Skip to main content

Blog

My heart is still in China.

It’s been exactly a month since my return home, and I still remember it like it was yesterday. Now that I’m back on campus, my friends want to know everything about my time abroad. But the experience I had there simply can’t be described in just a few words. There’s nothing like being in the country and experiencing the culture for yourself.

 

dscn1078

 

Prior to this trip, I set out to improve my language skills and knowledge of the country. And while I certainly did that, I gained something even more valuable: the ability to see the world in a new lens. It was important for me to be able to see the world from their view and not just my own American view. It was troubling for me to think of Chinese customs as “weird” or “foreign” because to them it’s their way of life and it assumes that American customs are somehow more “normal” or “dominant.” Deconstructing those views and tendencies was difficult, but important. Being able to see the country for what it is, but also to understand why it is was a humbling and life-changing experience. It felt as if my life-goal of being a global citizen had been realized for the first time. Reflecting on it now, the realization that there exists a whole other world outside the U.S was both peaceful and fulfilling. And I believe that I have much more to learn.

 

My lovely Chinese 3 crew.

My lovely Chinese 3 crew.

 

From climbing very large mountains to making new friends, my trip to China was one of growth and exploration. To anyone thinking of studying abroad, I’d say do it if you have the chance. The difficulty and exhaustion that it brings is worth the adventure and newfound appreciation for the world that you’ll come away with.

Absence Makes the Heart Grow Fonder

I had high expectations for China. The Political and Economic Development Program looked like it was made for me: it was hosted by my father’s alma mater, it was in my mom’s hometown with all of my relatives, and I LOVE economics, there was no way that it could not be totally perfect. But the first day, on the bus ride to Peking University, all I saw were dreary, identical communist-era apartment buildings, blending together in the grey smog-covered skies, and I was drowning, not only under my expectations, but also under the humidity and heat of China in the dead of summer.

But my problem was not China, it was the fact that I expected my life to change in one day, and it was the fact that I expected it to all happen at once. My life did change, I absolutely did have that life-changing, once-in-a-lifetime study abroad experience, but it took until now to realize what I truly gained. I see now what people say about the importance of reflection, because I really needed this distance, physical and in the context of time, to see how this journey benefitted me.

I think that college is about more than just a degree and a job; it is about exploration, trying new things, and gaining perspective. So although this didn’t outright change my major or what I want to do in the future, or my direction in life, it did change the way that I see the world, and the way that I carry myself, so it did change the way that I will approach that direction. I can say that, without a doubt, traveling with a group of people that I had previously not been friends with has simultaneously forced me to become more independent, but also challenged me to work on my team skills. I have grown, but in tandem with the other 30/40-something students on this program, and that is something I never had the chance to do in a traditional school setting. I got to learn about China, in the context of China, from professors who grew up in China, and that perspective, unclouded by Western bias was a truly amazing one to be exposed to. All of these personal gains could not have been learned by reading a book or writing an essay, so yes, this study abroad experience changed me. Not all at once, not immediately, but I see the results, and these small personal milestones will carry me to the next ones.

My Chinese Class at the Closing Banquet

My Chinese Class at the Closing Banquet

 

Back home…

September 14, 2016, and it’s been exactly a month since I left Beijing. It’s still hard for me to believe that I spent two months abroad in Beijing. The two months really flew by. It was hard to adjust at first – the language barrier, the different culture, the hot and humid weather, and especially the squat toilets. As I look back on my experience now, I realized that I actually experienced so much. I got to climb the Great Wall, both the restored section and the unrestored section. I also got to see the Forbidden City, Temple of Heaven, the Summer Palace, Peking Opera, and an acrobatic show. Not only did I get to visit famous spots in Beijing, but I also got to travel to Shanghai and experience a different Chinese city and culture. Through the IMC class, I also had the chance to visit big marketing companies, such as Ogilvy, Tencent, BlueFocus, and even Google! I have learned so much about China and its people and its culture during this trip. My perceptions of China before have changed completely after this summer. I also had the chance to eat authentic Chinese food. My favorite was the jianbing station on our way to campus – only 5 yuan but so tasty! All of the eggplant dishes I ate were also really good.

There were tough times during the two months when I wanted to quit and go home, but in the end, I’m still grateful I had the chance to experience the culture, study the language, eat all the foods, and meet great people.

Chinese 3

Chinese 3

Google in Beijing

Google in Beijing

 

3 Weeks Later – Finding Common Ground

25 days ago, I packed up my bags and left my dorm at Beida (PKU), and took a 13-hour flight back to Chicago and a 4-hour drive to west Michigan. I’m home! I honestly can’t believe it’s already been so long – the time’s flown by fast, and I still remember a lot of my experiences in China pretty vividly. With that in mind, I thought I’d share some of my main takeaways from the trip – not so much personal takeaways, but takeaways on China and America themselves.

