Two weeks I got on a plane from Sydney to a country where I couldn’t speak a word of the local tongue and didn’t know a single soul living here. The thought was daunting to say the least. Two weeks on I’m thanking myself for taking that dive into the deep end, loving every minute of such an underrated country.
I always knew I wanted to do an exchange but I could never decide where. Obviously everyone immediately thinks of hot European Summers and movie like American fraternities but after weighing the options back and forth I thought China is our biggest trading partner, everything we have is made here, it has the largest population in the world and uses a language debatably bigger than English.
I had a thousand different opinions in my mind. Will I make friends with native Chinese students? Are we like minded or is our Eastern/Western mindsets too dissimilar? Will I meet others foreigners? Will I survive not knowing the language? Will there be a nightlife? Will I be able to survive solely on Chinese food for six months? But then hopping off the plane at Shanghai airport, confused and no clue where to go, the cutest little Chinese girl runs over to me and stares wide-eyed at me for moment. I smile, wave and her mum comes over apologising in English and then asks if we can take a photo together. I could not help but laugh and smile at such a strange encounter. Still lost, this woman organises a taxi straight to my hotel, adds me on ‘Wechat’ and asks me to join her family for dinner if I am ever again in Shanghai.
This perfectly sums the people over here. So inviting and so ready to give a helping hand. The weeks since that exchange has only reinforced this tenfold, with many similar stories like it. Whether it is volunteers at the uni, people working in shops or the men’s basketball team that don’t speak a word of English, someone is always around to help you find your feet and make the culture shock an enjoyable ride rather than a alienated speed-bump.
A few facts to help you decide you want to go to China:
- The food is fantastic! (granted you ask someone where to go. Have had a few days of bowel disagreement)
- There are hundreds of other foreigners – Last night we went clubbing in a group of 30 with people from England, Italy, Netherlands, Russia, Denmark, Faroe Islands, Spain, Sweden, Germany, Azerbaijan and obviously China.
- Everyone is friendly.
- Yes, everything is so cheap! – Living like you’re Chinese and you don’t pay Western prices. I can eat eat every meal out, have in-between snacks and coffees, catch a couple of taxis and have a night out for $100AUD…let that sink in
- They have an app for everything
- Wechat – Chinese Whatsapp but on steroids. Don’t even need people names or numbers, simply scan someones unique QR code and boom…you’re friends. It has a Facebook/Instagram feed available too and games to challenge your friends
- Taobao – Imagine an online shopping store where if you can think of something, then it has it. You can purchase and have anything delivered to the uni within a couple of days. Groceries √ Food (within an hour from most restaurants) Musical instruments √ A bike √ Home appliances and furniture √ Pets √ think Turtles, Hamsters, Rabbits, Fish etc (apparently there is a monkey but I’ve yet to find him.
- Alipay – syncs straight to your Chinese bank account and uni card so you don’t even need to take your wallet out of home. The unique barcode that is set up for you can be scanned in any shop. It even has a feature that let’s you pay at vending machines using sound (still trying to get over that)
- Traffic rules almost don’t seem to be real – You get used to it quickly
- There is so much to see
- I’ve spent a day in a hot spring in the mountains followed by a full body massage
- Visited a first century Buddhist temple
- Been to an interactive museum where you could choose to learn bamboo threading, tapestry, the art of tea and assorted grain painting
- And frequented various plazas and centers throughout the city
My trip has only just begun and I’m high on excitement but if the passed 2 weeks are any indication of the next 6 months then I know this could be the best thing I ever did.
Thomas Nader – 11987334