I recently just finished a 2 months internship in China. Well, recently, I mean last summer. It was in order to practice the mandarin that I’ve been learning for the past year, and also to discover the beautiful chinese culture. At first I was a bit afraid to go, because you know being black and tall it was sure that I would no doubt stand out from the crowd, which at the time was really not something that I was looking for. But then as we entered the year 2016 I started to introduce that idea to my parents. Because as much as I was scared of that idea, I was really excited and I wanted to go discover the unknown. Eventually, the more I was trying to convince them that there was nothing to worry about, that everything would be taken care of by the university, since it was a group internship, the more I became interested and persuaded myself.
It was just an opportunity that I could not miss. So after I convinced my parents, I went on with the procedures. But while I was doing that, I also started to prepare myself for the time of my life. Although I knew that being there was of course gonna be a blast, I was still a bit apprehensive about me being there. So I decided to go with this thought : «I know people are gonna look at me differently, weirdly, and all, but it does’t matter. I will leave my insecurities here and go with a blank page. No stereotypes, no negative thoughts. Just a blank page where I will write whatever comes my way». And it worked ! Because being there knowing that I was different, that they were different, keeping that thought, I didn’t judge them. I just took what I saw and what they gave me to be part of who they were, nothing less, nothing more. And that helped me to get out of my insecurities (for some time before they harassed me with pictures lol) and see their culture for what it was and not for what people want us to see.
Here I will be sharing with you the 10 things that I have learned from my two months in China !
They are a lot !
This was a thought that came to me one day as I was going to the university. I realized that for all the time that I have been there, I almost have never seen a person twice ! Obviously when we talk about a billion of people you expect to see a big crowd but with the size of the country I thought it wouldn’t be that different from the U.S. But every place we went it was crowded even the not touristic places. So if you are scared of big crowds, get ready to be amazed.
They are really welcoming
For the time that I have been there, I was in a host family and they were really welcoming. Of course they were intrigued about me, they had never seen an black person before. They asked me about my hair, my country etc. But they were really understanding about my own beliefs, and we had no problem about asking each other questions when we did not understand the other. And it was the same with the students that were accompanying us. They were so kind, they would stop what they were doing just to come help you with small things like going to the bank or to a store.
They can be rude even though they’re so nice
One thing that all the strangers who went to China will tell you is that they can be really rude sometimes. And that comes from the fact that they are so curious about you that they somehow make you uncomfortable. For example some of them will come to you for pictures or even videos, at first it doesn’t really bother you because you kinda understand that they might have never seen a stranger before. But after a while being so much asked, you become a bit annoyed by that. And the thing that tops it off is when they start acting like paparazzis. They don’t ask you any permission and that is really enervating. Usually when they are alone thats when they ask you for your permission, but when they are in groups they are unstoppable haha. Which brings me to my next point.
Get ready to lose your comfort bubble
Somehow there is a paradoxe between them braking the barrier of your personal space and the fact that people who are touching each other can only be related. Touching someone there can mean a great deal depending on where you are touching them so you should be careful with that. But for instance in public transportations, they have no restrain into pushing you to get inside or to get outside. You would say that’s the same here in north america. But no. You have no idea how hard they push you (lol even grandmas) and some of them don’t even care. Also if you have Chinese friends don’t be offended if they ask you personal questions like do you have boyfriend/girlfriend? do you work ? how much do you make ? etc. Because thats just curiosity and a way to make conversation. Even though most of them would not answer these questions.
Traffic laws are subjective
Already out of the airport you would see my point. And it’s sometimes even worst in small towns. Some people really don’t care about how they drive as long as they get safely to their destination. If you went there, sat on a bench to look at the scenery, you would see what I call an «organized chaos». You would see people crossing the road when they want, cars driving on the other side of the road, or stopping when ever they want, motorbikes doing the same or just turning right , turn around and go left when they don’t want to wait for the green light. And these are just some examples. I don’t know how many times we’ve been scared for our lives, and I come from Africa where it’s approximatively the same, even though China has another level.
Things are cheap
Most of the things there are really cheap. You can eat all day for less than five dollars. But be careful though, things escalate real quick. What I mean by that is, even though things seems really cheap when you put it all together, you might get to hundreds of dollars. You don’t realize at first because you think it’s cheap and it does’t really matter. But unless you are millionaire,you are going to want to think twice before waisting your money somewhere un-needed. You might need some extra cash at the end of the trip.
Carrying an umbrella on a sunny day is not weird
Summers in China are reeaallly hot ! You sometimes can’t even get out without having a sun burn, or a spinning head, and those times, it is really hard to know what you’re doing. At first I thought it was weird to carry an umbrella with the sun shining. But when there are no trees, no shadows and the sun is actually burning, there is no time to think about what is or what is not weird. Usually the umbrellas are doubled with a sun-proof cloth which is really handy so look out for that kind if you’re going in summer, because the next day might also rain too. Some part of China have real bipolar weathers.
They are hard workers
Already at an early age, Chinese people are trained to success. Even when they just start school they already have english, piano (or some kind of instrument), dance classes on top of colouring classes. I was amazed at what my Chinese little sister could already do at six. And that doesn’t stop there because the competition between students, to get to the best universities aka Beijing’s is real. In university on top of their major classes, they usually have a sport class. I don’t think it’s terrible because they have the opportunity to learn so much, but the way some of them are living just to get to the best universities, is really not healthy sometimes they burnout. But I guess it’s kind of the same here too for some people.
Students and teachers are really close
This happens mostly in university. I guess that’s when teachers actually understand that we are humans too and that the way they make us work is not normal lol. For example sometimes some teachers will invite some of the students to dinner or to celebrate something. Or when there is a teacher who is pregnant and in vacation, they will bring her a little something. But all of this is of course always coming with a lot of respect from the students. That is something that is always present in the daily life, the respect for elderlies.
You have to wake up early
This last one is actually a lesson that they taught me. You have to wake up early so that you can make the most out of your day, but also because they all wake up so early that you are always running behind, and they do not wait for you. Almost everybody wake up at about 5 to 6 am there. Because they are students, shop keepers, workers etc. And even those that are retired wake up that early to do tai-chi (martial art) which keeps them really sturdy for their age. But also the fact that they are waking up so early allows them to have a bit more time before they start their day. For instance they can have a bit more family time, eat together, talk, drink tea (even though it’s tea time every moment of the day) before going to work or to school. And that is one of the thing that I really admire about them.