  1. China's roads are always packed, especially in larger cities.

    China’s roads are always packed, especially in larger cities.

    1. Transportation needs aren’t met in either America or China – although China’s cities have a huge public transportation infrastructure, it’s not nearly enough to change any of the problems China has traditionally had with transportation; namely, pollution and over-congestion. In America, many big cities don’t have the same sort of public transit systems that are in Chinese cities, playing a big role in the number of people here who drive cars and the high cost of rent in cities/suburbs. After going to China, I don’t know if it’s possible to create a transportation infrastructure comprehensive enough for any big city.

2. China’s surveillance system takes away too much liberty, but… – I felt safer walking around Beijing than I would feel walking around many parts of Chicago. It’s very worrying that there are constantly cameras watching everyone, but this does a good job of reducing crime, as there’s a higher potential of facing consequences for doing something illegal. While I believe China goes too far in banning swathes of websites and restricting access to information, America could take many steps to increase surveillance (such as supplying police with body cameras) that could make our country safer.

China isn't very diverse, leading to many people understanding less about other cultures.

China isn’t very diverse, leading to many people understanding less about other cultures.

3. Diversity will make China a better country in the future – many of the problems Chinese people currently face are due to effects of being socially and economically cut off from the rest of the world until the 1970s, and China’s still in the infancy of globalization. While this has allowed its tech sector to blaze past America’s, China is still culturally behind the “first world” in many ways, whether it be views on race, sexuality, or international media at large. When I went to China, the difference in openness and acceptance between Millennials and Baby Boomers/Gen X-ers was massive. China may soon be the largest country economically, but it will take time for people’s social views to evolve as quickly.

As this is my last blog, I just wanted to finish it off by urging anyone reading this to apply to study abroad! I had an amazing experience in China, and without this trip, I would never have been able to experience a different part of the world as extensively as I have now. I can’t say I know how my trip to China has changed me as a person, but I’ve gained so much insight from it that I’ll cherish for a long time. Zàijiàn!

– 布雷特 (Bret)

China: What the Tech?

Before coming here, I – like many Americans – had a few stereotypes about China. I thought Chinese people loved to eat fortune cookies, preferred Eastern culture over Western culture, and had a technology infrastructure that was underdeveloped compared to America’s.

However, these stereotypes couldn’t be further from the truth. Practically no Chinese restaurants serve fortune cookies – when I asked one of my Beida language buddies about it, they laughed at me – and many of them really love Western culture! In fact, I met two Chinese girls who found each other through translating episodes of Sherlock into Chinese for online consumption. :O

And beyond that, the technology infrastructure here is BOOMING. In America, people are more likely to have access to cable or Netflix than a smartphone. However, here in China, smartphone penetration reaches into some of the poorest communities in the country – areas which are far poorer than America’s poorest areas.

Why is that? Mainly because in China, smartphones are more of a way of life than they’ll be for years in America, if not decades. In just one smartphone app (WeChat), you can schedule your next doctor’s appointment, pay for literally any service in the country, apply for a visa and pay off your parking tickets.

The IMC class I’ve been taking here has helped me realize that China is not looking to America for future technology – in fact, it’s America trying to catch up to China! This makes marketing so fascinating here, as you have a combination of tech-obsessed people in China with marketers using big data to target each consumer individually. When you add onto that the notion that Chinese people haven’t been exposed to in-depth marketing for more than a couple of generations, as private corporations didn’t exist in China until very recently, and it makes for an incredibly intriguing advertising climate. I honestly feel I’ve learned more about catering to your target market here in China than I have through all of my advertising classes so far!

15 hour flight calls for some quality reflection time….

