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  • Writer's pictureSilvereye

Moving to China is like going to the moon

Silvereye Communications Executive and China Correspondent Libby English is studying an intensive Chinese language course at Peking University for 12 months. Read on for the first in a series of posts with the China New Zealand Year of Tourism, sharing her experiences as a Kiwi studying in Beijing. 

Moving to China is like going to the moon. It’s the most exciting thing you’ve ever done, and you know it’s possible, but there are countless unexpected challenges along the way that make you feel defeated and confronted. However, like going to the moon, every small step and victory provides a feeling of triumph and sheer joy.

As an international student in China, there is very little information provided, especially if you have no Chinese, and even though you think you know about the country, you don’t. Being on the ground and living life here really is an invaluable experience and a once in a life time opportunity.

I am absolutely loving it and it’s exceeded all expectations by a long shot. However, this is not without great challenge. Not having Chinese in Beijing makes it almost impossible to get around. As does not having a Chinese bank account to use Alipay or WeChat pay. These are two essentials for moving to China!

Here in China it feels like you are in the future combined with the intimidation of walking on the same ground people did thousands of years ago. It really is an ultra-advanced society here whilst maintaining strong heritage and pride in the ancient culture. An example of this is all Chinese people use apps and QR codes to pay but the written language they read on it is from ancient times that remains unchanged. I personally find this mind blowing.

I struggled a lot without my bank account, it led to many looks of disbelief that I would even bring out cash or card. It’s like you are from the stone age. A lot of places simply do not accept card or cash anymore – even KFC. My fiancée, Harrison, and I had a wonderful experience with this when we finally found a nice salad bar we liked only to be turned away to withdraw cash as they did not accept card.

This in turn led to Harrison’s card being swallowed by the machine and due to no language capability, we had to walk away with no card and no cash. It is safe to say we didn’t get the salad I desperately wanted and we both walked away feeling very defeated. This is a classic case of challenges faced each day. Despite these daily happenings that remind you to not take the basics for granted, when little things do go your way, you feel fantastic.

What brings me to Beijing? I am here studying Chinese at Peking University. I am 99% sure I am the only person in the entire university without any prior Chinese knowledge, but it has only made me want to work harder. Peking is like something I have never experienced, in all of my schooling, I don’t think I have ever worked so hard in my life (sorry mum and dad).

Chinese teachers do not muck around, and the students have the most incredible determination and grit I have ever seen. It is not uncommon to see people sleeping in the classrooms during the 10-minute breaks and almost all students (myself included) live on campus. You really do live and breathe study here.

This all-encompassing life of study comes with some benefits. One major difference I have personally found is the relationship with my teacher and classmates is very close due to WeChat (or it could be the fact that there are only nine people in my class). WeChat is an app used for basically everything. And I mean everything. I submit my homework every day to my teacher directly through private message and she replies immediately. It’s all so instant.

The second difference, that we don’t have in New Zealand, is university canteens. There are countless places to eat on campus for literally a penny. It would be fair to say the food varies but it’s dirt cheap so no complaints. You pay using your student ID and this can also be used for stationary and anything else purchased on campus.

They make things as convenient and as cheap as possible so that the students can simply focus on study. Finally, the other major difference between New Zealand and Peking University is the security. Peking has very tight security and you are not allowed on campus without your ID card. There are cameras everywhere and guards all over campus. The other day a Saudi Arabian Prince was here so I guess they get important visitors!

I could go on and on about my first two weeks here and all the new sights, sounds, smells and setbacks I have had but instead I will finish on a list of things I find interesting and that you should know about living here:

  1. Give the language a go! Hello, thank you and goodbye will be enough to just get by and although you literally cannot understand anything each other is saying, Chinese people really appreciate the attempt of even just a couple of words.

  2. Allow at least an hour for any admin jobs and never ask why. Everything needs to be perfect here right down to the colour of the pen on the form you fill out.

  3. Most people I have met speak at least three languages. You suddenly feel very inadequate with just English.

  4. Do not be late. There are school bells that ring every day, one to get your things out and a couple of minutes later one to mark the beginning of teaching. Marks are deducted for arriving late.

  5. Wallets are considered a thing of the past. You need a smart phone to operate anything. The technology is unbelievable. In fact, mind blowing. Buy a portable charger!

  6. Bring a couple of home comforts to settle in such as your favorite pillowcase and some photo frames but don’t stress about bringing the necessities and your entire wardrobe. China has everything and anything you could imagine. The shopping is simply fantastic.

  7. Forget about no plastic. Absolutely no water is drinkable here so whether your internal conscience tells you to or not be prepared to go through at least a couple of bottles a day.

  8. Forgive me for being candid but it’s a must know! Unless you’re staying in 5-star hotels there will be no toilet paper provided in any toilet you come across. So, to avoid uncomfortable situations always carry tissues and hand sanitizer with you.

  9. There is no western social media or internet here. The great firewall of China provides a block on anything Google, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Dropbox etc. So, make sure you create a Hotmail or Yahoo email and move all your files off Google Drive! Also download a new search engine. There are replacements for all the above but it’s all in Chinese. VPN’s are available but not if you don’t get it before you leave.

  10. Finally, have fun and just take each day as it comes. Beijing is a fantastic city with hundreds of things to do and see. I would highly recommend making a list and get searching!

I feel like each day I’m getting closer to the moon and I’ve got to admit it’s definitely the most exciting thing I’ve done. I am really looking forward discovering more about China each day, there is no denying this is one incredible place!


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