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Adjusting In China

September 26, 2017 – originally posted on

By Liz Maginn, Xavier University, TBC Fall 2017 Student

It’s been a few weeks into classes and I can say that I have pretty much adjusted to the unusual ways of China’s living. This has been no easy feat. Culture shock is a real thing, and it happens to everyone. It affects everyone differently. I will not brush over it. It did not hit me lightly. It hit me like a full on emotional bus full of doubts and stressors. It ran over me at full force leaving me completely lost in what to do and how to feel like I was going to be able to make it. Culture shock is defined as “an experience a person may have when one moves to a cultural environment which is different from one’s own; it is also the personal disorientation a person may feel when experiencing an unfamiliar way of life due to immigration or a visit to a new country, a move between social environments, or simply transition to another type of life.” (Thanks Wiki). Basically, what this is saying, is when you leave your comfort zone of what you know you can go into shock about all the new things affecting you right away. It happens to almost everyone, so first off know you are not alone. My culture shock hit me with the “what are you doing? I want to go home. Everything sucks” kind of the way the day before classes started. I spent several hours crying and not believing I was going to be able to survive the rest of the semester. But then I realized, I have people here to lean on in order to adjust, people who are feeling the exact same way as I do, people I can work with to figure out how to deal with this shock of everything new. This is the main point I would like to make about culture shock, you are not alone. To help the adjustment, I called home. Talking to my family always makes me feel better even when I miss them the most. I then hit up my friend group and opened up about the way the culture shock was hitting me and how I did not want to spend time alone. It’s amazing how quick we made plans to find some American food and work together on homework so no one felt alone. My culture shock hit a lot sooner than most peoples, as 7 weeks into this program it is just hitting people now (that’s right, I’ve been here for 7 weeks already!). Adjusting to any new thing is hard, especially with the language barrier, different foods, and a different environment in general (let me tell you, living in Cincinnati did nothing to prepare me to live in Beijing). So to wrap up this more daunting part BUT the most important part of my post here are some things I found helpful for dealing with Culture Shock:

  1. Recognize that what you have is Culture Shock

  2. Lean on your friends and open up to what you are feeling. They are going through the same thing. Be there for your friends. You all need each other.

  3. Stick around people as much as you can, even if you aren’t talking.

  4. Watch comforting movies (funny ones that always make you feel better)

  5. Find your favorite snacks and munch on those when life gets difficult.

  6. Find at least one American restaurant to hit up when you just need a burger

  7. Pick up a good book for those times when you have to be alone

  8. Get involved in the community, I picked up volunteering at a local elementary school. I also attend weekly Mass to give myself the Jesus I need.

  9. Retail Therapy to make your home feel more like a home

  10. Know that it will pass eventually and you’ve got this.

It’s amazing as I reflect back to 3 weeks ago when my culture shock hit me and then look at myself now. I am past the worst of my culture shock for now, yes I still get homesick, yes I still need a burger, but yes I’ve got this. The first moment I realized that I was going to make it was when I was walking to class at 8 in the morning by myself in the sunshine and I realized I knew where I was going, I had my homework done, and I was content with my situation. After that, I realized that I am completely content sitting alone doing homework in my room, which is great!

I have been in classes for around 3 weeks now, YIKES. I have Chinese class for 2 hours every morning at 8 am, and the rest of my classes once a week for 3 hours. They are long long long long long classes. Thankfully all of them are in the same building on the same floor so I am less likely to get lost trying to go to class. Unfortunately, the walk is around 15 minutes casually, and 10 minutes if I’m really booking it (which I always am). I am perpetually late. I’ve already had 3 Chinese tests, 1 Chinese presentation, 3 Philosophy papers, 2 Architecture field trips, 1 Buddhism Fieldtrip, and a whole lot of readings. I’ve watched many movies and tv shows while “doing” homework. In all honesty, classes aren’t that bad when I’m out of class more days than I am in class. I have one class on Thursday at 8-9:50, and then I’m done until Tuesday at 8 (so basically a 5 day weekend!). #Blessed I wish I had enough discipline to do my homework on those days rather than put it off until last minute…

I’m sure many of you are wondering, so Liz if you aren’t doing homework on these 5 day weekends, what are you doing?? I am doing a number of things from:

1. Every Thursday I spend some time with first graders at a local elementary school volunteering. I joined a club on campus that my roommate works with that only has Chinese people, and the 3 Americans, including myself, that I helped also get involved. I work on teaching the munchkins English. So far we’ve done Greetings and Animals. The first time me and my Chinese and English speaking partner plus my lovely roommate Lisa (who was worried about me navigating and speaking to these children) got to the class there was no teacher and about 25 first graders running around like wild children. I learned how to say Silence in Chinese from these kids.

