As soon as I tell someone that I am spending my summer in China, the first response is usually, “Wow, that’s amazing! Why China?” I explain that I am participating in UF in Beijing where we go to Tsinghua University to teach English at their summer camp. The person finds this incredible, and it is! But then follows up with many comments and questions:
“Are you worried about the food?”
“Don’t use the water!”
“What can you eat there?”
“Oh my god they eat dog there, and scorpions.”
“What’s the time difference?”
“YOU CAN’T GET FACEBOOK IN CHINA!” *insert look of horror or here*
“Oh the air is horrible! Bring a breathing mask!!!”
But going abroad to a country that I knew absolutely nothing about, my concerns were none of these. Sure I was worried about the food and annoyed that I would have to use bottled water to brush my teeth (toothpaste crust, ew). I could live six weeks without Facebook and I brought an inhaler to deal with the poor air quality.
All of this excited me. Don’t get me wrong, it is definitely terrifying. The alphabet is new and the English translations don’t always make sense. Very few people in Beijing speak English also, so my charade skills have gotten pretty good. Other than hand gestures, there are other always to converse with someone. There are facial expressions and even other languages. At a bar the other night, a friend and I had a conversation in Spanish with two Chinese girls.
Traveling to China strengthens independence. It’s a growing experience and you have to pull on all of your knowledge to survive. Ordering food can be an ordeal. Your survival skills don’t come from your voice; they come from your ability to recognize ingredients in pictures on the menu and the ability to point. I know the word for pork but I don’t know the word for please. I do know thank you though, I haven’t lost all my manners ;P
Culture shock is also something that can hinder assimilation. I feel like I haven’t been affected by it, though. There are definitely things that shock me (most babies don’t wear diapers and instead have slits in their pants) and things I find frustrating. One of the frustrating things is also very entertaining: trying to do laundry.
It seems like a given that the laundry machines would be in Chinese but I didn’t process this until I needed to do laundry. It’s so difficult! Luckily, there’s a laundry service that will do it for you! It’s 30 RMB for two loads washed and dried. It’s great! But the woman who does it doesn’t speak English. Let the game of pointing begin! It takes about 10 minutes to explain what I want but I end up with clean clothes the following day.
Being here in China is a struggle sometimes, but it’s a struggle anywhere in a new city. Once you orient yourself, everything else falls into place.