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Uncomfortably Getting Out of the Comfort Zone

“Skip China dude,” my friend said as he tried to convince me to stay home and go to the beach with him. The beach is a persuasive offer because it is familiar to me. I know what to expect, because I have been there so many times. It is relaxing, because I know all the ins and outs. Lying on the warm sand, it is hard not to ask why life can’t always be this easy. It is also a contained adventure. I know what freeways take, where to park and when to leave.

China, however, does not have any of these qualities. It is a pain to prepare for this eight-week journey. As I write this, I still need to pack, figure out how I am getting to the airport, and say bye to all my friends. Although in theory going to China is a great adventure, I have to admit I thought adventuring would be a bit more convenient.

However, I need to be pushed out of this false idea that life can always be easy. Growing up in the United States affords me a lot of privileges that living in other parts of the world do not have. I want to know how far removed my world is from the reality of those who live in other parts of the world, like China.

So if I am going to study abroad in China, if I am going to go through the chaotic storm of international travel, I am going to do it right. And that involves making all the inconvenient decisions, such as packing up my life and getting on that red eye flight; and getting myself out of my air-conditioned suburban house and into the humid, muggy streets of Beijing. Growth comes from experience, and often times that experience is thrusted upon you in the most inconvenient ways.

So I can’t skip China for the beach, dude.

See ya in Beijing

Hi! My name is Jessica and I am a rising junior studying Biology and Global Health, and I’m also on the premed track. I’m so excited to be studying abroad this summer and to be blogging about my experience. I chose to study abroad in Beijing on the Public Health in China program so I could learn about another country’s public health system and challenges, improve my Mandarin, and get to explore the rich cultural history of Beijing. I’ve been to Beijing twice before because some of my family members live there and I’ve seen some of the sights, but it’ll be an entirely different experience living in a dorm and not having my parents there to translate for me. I think it’ll be an interesting experience seeing how I fare with my third grade level Chinese.

I am particularly excited for taking public health and Chinese classes and for the food (so excited for the food!). I hope by the end of the program that I’ll have a better understanding of the challenges of health care from an international perspective, have learned about China and its culture, and have made some good memories along the way. It’s still pretty unbelievable to me that I’ll be studying abroad this summer, which is something that’s been on my bucket list since I got to college.

Right now I’m at O’Hare waiting for my flight. I’ll be in China a couple days before my program starts so hopefully I’ll have some time to settle in before all the madness of classes starts. I’m sitting here excited and slightly nervous, but most of all I can’t wait to get to Beijing!


Bye Chicago!


The Hot Summer Days

Huiqing Xu, NU in China, Summer 2014

Water Cube

After spending these several weeks in Beijing, I finally understand what hot and humid weather truly feels like. Stepping outside for just five minutes can leave you drenched in sweat. After enduring weeks of this weather, my friends and I decided to go to a waterpark. Not just any plain, old, overcrowded waterpark in China, but it was the waterpark inside the Water Cube in Olympic Park! We went after class on a Friday afternoon, hoping that people would still be at work and that it wouldn’t be crowded. Little did we know that the park would still be crowded regardless.

Upon arriving at the water park, we found that it was catered more towards children and families rather than young adults. The park was small and there weren’t many things to do there. There was a playground just for kids. Most of the slides were for children also. The waves in the wave pool were small. There was a raft ride down a water slide that I did enjoy very much though. It was a four person raft and we went down that slide four times in total. During our last ride, when the raft hit the bottom, my friend let go of the handles and flew off the rift. I thought it was hilarious.

I also went on this water slide that completely terrified me. In the beginning, there was a countdown and then the floor opens and you get dropped down. My friend said she heard me screaming the entire way down the slide.

Water Cube Park


Don’t take this with a grain of salt!

Joseph Hsieh, Public Health in China, Summer 2014

My go-to dish: Tomato and Egg Noodle at the “Noodles Cafeteria” on campus

Food takes center stage in China. In fact, the large variety of food available in Beijing was one reason I embarked on this study abroad. I experienced much of Beijing’s culture through my stomach. However, in addition to culture, food is also a major public health topic in China.

According to Dr. Yang Gonghuan et al., 18% of Chinese adults 15 years and older had hypertension in 2002, due in large part to high salt intake in the Chinese diet. The average daily salt intake for a reference man 18 years old, was 12g per day, which is twice that recommended by Chinese dietary guidelines.

This is just one snippet of many alarming statistics discussed during our Public Health in China class. In retrospect, my dietary experience in Beijing did indeed leave me feeling somewhat “salty” and “hyper-tensed”.