Wow, I can honestly say that 2 months ago I did not think I would be sad to leave China and head back. However, today.. Was the most bittersweet day of my time here. I genuinely was not ready to board this plane, I feel my time in China is not done. Having had to do many lacrosse workouts abroad, I was grateful enough to find a local league to play with and essentially coach, as they are not all that developed just yet. This was the best decision I could have ever done while in China. It had opened me up to a bunch of other university students, expats, and locals. The diversity of the team allowed me to explore parts of Beijing I didn’t know existed while doing my favorite thing: play lacrosse. Through this league, I have found a lifelong friend, Chris, who is on the Women’s Chinese National team. What I recommend to anyone studying in China, or elsewhere around the world: invest in the natives, yearn to hear their story, let your relationship manifest from the differences and realize how much you can learn and teach one another. With Chris, I was able to go out to different restaurants, practice my Chinese (speaking and characters), visit her home to see what the traditional Chinese lifestyle is like and more. I encourage people to step outside of their comfort zone when abroad. You are cutting your trip short if you don’t. The conversations you have with these new people in your life are ones very different from the ones you have with  best friends. I initially struggled a lot with Chinese and how much class there was… I was worried I wasn’t seeing enough of China. However through making Chinese friends, I found my learning continued even out of the classroom which greatly improved my understanding of the language. I initially embarked on this journey to experience a different culture, which I did… But what I learned along the way was, you must immerse yourself in the culture to fully learn it. Reading the books and knowing the history isn’t enough. This summer has been one I will remember forever with friends that I hope will last a lifetime. I plan to come back and play for the Beijing Lacrosse team and beat Shanghai!! I came to study Public Health, and left in love. I may have showed these people some lacrosse, but they have showed me the world. I have learned more in my time here about my life, my happiness, and my values than I have been challenged to think about my whole life. It is not until you remove yourself from your normal life to realize things from the outside, we should do this more often. This has been an amazing and scary summer full of realizations but I wouldn’t want it any other way.

(Me & Chris’ Friends on her Birthday!)

IMG_0417

China Lax!!!!!

IMG_0764

For the Love of the Game.

IMG_0768

Planes, Trains, and Automobiles.

Hey guys,

So as I just looked through a bunch of my photos from my trip thus far, it hit me that I have traveled to five different cities throughout China these past 8 weeks. When I initially began the trip I had no intentions of leaving Beijing and diverging from the campus and districts I knew as I feared not knowing the language, the bus system, how to buy tickets,.. as you can see many different things that are necessary to traveling throughout a foreign country. However, throughout my first four weeks here, I was amazed with how much Chinese I had learned to be able to read signs, hold conversations (not too in depth, I’m talking very basic), and buy things! This new knowledge gave me the confidence to see what more this incredible country has to offer. And trust me…….. boy, does it have amazing things to offer. At the half way point, we get an oppurtunity to travel with friends for our long weekend break: IF YOU CAN, I RECOMMEND TRAVELING TO A DIFFERENT CITY!! The program does an amazing job of offering pre-planned trips but you can also find a crew and make your own itinerary. I had went with a pre-organized group to Hangzhou and Huangshan, two beautiful and different cities. This trip was something that allowed to create new friendships, hear people’s story’s, try out a different city’s famous food, and see more of the country. Warning: This trip included a lot of hiking, but trust me the view is worth it. The tour guides map out your 5 days to the max and really make sure you get your time and money’s worth. It was so nice to not have to stress about planning, meals, or transportation. (Top of Yellow Mountain)

IMG_9919

After this weekend and long discussion with my family about how much I loved seeing a different city, I was fortunate enough to have my family come to Shanghai for a weekend visit. For those of you who are missing a metropolis full of shops, amazing food, and skyscrapers- Shanghai is the move. I am from NY (and will forever argue it is one of the best places ever) and didn’t think I would think I could love a city as much as NYC, but… Shanghai, is definitely hai up there (see, what I did there? ;)) Here, I highly recommend going to the Shanghai Tower (2nd tallest building in the world), the Yu Garden (STUNNING), the French Concession (amazing pastries and COFFEEEEEEEE :D), walking the Bund, and shopping on Nanjing Road!

(Top of Shanghai Tower & the Yu Garden)

IMG_0311 IMG_0349

One Friday, we had off from afternoon class and friends and I decided to go to Xi’an. This is another MUST SEE in China. Beautiful, historical, and one of the only cities that still has their city wall in tact. Those of you who do this, I recommend biking the City Wall at sunset, absolutely beautiful. Terra-cotta Warriors is a classic as well as the Hot Springs that is en route to the Warriors. There are famous Biang Biang noodles and dumplings that Xi’an is famous for, alongside other street food that all tastes incredibly tasty. For Xi’an, we did without tour guides and just asked local people for suggestions for places to go, and I do not regret this decision at all. I felt that this was truly an authentic experience of being immersed in the local culture. Muslim Street, near the Drum and Bell Towers (two other cool sites), is packed with street food and people which is a little overwhelming but a lot of fun to experience!! (Jumping rocks at the Hot Springs & Terracotta Warriors)

IMG_0527 IMG_0548

 

Overall, my suggestion to those studying in China: focus on your studies and remember to take advantage of what the country has to offer. Do not let the free weekends go by watching Netflix in bed. Explore.

 

Foreign Farewell

Hello Everyone!

