During my school years I got the opportunity to live in China for 1 year, first as an exchange student and then as an intern in a company. I had lived abroad before and had travelled to a few countries, but nothing was to compare to my experience in China. I decided to go to this foreign land because it was the country everyone was talking about and one of the countries that would become very important in world’s affairs. So it got me curious 🙂
I did not have high expectations when I left for China, as I was going there to really discover what this country was all about. I think it was better that way, because sometimes disappointment comes when expectations are too high. So I approached the experience ready for a big discovery!
I had learnt Mandarin for a little over a year before going, and once there I had daily lessons which helped a lot! I was living not too far from Shanghai and I had thought that in big cities there would be many people speaking English…that was far from reality! I heard that this is one of the struggles for tourists, and that sometimes their perception of Chinese people is tarnished because of this. It is a shame for them, and a great chance for me, as I got to discover their welcoming and very friendly side. When you speak even a little Mandarin to them it’s crazy how they open up! I really recommend to anyone going to China to learn the basics of Mandarin 101.
While living in Shanghai, I was surprised that even in a huge and modern city like that, there are neighbourhoods that re-create the ancient Chinese lifestyle where people know each other and can count on each other. It’s like many small villages into 1 big city, so as to not lose this culture of community, mutual help and sharing. It’s also incredible how many ‘expats’ are present there. The community of foreigners keeps growing every day, so you can plunge into other cultures apart from the Chinese while you’re there.
As a student I was lucky to have a lot of free time and holidays to go travelling. I got to discover very different places, from the super modern city of Shanghai to the historical city of Beijing, as well as the Chinese countryside and beautiful nature. This country is so big that I recommended staying 2 weeks to a month or more if you can! There is SO much variety of landscapes and such amaziiiing food!
It was so much fun and such an adventure each time I would go travelling to places in China. Many remote places I went to were very rural, where people very rarely see foreigners. So it was quite amusing having such surprised looks and smiles when you got some words of Mandarin out. We would also get our photo taken many times, probably as something ‘different’! I was shocked though that these ‘remote and rural places’ that I had never heard about always seem to turn out as cities with millions of inhabitants. When I would tell my friends and family I was going deep into central China to a small town (which I really imagined to be a small and lost village), it would always turn out to be this big modern city with many skyscrapers and MANY people. Different dimensions than what I was used to!
Overall I will say that a trip to China will not disappoint! There isn’t a day when you are not surprised about something or when you don’t think ‘wow, culture shock!’. It’s a big adventure that reinvents itself every day 🙂