A great end to a memorable exchange
To many of us who have spent most of our lives in Europe, to spend 5 months in a foreign land far from home is an eye-opener, a curiosity awaiting to be explored.
When I first arrived in school, I was overwhelmed by its large compound space, and the numerous building consisting of canteens, libraries, cafes, study areas, dormitories and offices. It was a big step out of my comfort zone, to live in a dorm with shared amenities. To be honest, many people, I included, were astounded by the cleanliness, smell and appearance of the rooms and the shared amenities. As humans, we have a tendency to set expectations according to what we are used to be having. And while life in Europe is always so systematic, so spick and span, so convenient, many of us were not ready to commit our 5 months to such an environment.
However, through friendships forged and new habits developed, many of us became accustomed to how life was in China, and even though it was incredibly different- an interestingly good kind of different-, we started to immensely enjoy our daily lives there. We got used to the little things that we tend to overlook, like having just a quick 5 minutes walk to classes, to a brief flight of steps to have a group gathering with our new friends.
China had a very interesting system that many of us of this generation could quickly get used to. We started downloading shopping apps such as Tabao, eating apps such as „èlemá?“ which translates to „Are you hungry?“ and entertainment apps. We found quick and efficient methods to satisfy our cravings 24/7, and were able to find anything (and I do mean anything) we want on Taobao. Payment was so advanced via WeChat that even a small apple or drink can be easily paid with a scan.
Nightlife to us was important. We would spend every weekend going out for beers, or to the night clubs. It was easy find the hotspots for cheap beers and snacks, and to attain connections to the hottest night clubs in the city. Interestingly, to the Chinese, foreigners are considered an attractive ‚investment‘, meaning that to be able to have us in their clubs is to them a sign of exclusivity. In retrospect, it was easy for us to have a great night out with minimal, or sometimes nothing, amount to spend.
FOOD. One thing many of us had to get used to was the food and the different cultures of the restaurants here compared to Europe. Asian food to the European tongue was an interesting experience. I was able to try out a large variety of Asian food other than Chinese, such as Korean and Japanese food. Overtime we developed cravings for certain food that we never used to ever crave for in the past. Delicacies such as Kungpao Chicken, Spicy Chicken, Mala, hotpot, BBQ are some examples. Of course, there’s always the occasional „Hey, lets order Macdonalds!“ as to many of us in the foreign land, Mac is a form of comfort food.
What is an exchange without the freedom the explore and travel? Seizing the opportunity that we are China means to travel to all the different parts of China, and to other parts of Asia. We planned trips during the short breaks given to tour China. I had the luxury to visit Inner Mongolia on a tour with my friends, as well as visited Shanghai. I forged incredible memories during these trips and learnt so many new things about China and its culture and the long history that comes with it. The most memorable thing for me was to be able to go to Shanghai Disneyland. Especially since its off peak season, there’s was hardly ANY queue and it was really easily one of the highlights of my whole exchange.
Of course, travelling around Beijing was indeed exciting as well. Especially to be in a city that is home to one of the 7 wonders of the world, the Great Wall of China. It is amazing to walk the steps of ancient wars, and to learn the history behind the whole architecture and catch a glimpse of how life was back then. We also travelled to other famous Beijing hotspots, from shopping districts to mountains to temples.
From feeling unease and afraid of a totally new environment, to feeling at home and familiar to it is truly a blessing. Many friendships were forged with people from all over the world, and to me that was a really heartwarming thing to have. To summarise, if I could have an exchange do-over, I will choose China again in a heartbeat.