Beijing: The City of Family Style Dishes and Chinese Challenges

Katie Minor
January 20, 2017

It’s been exactly one week since I landed in Beijing. Orientation and getting accustomed to the in and outs of the city felt like I was in a dream. I’ve met new people, gone to new places, asked the locals for directions, ordered food (basically pointing at pictures on the menu), and have just started classes. The city is bustling with activity and I have quickly learned how to avoid any moving vehicle. Cars definitely have the right of way here!

The most challenging thing that I’ve done so far was trying to buy a Chinese phone and a SIM card at China Mobile. I had no idea what was going on, as I wasn’t familiar with Chinese vocabulary about cell phones and technology. Three people had to translate for me and by the end of the whole experience I was happy that I got out of there with a working Chinese phone! I hope one day to be able to go back and ask for data for my phone when I’m more confident with speaking Chinese.

So far, I’ve done quite a few things that I probably wouldn’t do back home. I’ve eaten a scorpion, rode the subway (Houston doesn’t have an underground subway system), and I continuously use Chinese outside of the classroom. I’m not much of an adventurous eater, but hey, it was a once in a lifetime experience!

The subways in Beijing are really fast and cheap. For the program’s orientation, we had to travel around Beijing, and the subway was the most reliable way to get to the heart of the city. I couldn't tell you exactly how to get back to where we went or which subway lines to take, but it’s a work in progress.

Speaking Chinese is very interesting. I’ve noticed here that if I’m with the IES Abroad group or walking around the streets in Beijing with a classmate, there is a greater chance that the street vendors or restaurant workers will speak English to me. When I’m walking alone to grab a snack or to get some fresh cold air, I just blend in. People just automatically speak to me in Chinese and I’ve gotten some very confused looks when I try to speak Chinese or when I try to explain that my Chinese is very bad.

Here, I feel like I’m part of a family. All of the IES Abroad students are inclusive and dinner, or any meal, often involves groups of us wandering around and looking for a restaurant, ordering family style (big dishes that we all share), and sharing information about our day. Growing up as an only child with two parents, going out with my friends in a large group for food wasn’t a common event. So I welcomed the chance to go out every night to different restaurants or to eat food at the small shops along the street.

It might sound strange, but I feel like speaking Chinese unites all of us in the program. Even though we may have come from different parts of the world or even just different areas within the United States, we all want to learn more about the culture. I might not be the greatest Chinese speaker, but being in an environment where language mistakes are normal really will help me improve my Chinese. A good motto to go by is that you can only get better!

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Katie Minor

<p>Hey everyone! I&rsquo;m a junior and I currently attend Trinity University, a small school in San Antonio, Texas. I consider myself a sociologist in training, and I&rsquo;m interested in learning and experiencing new cultures! This blog depicts my experiences in China, specifically Beijing, China&rsquo;s capital city, a long way from home! Hope you enjoy and feel free to comment!</p>

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