There’s so much that I have learned about China in these short few months, but there’s also so much still to learn. Like most things, studying abroad in Beijing has positive and negative qualities. All in all, I’m happy to have studied in Beijing even if I experienced some difficulties along the way.
Exposed to an Authentic Culture: The “Real China”
Not only have I been exposed to a culture different from my own, but also I've been included in it! I found out pretty quickly how Chinese residents feel about Americans and their “lack” of clothes. My roommate constantly reminds me to not forget to wear my coat despite how hot it is. Here, I’ve literally eaten so much during meals that I was sure someone would have to carry me out of the restaurant! And I still get offered more food!
I definitely had my fair share of honest answers and blunt questions, from questions ranging from “Do you have a boyfriend” from people I was just getting to know to “Your tones really need some work.” This took some time to get used to, but I know it’s not meant to be an insult. Sometimes, it’s even comforting to know people want to get to know you on a deeper level.
Every day, all day, I'm able to apply what I’ve learned in the classroom to conversations out on the streets. To me, nothing seems more rewarding than being able to remember and correctly use vocabulary from my textbook lessons. Even though I’m learning a language, I’m also learning about the culture at the same time. As I mentioned before, I’m not afraid to say I don’t understand and am not afraid to make lots of mistakes.
Bonding with Others
Before the program started, I didn’t know a single soul. So not only did I get to meet people living in China, but I also had the opportunity to meet Americans from all over the United States! In such a short time, I saw how quickly friendships were formed and how easy it was to get to know someone from a different culture. Being an only child (well, growing up as one) I didn't have to share anything. Being here has shown me the importance of sharing and bonding with others. It’s always nice to walk into my room after a long day and see food on my desk from my roommate. We often share both food and our life stories with each other.
As my labor movement professor here always says, “When you are a foreigner, there are no sensitive questions.” As a so called “foreigner” or 外国人, I can get by with making mistakes when speaking, but I'm also subject to being questioned about what life is like in America. I found that saying you're from America to anyone in the University’s cafeteria is a great conversation starter!
Being a foreigner, but looking like a native, definitely has its perks as I mentioned in previous blogs. I am not as much of an anomaly as some of my IES Abroad peers on the surface, but there are still times where people here can’t grasp that I’m a Chinese American. Or even the fact that I’ve grown up in the US and can speak perfect English.
I don’t know how it’s possible, but I swear that China has the freshest fruit I’ve ever tasted. Cooked food is so good, too- and the best part is that it’s authentic! You can get food from anywhere around the university. The hardest part is reading the menu! Speaking for myself, I am a cautious eater so I was a little hesitant about trying street food. However, when I saw other Americans eating certain dishes I joined in the fun. A good rule of thumb is that if a restaurant or street vendor has a lot of customers, it’s probably safe.
Pollution & Weather
Sure, some days are worse than others regarding the pollution, but overall I’ve been really lucky this semester. In general, the winter has more polluted days than the summer, so since it has been warming up, I can see blue skies and don’t have to turn on the air purifier as much. We did have a sandstorm warning this month, but it wasn’t as bad as I had expected.
Access to Wi-Fi and finding a fast, reliable Internet connection has been one of the biggest challenges. What I’ve learned from dealing with Internet issues is that it is important to be patient. As a dorm student, the best spot for Wi-Fi is hands down the IES Abroad library. Now, I can say I definitely have a better appreciation of my school’s Wi-Fi back home!
Adjusting to a new culture can be quite an experience. Sometimes, looking back, it can result in a funny story to tell or a completely embarrassing experience. I remember in Yunnan I stuck my chopsticks in our bus driver's rice bowl, mistakenly thinking it was the bowl for everyone to share. Needless to say, that was the last time I made that mistake!
When dealing with cultural differences as a whole, I think it’s important to remember to be flexible and understand the way things are done back home (wherever that may be) isn’t necessarily the “correct” way to do something. Sometimes little things may be frustrating or a new experience- like using an Eastern toilet and not having things like soap and toilet paper in public restrooms. But just like everything, it’s important to be able to adapt and make the best of every situation you encounter when studying aboard. The best part is I feel that I’ll remember my experiences here for the rest of my life.
More Blogs From This Author
<p>Hey everyone! I’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’m interested in learning and experiencing new cultures! This blog depicts my experiences in China, specifically Beijing, China’s capital city, a long way from home! Hope you enjoy and feel free to comment!</p>