As I mentioned in the first part of my previous post “Studying in China”, I’ve met a fair amount of Western students for whom living in China was nothing but a painful experience. To be homesick when you live thousands of kilometers from your country is not a surprise, but often it took dramatic proportions. When I was studying in Nanjing, there was some sort of game to predict which foreign student will be the first to go home. It is sad when you think about it, as they had a great opportunity to get to know a new culture and open their mind to new ways of doing and thinking, but will only take bitter memories back home.
So think twice before coming to China!
First of all, don’t be misled by the apparent modernity of major cities such as Shanghai or Beijing. Most of the country is still very poor and rural and people have a much lower level of education. Hygiene, food poisoning, lack of manners… be prepared to meet another world. Most Chinese don’t speak English so having good mandarin basis is essential in everyday life.
I will write an article about learning mandarin and what is the best approach to master this language. Making Chinese friends is the best way to quickly improve because without practice, you will be stuck in a basic level. It will help you to better integrate in the Chinese society. Most foreigners don’t even try to learn mandarin or make Chinese friends. They usually stay among their own people or at least among westerners.
I am not saying it is essential to avoid western people, but if you came to speak English with Americans or Europeans, maybe China is not the right destination. Don’t mix up traveling and studying one year in China. Even if you will have many opportunities to travel while you are living there, you will still spend most of you time in the city you are studying in. A year in China is a long time! Those who are having a good time and enjoy living in China are those integrated and with a genuine interest in the country and Asian culture in general.
I may have been a bit negative in this post, but my intention is really to warn potential students and spare them from what is happening too often in China: disappointment and bad memories.
If you feel this is a challenge for you, don’t hesitate and go! Learn to speak Chinese, make friends, and explore another world! With motivation, we can overcome the culture shock and have incredible experiences.