Every morning before class, I race-walk to a stall on the Peking University campus to buy Bao-Zi (meat buns). For lunch, my friends and I frequent the many “Shi-Tangs” (食堂/cafeteria) on campus. Our main staple food includes noodle, rice, congee, and more bao-zi! My go-to dish was the 西红柿鸡蛋面 (tomato and egg noodle). For dinner, we would venture around Beijing for fancier meals such as hotpot, ramen, or family-style Chinese food (though I admit, we had KFC for dinner more times than we should).

The Chinese Food Pagoda

Having eaten and lived in Beijing for 8 weeks, here are my thoughts about the food. SALTY! Almost everything is too salty for my taste. Actually, it is more like everything is too intense for my taste. The salty food is too salty, the sweet too sweet, and the spicy too spicy. Another point I noticed is the lack of vegetables and fruits in my diet. Unless I consciously make an effort to eat more greens, my diet definitely did not fit the levels laid out by the “Chinese food pagoda” (Chinese equivalent of the food pyramid). With all these observations, I can see why the prevalence of noncommunicable diseases in China has skyrocketed.

I will miss many things from my time in Beijing. From the fast and cheap Bao-Zi to the “gets-the-job-done” tomato and egg noodle, I will definitely miss the food as well. However, I will not miss the saltiness nor the lack of greens in my diet.

With hypertension looming large as a public health issue in China, please don’t take this with a grain of salt!



时间的再见 (time for goodbye- it rhymes in chinese)

Chloe Harrington, Public Health in China, Summer 2014

I literally have 20 minutes until I am kicked out of my room here at Beida, and I wanted to save this last post for reflection on my time here.

As I write this final blog post from China, it is with a heavy heart; by that I mean that I have truly had an amazing experience here in Beijing this summer and made some unforgettable memories and friends. This summer has been such a culture shock in the best way. I feel that I am just getting used to Beijing and its quirks, and I am so sad to be leaving so soon. The past 8 weeks have absolutely flown by.

The one person who has truly touched my heart that I will be leaving behind in Beijing, though, is my language buddy who was assigned to me through the NU-PKU program. I met him on the first day in Beijing and he has been a constant, joyful presence in not only my life but those of all my friends here. He genuinely took an interest in all of our lives and was an amazing friend to all of us. He took us out and really showed us Beijing as he saw it as a local. Today we had to say goodbye to him and there was not a dry eye in the house.

It is not just Li Zhongmin that I will miss, though, as the Chinese people here on campus in general have been friendly and welcoming this whole time.

I really hope that I will be able to come back some day. But, to say all this has been easy would be a lie, it was definitely an adjustment. The culture here is extremely different and it really took some effort to understand and communicate with the people here. Also, as the saying goes- there is no place like home. To effectively sum up my feelings, I shall make two lists:

Things I will miss:

  • Friends
  • Li Zhongmin
  • Food
  • The strength of the US dollar (aka 50 cent lunches)
  • Tea
  • Excursions to amazing places that are nearby
  • Adventure
  • The calves I recently developed (see previous post)
  • Chopsticks (I really got used to them)
  • Learning Chinese as I live here
  • Stares (sometimes it was very nice and I got to pose for photos with cute children)
  • Jianbing lady (the best breakfast I’ve ever had, hands down)


Things I will NOT miss:

  • Crowds
  • Lack of effective line formation in public places
  • Squat toilets (without doors sometimes)
  • No internet
  • No cellular data (how am I supposed to look up google maps?)
  • Umbrellas regardless of the weather
  • Stares (sometimes it was downright weird)

And with that,
I am rolling my suitcases out the door as I type.


(goodbye Beijing, and thank you.)

clean air while in Beijing (hiking and other nature excursions)

Chloe Harrington, Public Health in China, Summer 2014

This post will be devoted to the various hiking and outdoors trips that I have made over the summer.

IMG_4832The first was hiking the Great Wall. We drove about 2 hours away from campus to a less-touristy section of the Great Wall. This section still had a quaint little town that surrounded it at the foot of the hills, which was quite overpriced. The hike was honestly one of the most tasking physical exercises I have ever undertaken in my life. I am obviously not very in shape, and I was attempting to keep pace with a division 1 athlete, who was basically at a jog the whole time. I realized my folly too late, though, and let me tell you- my calves have not been the same since. The day was intensely hot, I think it was about 95 F, but the sun was hidden by the even more intense Beijing fog, which made the views not as optimal as they could have been. Not to say that the views weren’t amazing, just that they are not evident in any of the photos that I took. We hiked for the better part of the morning/ afternoon, then we took a toboggan ride down. Yep, a $10 USD ticket allowed us to sled down the side of a mountain, which was so much fun until we all got traffic jammed behind a family and we had to go slowly the rest of the way. Regardless, it was my first time going to the Great Wall and it was relatively early on in the trip, so everything was just amazing to me. The pure history of China has never ceased to fascinate me throughout the trip. On one excursion we went to the Beijing Museum, where they had an exhibit specifically devoted to the history of China versus what was happening in the Western Hemisphere. We were 3/4 of the way through when George Washington appeared.

