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How to Survive Your First Week in Beijing

March 25, 2019

By Connor C., University of Notre Dame, TBC Spring 2019 Student

Beijing is going to be intimidating, AT FIRST. Larger than any city in the United States, there’s a lot to be learned. Don’t fear, this blog post is here. Get ready for the time of your life. 

Befriend everyone 

This is extremely important as you are going to be with these people for the next 5 months. The great thing about choosing to go to Beijing is that it takes an adventurer to come here, so you all share a unique personality. Expect these friends to be open-minded, excited to try new things, and ready to take on the city. I’m not saying you must be best friends with everyone but getting to know everyone will give you the chance to find a group you want to experience China with. 

Watch for cars! 

Cars and scooter have the right of way, whether legal or not. Don’t jay walk or you will be hit. Car may even be on the sidewalk so always be watching and vigilant. Vehicles are not predicable. You don’t want to go to the hospital in your fist week.  

Don’t be grossed out 

It’s not gross, it’s just different. China is a different culture so be ready for the unexpected. 

China will defy your expectations 

China is so different than I expected and be ready for that. Don’t let stereotypes and assumptions limit your understanding of Beijing.  

Talk to your roommate 

No changing roommates. You will want to make sure that both of you will have an enjoyable time living in Beijing and communication is the best way to have this. 

Don’t eat western food 

It will take some time to adjust to Chinese food for many people. I loved the food, but my stomach didn’t, at least at first. Make sure you are eating your vegetables and learn how to order food non-spicy. DO NOT spend the extra cash on Western food: the transition will be harder, the food is not always as good, and you just left a Western country that you will be returning to faster than you think. 

Bring Pepto-Bismol 

I am a weird man, so yes I am putting it on the list. For some reason I cannot find this here. It is a great investment for any stomach problems and having it handy is always a plus.  

Have an open mind 

Things are not going to go your way some of the time, and during this busy first week you will feel it. You may not like everything about China right away, which is okay, but you cannot let that hold you back. Go with the flow and you will fall in love Beijing very soon.  

Know the gates 

I have gotten lost on the tiny campus too many times to count. There are four main gates: North, South, East, and West. Knowing where they are will keep you on time and it makes navigating the rest of the university easier. 

Don’t drink the water 

You probably know this but some people forget. Also, any water they give you in restaurants is safe to drink. Usually, it will be served hot and often you must ask for it. You can buy bottled water at every convince store and there are a ton near campus. 

Call your bank several times to confirm you are going to be in China 

Too many people did not have money for their first few weeks here because their banks were being difficult. Personally, I have the Charles Schwab debit card. I believe it is the best for traveling as there are no international fees nor fee to withdraw money and I have yet to find an ATM that does not accept it. 

Make sure your phone is unlocked before you leave 

This means call your carrier. I know Verizon automatically unlocks their phones when you leave the US but call your carrier to make sure you will be able to put a Chinese SIM card in. 

Get the VPN before you leave for Beijing 

ExpressVPN is the most common but there are several other to look into (Astrill is an awesome one as well). Download it on your phone and laptop before you leave as doing this in China is not always possible. 

Know these phrases:  

Thank you. 谢谢 Xièxiè 

Okay. 好的 Hǎo de 

UIBE – this is where you go 对外经贸大学 Duìwài jīngmào dàxué 

(West Gate. 西门 Xīmén) 

I’m sorry. 对不起 Duìbùqǐ 

I am American. 我是美国人 Wǒ shì měiguó rén 

I am Colombian. 我是哥伦比亚人 Wǒ shì gēlúnbǐyǎ rén 

I want this. 我要这个 Wǒ yào zhège 

Waiter, the check. 服务员, 买单 Fúwùyuán mâidān

Go to China Construction Bank on your own or with a friend to set up your bank account 

This will save time as going as a group takes significantly longer and you may get rejected. You need to do this to use WeChat pay and every place has WeChat and may only take WeChat. You will not be able to use your credit/debit card (almost) anywhere in China. 

Get as many people interested in the gym as possible 

For all you health nuts, getting the membership is cheaper the more TBC students sign up. Bring protein powder and bars if you like them as they are expensive and hard to find in China. Decathalon is the only place I found you can buy one type in person. 

Try to enjoy every minute 

Time will fly by and if you don’t live in the moment, Beijing will eat you up. You are special and you will change the world because of the decision you made whether you know that now or not.