2. I go on adventures.

The first weekend I went shopping per the usual. There are so many close malls, thankfully most things are quite expensive and thus I do not buy many things except at the cheap store called Miniso, which has all of the best things for cheap and takes away all my self-control. My purchases at Miniso include but are not limited to: a pink fox sleeping mask, a rug with a polar bear on it, a cute smog mask with a panda, eyeshadow, a towel, a teddy bear, a room scenting thingy, a lamp, sunglasses, a mirror, nail polish, and whatever else I find when I walk into that store.

I have also seen an American movie(Spiderman) in China with my roommate and her friend IN 3D. Also, it was in English with Chinese subtitles so I understood everything. Let me tell you, movies in China are not any cheaper than in America if anything they are actually more expensive. 100 kuai for a movie? #Pricey. All movies in Beijing that I will be attending will actually be on Tuesday due to the fact that they are 50% off ticket prices, which I learned in my Chinese class.

One weekend we headed off to the Great Wall of China, where it was extremely hot, and we had to climb a billion stairs. It was all worth it for those instagram pics and the fact that we got to toboggan down the side of the Great Wall of China. #BucketList. Although people in front of me moved too slow for my taste, and therefore almost caused some crashes… Just like my dad. #DemolitionDerby

The next weekend I joined a meal with Fr. Gene who is basically the grandpa of the group for a Favorite foods night, which was all Hispanic themed. I got to help cook food with like 10 other students. We made salsa, guac, quesadillas, rice con pollo, sangrias, and other delicious food!

I have also adventured out to find Central Park in Beijing. This place is one of the hardest places to find, but once you find it you’ve found a gem. I’m obsessed with Friends as is basically the entire population of China’s young people. I got coffee and a red velvet cupcake. This Central Perk was a replica of the TV show café, along with Joey and Chandler’s room. This super nice lady who was working there not only spoke English but also helped us take pictures in all of the iconic picture taking places. She also showed us the different props from the show and we got to hold Phoebe’s guitar. There were also journals there that you could write in or just read the different entries, which was beautiful and it was super cool to see where people were coming from around the world.

I also volunteered at the Migrant Children’s school and painted a classroom with fun things like stars with sunglasses. #CreativityAtItsFinest After volunteering I also took a taxi to a random Hutong on accident (oops), but it was actually super cool! There were so many hipster coffee shops and restaurants. I will be returning there to spend an entire day there.

I’ve gotten my hair colored which was an adventure considering I don’t speak much Chinese and the guy only spoke Chinese so… #StruggleBus

I’ve also eaten moon cakes due to the upcoming Chinese Moon Festival. I have also ordered a French fry outfit so… #Fashionable

Side note: Everyone is always bragging how convenient public transportation is. EXCUSE ME. It’s not. If I have to wait 15+ minutes to flag down a taxi to take me to anywhere it’s not convenient. Also, those taxi drivers speak no English so that language barrier gets you when they realize that they don’t want to deal with English only speakers. The subway is also not convenient. If I have to walk 20 minutes to get to the subway station, sit on the subway for 30 minutes, transfer, wait some more, and then walk another 15 minutes to get to my actual destination then it’s not convenient. The most convenient are probably the buses, but then again, they involve knowing Chinese or the name of the stops you need to get off on, plus the bus number to get there or get home. I am not made for the city, I am made for the places where I can have my own car and drive anywhere I need to get to.

I’m adjusting to my new classes, new friends, new language barriers, new customs, and a new city. But I have found where I belong and I am happy with my choice and I can’t wait to see where I go from here and what my next new adventure is going to be!