There’s no doubt that living in a different country is going to be a completely different experience from living in your home country, especially in a place as different as China. Here are some of the more interesting specific characteristics that I’ve noticed about living in China while studying abroad through CGIS.
The Food – As many of my semester-long friends are set to return to the United States soon, our conversations about the things we’re all going to miss all inevitably return to one thing: food. It’s not that American food is inferior to Chinese food. American food, when it’s good, it’s really, really, good. And so is Chinese food. But even common Chinese food, the kind of stuff that you buy from a street vendor or a hole-in-the wall restaurant, is still really, really, good, in a way that cheap and easy American food just isn’t. And the prices can’t be beat either. Many find it cheaper to eat daily at restaurants or from street vendors (though I’m not sure I would recommend that) than to buy groceries and cook their own food.
Shopping – Bargaining. Some people love it or hate it, some people are awful at it and some foreigners (true story) have been known to be so awesome at it that word quickly starts spreading through the grapevine network of shopkeepers (who then all consequently emerge from their stalls to catch a glimpse at this rare creature). Don’t fret, if you’re aren’t a huge fan of bargaining, there are plenty of places that sell goods at fixed prices. And if you do find yourself to be especially “li hai” (the Chinese expression for “awesome”) at it, you definitely won’t run out of opportunities to pick up good deals and impress your classmates.
The Smells – It’s not going to be uncommon for you to be taking a pleasant stroll down the street and all of a sudden, a nasty smell hits you. However, just as soon as you start to pinpoint where the smell is coming from, it vanishes as quickly as it began. It can be just as soon that you’ll be hit with the pleasant smell of a fresh fruit stand or some yummy street food gently simmering, it just seems to depend on how lucky you are that day.
Fashion – Be ready to be blown away by the sheer number, not only of Chinese girls, but boys as well, who look like they’ve just stepped out of a music video or fashion advertisement. Rarely, if ever, will you see a young Chinese girl or guy looking frumpy, especially if they are out on the town. This makes people-watching super awesome, but can also make you feel like a super unfashionable person.
The hordes of people – China has the largest population in the world and in Beijing, there are definitely going to be times when you feel it. Usually this occurs in public transportation during rush hour times, but as long as you know where you are going, its really not as terrible as it sounds. Just make sure to give yourself plenty of time if you plan to go across the city to Chao yang or Sanlitun, and it never hurts to have your iPod with you just in case you get bored by the inevitable delay that the rush hour of one of the largest cities in the world will cause.