Find out where the locals like to hang out and go there!
3. That being said, ex-pat blogs/websites can be an indispensible resource for learning about cool things to do in your city, especially if your language skills aren’t good enough to read local papers or advertisements. Many even offer apps for your smart phone that will allow you to search for a specific kind of restaurant or store. You even look up directions or generate a “taxi card” containing the address and name of the place in Chinese that you can flash to a taxi driver and be on your way!
4.Use your resources! Being that your R.A.’s were IES students in the past, they probably know a great deal about the neighborhood and can recommend awesome things for you to do and great places to eat. They’ll be happy to share their knowledge with you.
Have fun on your adventures and 慢走！
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<p><span style="color: rgb(29, 29, 29); font-family: Arial, Verdana, sans-serif; font-size: 12px; line-height: normal; background-color: rgb(237, 237, 237);">Alexis Cobau is a Junior at the University of Michigan, majoring in Chinese and International Studies with a concentration in International security, cooperation and norms. She is excited to be returning to China for the first time since her original foray into study abroad in Harbin, China on an NSLI-Y State Department scholarship as a rising senior in High School. This will be her sixth year studying Chinese and she can't wait to spend it exploring Beijing. When not practicing her Chinese characters and tones, Alexis enjoys reading, writing, drawing and cooking.</span></p>