Welcome to Beijing, Here’s Some Toilet Paper!

Crystal Mak
June 11, 2016
At the Bird's Nest!

For all those back at home wondering why I haven’t answered your calls or texts, I AM ALIVE and I am so sorry, but the Wi-Fi and data here is just not the same as back in the States.  I will try my best to keep in touch!

Our summer program is comprised of nine students total, two of which returned from previous semesters to study more Chinese.  While the group is small, we've already grown to be a family!

This week has been a pretty large cultural adjustment ever since I landed in Beijing about a week ago.  Although I was raised in a Chinese family, have Chinese friends, visited various Chinatowns, and travelled to Hong Kong, living here in Beijing completely surprised me with its own unique flavor. 

Dorm Life

When we arrived, our RA Alexa gave us toilet paper as a welcome gift.  She explained that the toilets in China do not normally stock toilet paper or have soap at the sinks, so we need to bring some wherever we go.  Thankfully, our dorms have Western style toilets, which made adjusting slightly easier (This isn’t to say I haven’t already experienced the toilets that are on the ground!).  We also get to live with a Chinese roommate to help us adjust to the local language and culture.  I was gifted with my wonderful Braven who is the most kindest and knowledgeable roommate ever!  Other than that, we need to adjust to our very cozy bedroom space and weak Wi-Fi.

Social Media

When you decide to live in China, you have to learned the ways of WeChat, a popular social media app used in China, to connect with people.  I use it to connect with all the other IES Abroad students, RAs, teachers, Chinese hallmates, and new friends.  Being immersed in the culture not only means to use the language or eat the food, but also use the products and technologies within the culture.  I even found out that people can also use the app to pay for things.  No, you don't need Facebook and Twitter here!  However, I made sure to get a VPN in case I ever wanted to have access to American sites back at home.


Though IES tries its best to make sure the students are well adjusted and have fun, we also have to go to class!  We took a Chinese language pledge before our first class on Monday and swore to only speak Chinese while on campus.  Basically, we get by through very animated gestures, broken Chinese and our favorite translation app, Pleco! We have language intensive classes on all the weekdays except Wednesday from 9AM-12PM.  However, most of us wake up at around 5AM to study for our daily dictation quizzes.  To be honest, I don’t think I have slept in since I landed in Beijing, but the classes so far have been doable.

Mystery Beijing

For one of our orientation activities, we had the chance to explore Beijing through a scavenger hunt.  Our team decided to go the Olympic Park and see the Bird's nest.  Since it was a weekday when we went, the park was relatively empty, which made for a great photo opportunity to take many pictures!


Since most of the signs in Beijing are written in Chinese, it is a constant struggle to navigate what food to eat.  One of these memorable moments was when a group of us IES Abroad students made some great decisions to ditch our Chinese-speaking friends and fend for ourselves to order dinner.  We decided to go to a place that has a great variety of barbequed skewers and seafood.  With each table we passed by it seemed like they were eating like kings.  Finally, it was our turn to order and apparently, pointing at the items in the menu only did half of the job.  We actually ended up with 1 chicken skewer each, one crawfish each and 1 giant grilled squid on a stick!  Though we were confused and still hungry, we learn from our mistakes.  Next time I go, I hope to order like a pro!

There are a few moments when I forget that I am Chinese in China until I find people start talking to me in Chinese and expect perfectly articulated Chinese answer.  This was the case when I had to take my placement test during the oral portion.  One of the three teachers began to ask me questions, and while I knew most of the words she was saying, I did not have the words to respond.  Silence filled the room and I could see the disappointment on their faces.  Thankfully, I was placed in the level that I wanted to be in.  While this is a minor incident, I can’t help but feel the constant pressure to learn Mandarin Chinese so that I can break down the barriers and build connections with my people.

Though I am still adjusting to the environment, I have to keep reminding myself that it is only the first week!  One moment you feel that you are experiencing Grand Theft Auto in real life at the back of a taxi and the next you find yourself squatting in a toilet that is a hole in the ground while wearing a mask.  On the other hand, I have already seen some clear blue skies and eaten pizza.  I’m excited to see what next week brings!

Crystal Mak

<p>I'm a senior studying Media and Communications &amp; Chinese at the University of Maryland Baltimore County. I enjoy traveling, hiking, and delicious food. I am so excited to share all my new experiences in China with you all! Join me as I journey to find the tastiest dumplings, peking duck and noodles that Beijing has to offer while I balance my studies.</p>

2016 Summer 1, 2016 Summer 2
Home University:
University of Maryland+ Baltimore County
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