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Concerns Coming to China

October 22, 2018

By Alexa L, Stonehill College, TBC Student Fall 2018

The decision to study abroad is not always easy.  There is more to it than applying to a program.  You are faced with the reality of being immersed in a culture that differs from your own.  Maybe the language is different, the food, the style, the etiquette…

I chose to study in Beijing, China.  My friends and family would congratulate me for being so bold.  They made my decision feel abnormal.  Between the television, online articles, and hear-say, I developed concerns about what to expect upon arrival.  I deeply questioned if study abroad was right for me.

I am SO glad to say that I did not act on those concerns.  I proceeded with studying abroad.  I found that MANY of my preconceived notions of “what is China,” have been proven wrong.  I have learned that my fears about large population size, different food, navigation, and budgeting are nothing to be afraid of.  My study abroad experience has given me a better foundation in my expectation of what its like to be abroad in China.


“There are too many people living in Beijing China, I will be too overwhelmed.” 

Rush hour still exists in Beijing; I have avoided using public transportation during these hours of the day which has removed being in situations surrounded by large masses of people.  During off times, the streets are easy to navigate with very little traffic! 

While the population of Beijing is over 20 million people, the land area is 20 times larger than that of New York City.  Beijing is indeed urban, and there is indeed a large population, but keep in mind the massive land area when considering their population size.  Residents are more spread out in Beijing compared to New York City.   

TBC is located on the campus of the University of International Business and Economics (UIBE).  UIBE is a large campus within the city in which it has its own spacious and private land.   

“The food is so different, I will not like anything.” 

While Chinese cuisine is very different than what is available in America, Western styled restaurants are very popular in China.  There is still a fast-food chain around every corner; you can get your fill of McDonald’s, KFC, Pizza Hut and many more.  If you prefer not to eat fast-food, there are also sit-down restaurants where you can purchase pasta dishes, sandwiches, hamburgers, and French fries.  TBC is located in a very convenient location to find a variety of foods.   

With this being said, it is important to be open to try new things.  You may never expand your palette if you do not try something new!  I have found Chinese dishes to contain fair less sugar, dairy, and gluten.  The food has many different flavor’s and levels of spice.  Most dishes include vegetables, meat, rice, noodles and various sauces.  There are several unique attributes to Chinese dishes that are difficult to access outside of the country; so, utilize your time while abroad to try a little of everything! 

“I will not be able to navigate around Beijing on my own.” 

Like any major city, it can be challenging to navigate at first.  However, speaking Chinese is not a necessity to get around.  Due to the 2008 Beijing Olympics, much of the cities’ navigation systems (walk ways, bike ways, subways, highways) are in both Chinese and English.  Even if you feel the need to ask for directions, there are many people who speak English as their second language.  Many elementary, middle, and high schools incorporate English in their education system.  I have found the youth in China can generally speak at least conversational English. 

After you arrive to TBC, there will be an opportunity to purchase a data plan for your phone with a Chinese SIM card.  Once the SIM card is active, you can search directions as you would back home.  The Beijing public transportation system is just as intuitive as the systems in the United States.  Stay attuned and you will be fine!   

I have learned to never be afraid to ask for help.  I always have Pleco at hand.  For those that do not know, Pleco is a translating app that does not require data.  It is extremely useful!  

“I will not be able to budget studying abroad in China.” 

Many study abroad students worry about their spending.  How can one know they have enough money to last the term?  The dollar to RMB exchange rate is $1 for every 6-7 RMB (2018).  Typically, a sufficient meal is less than 50 RMB ($7.70).  The places students visit frequently around campus tends to be 30 RMB ($4.60). The point being, a little goes a long way in China! 

TBC organizes weekend trips to see local landmarks with most of the expenses paid for.  This is a convenient and efficient way to see major area’s around the campus without breaking the bank.  The only fee’s that I have needed to cover to participate have been public transportation fees amounting to 8 RMB ($1.23) for the round trip.   

The mindset I try to have is to think about which novelties can I give up?  Which experiences will I never be able to have again?  Prioritization is key.