IMG_2342The next nature experience I had was an herb-picking excursion planned by Professor Gu on an unrestored portion of the Great Wall. We really had no idea what to expect- I personally thought that we would be brought to a large field and expected to work our way through picking herbs, but it turned out to be much more of a winding path hike up to the wall then back down. The best part of the trip, hands down, was our 70-year old guide, Daya, clad in army camouflage, wielding a hand axe and a leather purse. He led us on about a 3 hour hike; when we got there, Professor Gu bought us fireworks from a man selling them on the wall (we were in the middle of nowhere so this salesman was very confusing to me). These were Chinese fireworks, which he didn’t really warn us about. They were SO loud, the first time we set one off, there was not one of us who wasn’t running for cover and ducking. We set off 10 of them and then continued on our hike back down.

The third time I went hiking this trip was actually just a few days ago, when a group of friends and I went to the Fragrant Hills of Beijing. This name, however, is a misnomer, because they are neither hills nor fragrant. It is in fact a very high mountain that mostly smells like just normal fresh air. It was a beautiful clear day, so we got an amazing view of Beijing. The hike was grueling, comparable to the first time we hiked the Great Wall, which is saying something (obviously the time we hiked with a 70 year old guide was slightly less fast paced than with the athlete in lead, although he really didn’t go that slowly). Anyway, we got to the top, where it was disputed whether we saw a horse or not in the bushes; the group is still divided on the topic, but I did not see any horses. The hike up was very well paved, but the hike down we decided to go off-roading. We walked down some very steep and slightly dangerous dirt paths but eventually reached a pagoda where a group of people in business-casual were having a chat. This was confusing because the only path to this place was a very steep and difficult dirt path and these people were not dirty or sweaty. They chatted with us and tested our Chinese a little bit by messing with us, then eventually we parted ways on different paths. This hike was amazing, and the view was unforgettable.

Although I am not a huge nature person or an athletic one, I am really glad I got to explore nature and some of the beauty that Beijing has to offer.


On Beijing Wandering

Jeffrey Bilik, NU in China, Summer 2014

If there’s one thing I can recommend to do in Beijing on your own, it’s to wander out and find as much as you can. The city is full of layers, and every neighborhood can be a different world into itself. A thirty minute peek through Beijing’s central Sanlitun neighborhood can get you through Persian and Turkish restaurants, the Egyptian and Syrian embassies, bright lit malls selling every kind of knock off, Arab cafes – all next to extremely modern, see-through-glass luxury brand stores. Signs for Chuanr (street-food lamb skewers!) light up every back street, the crowds rush by.

Walk around Hohhai – one of Beijing’s most popular public lakes – at night, where Chinese bands play live covers, blasting music out of nearby restaurants, groups of men and women play hackeysack better than anyone you’ve ever met, and the world is lit with neon through the commercialized Hutongs.

There are neighborhoods with guitar shops and bars lining the streets, huge plazas amid high-rises, old men walking by wearing radios that play dramatic sounding classics. There’s so much more to Beijing than just its deep rooted culture – and it’s up to you to find it.

Three Cities in Seven Days (and how not to get ripped off)

Jeffrey Bilik, NU in China, Summer 2014

Over the one week break between the two class sessions in our class, a few of us decided to visit Nanjing, Suzhou, and Qingdao. We stayed at hostels – from a 1930’s Republican style building in Nanjing with a roaming puppy and rabbit, to one built out old German church in Qingdao. We climbed the Purple Mountain, I swam in the Pacific Ocean for the first time in my life, saw culture from the silk and gardens of Suzhou to the (sad, but informative and well formatted) Nanjing Massacre Museum, to the colonial neighborhoods of Qingdao.

One of the biggest lessons we’ve learned, however, was in Qingdao. While walking through one of the old town’s sprawling outdoor restaurants and seafood markets, we found something good to eat for dinner. A lobster – and they said it only cost 160 kuai (split among the four of us, sounded like a great deal)! A great and messy meal later (try eating lobster with chopsticks), we find out its 160 PER POUND, and the bill turns out to be astronomically higher! Luckily, we were able to pay, but it definitely taught us a lesson to always stay aware and cautious even while enjoying China to the utmost.

Another Qingdao hostel is built out of an observatory on a hill overlooking the shiny-new skyscraper filled coast. We met a local who had backpacked through Tibet and Guangxi and who told us about his past and personal philosophy. Though my Chinese is still very limited (getting better every day now!), and we could only hold a conversation because of his excellent English skills, one of the best parts of being in this country is the opportunity to meet and speak to people here.