I can’t believe there are only two days left in the program here in Beijing! It’s unreal how close the end is. Though this trip was only 8 weeks, it felt like a lifetime. I learned soooo much about Chinese culture, history, politics, and language. This knowledge has allowed me to look at America and myself in a more wholistic way. Being able to learn about and experience another culture allows you to appreciate your own as well. Though different in nature, both are important for many people. I am so grateful for this experience and cherish the memories made.

For fun I made a list of 3 things I’m expecting to happen when I arrive back home:
1. Unconsciously using Chinese phrases instead of English when asking simple questions.
2. Having a odd craving for Jianbing every morning. (Honestly this was my breakfast everyday)
3. Telling the same stories of my time abroad to many different people.

Well, now I’m looking towards the future and the next adventure life brings. When I return home, I will begin preparing for my senior year at NU (which means finding a job lol) and continue to grow in new ways. I’m so grateful to have been able to spend my summer in Beijing. Admittedly, I didn’t like every day of it (classes mostly lol). However, if prompted, I would do it all over again!

High Hopes and Big Dreams
Cheron❤️

(Look out for my next post about adjusting back to the US!)

Looking towards the future. Wondering what's next...

Looking towards the future. Wondering what’s next…

Bargaining Tips

One of my favorite things to do during my time in China is walking through small shops looking at cute trinkets. I remember my first time going to one of these shops–I was so excited and bought a bunch of really cute scarves for what I thought was a pretty good deal. It was only after I got home and called my aunt that I realized how much I’d been ripped off. The lesson I learned: Always try cutting the price down, especially in small shops.

For those of you who have never tried bargaining before, there’s an unsaid set of rules that you should try when bargaining. First, keep in mind if you can’t speak Chinese without an accent, the vendors will know that you’re foreign and therefore hike up the price. Starting out, as a rule of thumb, cut the price in half, making sure it’s slightly lower than how much you are willing to pay. Don’t be surprised when the vendors start venting to you about how ridiculous your offer is and how they won’t make money. That is rarely the case. I usually repeat my offer a few times until the vendor gives a return offer. When this happens, don’t give in too easily. Repeat your original offer. If the price is still too high, start walking away. At this point, if the vendor tries to keep you by making a return offer, it means that your initial offer is still in the range of what he or she is willing to accept. If he or she does not try to keep you, realize that your price may be actually too low.

All the cute things I bought from the Pearl Market!

All the cute things I bought from the Pearl Market!

Ideally, if you know what you want before going out, go online (to websites like taobao.com) to find around how much this thing costs. Knowing how much things cost will be very useful in figuring out about how much you should bargain for. This, however, is rarely the case. If you’re in a market and see something you like, try not to buy it from the first vendor you see. Bargain with this vendor and note their lowest price. Most likely at places like the pearl market you’ll find multiple vendors selling the same thing. After bargaining a couple of times, you’ll figure out where you can get the best offer!

When I went to the pearl market, I saw a couple of times when the bargaining got really intense. I found the process a bit intimidating at first, especially when the vendor got really emotional about how she wasn’t going to make money. But over time, I actually learned to enjoy the process. It’s not like anything I’ve seen living in the United States.

Bargaining in China: The Do’s and Don’ts

Let’s face it. If you want to buy souvenirs in China at a low cost, you need to learn how to bargain! The reality is that Chinese vendors will try to sell foreigners items at higher costs. So, if you don’t want to blow your wallet after just one or two purchases, I would suggest learning how to negotiate prices. If done right, bargaining could be a fun and worthwhile experience!

Hongqiao Pearl Market

Hongqiao Pearl Market

Some tips:

1. Here are some commonly used bargaining phrases:

Duo shao qian?  (How much does this cost?)

Tai gui le! (Too expensive)

Wo zhi you [ ]  (I only have [amount]).

Wo shi xuesheng.  (I am a student).

2. Travel in a group. It might make the experience a little less nerve-wracking.

3. Look uninterested. Showing interest is a vendor’s cue to make their pitch. Play it cool. Bargain when you are ready.

4. If a price is too high, cut the price in half. Or you can determine your best price, start at lower price, and then work your way up to your best price.

5. Walk away, they almost always call you back – to your benefit.

6. Have some idea how much things are worth. If you are unsure, ask a friend.

7. Be persistent, but stay polite. Remember that Chinese vendors have to earn a living. Some vendors may be nicer than others. The important thing is to stick to your plan. Fighting them doesn’t help.

Some souvenirs I bought!

Some souvenirs I bought!

 

These are just a few tips you can use while bargaining in China. Remember that you’re not going to get it right the first time. It might take a few times before you work up the confidence to bargain, and to bargain well. 加油!

Down to my last week in China..