“Wait, where am I supposed to put that needle?” TCM in Beijing

Chloe Harrington, Public Health in China, Summer 2014 

The past few weeks have been insanely packed with amazing food, extremely accelerated Chinese language learning, adventures, travel, fun, and, of course, limited internet access that I squander away on Netflix because nobody is ever awake to talk to me with the 12 hour time difference. Since I haven’t posted in a while, there is absolutely no way that I could scratch the surface of these past few weeks with one post, so I will have to break this up into segments, throwing anecdotes into future posts. I’d like to focus this particular post on one of my classes though; Traditional Chinese Medicine.

MoxibustionThis week in TCM has been extra exciting; today we had a professor teach us acupuncture techniques, then he let us practice on each other! When he finished placing a needle in my classmate’s arm, he said “are you guys ready to give it a try?” I 100% thought this guy was joking. 5 minutes later I was sticking a needle in my friend’s arm and hoping for the best. Turns out, I didn’t seriously injure anyone, which is a relief given my pre-med aspirations. Next, we practiced moxibustion, which involves putting a mound of ground up moxi root on your skin and then setting it on fire, which burns through to the skin. Moxibustion uses generally the same point placement techniques as acupuncture, so the intended effects were supposedly the same. Again, 5 minutes later, we were lighting each other’s skin on fire. This technique actually stung pretty badly, but when the root was all consumed, there was an intense comforting warming sensation running down the arm, which completely made up for the burn. My classmates and I all now have matching burn marks on our Nei Guan (inner elbow) points, but then again, it is very common in China to see marks of TCM practices on people every day out in public.

AcupunctureWe then learned an exercise technique called Qi Gong, which we have actually seen people doing out in the parks at night (they just spontaneously gather anywhere there is open public space– honestly, I have seen gatherings of the elderly doing random exercises everywhere. There is a lady who practices this particular kind, Qi Gong, outside my window at 6 am, solo, complete with her peaceful music blasting from her boom box.) We practiced all 8 poses for about an hour, and it was very relaxing, yet energy boosting!

photo-3That was just today. Yesterday we had a TCM herbal medicine practitioner bring in a bunch of different herbal elements of medicinal recipes and we had a taste-testing session. He explained what type of nature (cold or hot) each herb or animal product was, what uses it could be provided for, etc. I also learned that I never truly knew the “essence” of bitter before. He handed us a bright orange root, Coptis, which is used to clear excess heart fire (not heartburn, TCM has very specific meanings that don’t translate well into English). We had been eating everything willingly up until that point, so we went ahead and popped them into our mouths, and quickly realized our mistake. As we all painfully chewed, he gloatingly announced that there was an old Chinese saying that translated into “only the foolish man will eat Coptis.” The taste was in my mouth for 2 hours.

All in all, the past two days were a very interesting experience, and we really got to see our lectures put into action. TCM is a fascinating field of study, and I feel so lucky to have studied under such highly acclaimed professionals in the field. This is honestly a once in a lifetime experience that I wouldn’t trade for anything, which has sparked a great interest in me to continue studying TCM and alternative health therapies. I will definitely be making myself a mixture of “harmonizing Qi” tea when I am back at school!

I’ll leave this post at that, as I will have lots more to write after the weekend. Tomorrow we are going herb picking in the mountains, right off of the Great Wall of China. We are told it will be a 4 hour hike to the herb spot, and I could not be more excited. Even if I only collect one herb, it will be an unforgettable experience. As if that wasn’t exciting enough, 8 of my friends and I will be on a red-eye to Shanghai tomorrow night at 9pm, just 3 hours after we are done at the Great Wall;. We are literally going from the wall to the airport, which will be an interesting experience to say the least. We are going to be visiting our NU friends who are members of the Wanxiang Fellows program and see them off as they prepare to leave China this Sunday!



Up the Great Wall

Huiqing Xu, NU in China, Summer 2014

These past few weeks have passed by in the blink of an eye. Over such a short period of time, we’ve visited many different places. We went to the Great Wall, the Forbidden City, two museums, and a law office. My favorite Saturday excursion was the trip to the Great Wall. We took the bus there early in the morning, but when we arrived, the temperature already rose to the unbearable afternoon levels.

We walked up to the top of the wall by foot, which was maybe about three quarters of a mile of stairs. I was out of breath after the first quarter, and by the second quarter, I was about to start crawling up those stairs. In the end, the hike was worth it. The view was amazing at the top! You could see the top of the trees and mountains. These pictures might do a better job explaining than my words would:

View from the Great Wall

IPD at the Great Wall

Toboggan down the Great Wall!

Aside from all the excursions and after-class adventures, the main focus of my trip is school. The schoolwork is a lot heftier than I had expected. We have classes five days a week. There are 3 hours of Chinese class every morning followed by a 2 hour lunch break and a 2 hour political economy course. There is quite a bit of studying and homework for my Chinese class, but we have a very small class, which I find to be very helpful.

Chinese IV class