10 Tips for American Students Who Are Going to Study in China

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(Newswire.net — September 1, 2016) — So you’ve made it! They’ve actually chosen you to come to China! Among all the candidates!

As your trip nears, you might realize that you also feel a bit anxious about living in a foreign country. Mysterious China. Dense and busy metropolitan areas. Don’t let them scare you though. It’s not like you are going there completely on your own with a bindlestick and a phrasebook. The program is there to help you, not to mention a few luckers like yourself coming too. Besides, if you learn a thing or two about the Chinese culture you will get a couple of insights on what to expect there. For this reason below you’ll find top 10 tips for an American foreign student on how to get along in China that go apart from the general guidelines for exchange programs.

1. Forget Your Preconceived Ideas

As much as I love “Lost in Translation” it really pushes me against my first piece of advice. Try not to experience China through your preconceived ideas about it. Whatever you think it will be, you will fail to predict it. Because with the sheer number of people, ethnic groups and dialects it is extremely diverse. There is always much more that you can depict. So don’t cling to your forecasts and open your mind to what you’ll observe.

Not that knowing how to bow in different social situations has undergone some drastic changes over time. The awareness of customs is essential. It’s just that China is constantly developing and going through changes. You’ll get it when you’re there.

2. Get Ready to Be in the Center of Attention

You are a new coming person from far-far away. A product of the American culture that they’ve seen in movies. Foreigners are not so uncommon now in the huge cities but you are still going to stand out and people will stare at you. It is important to know that staring is not considered hostile in China. It is only related to curiosity. So don’t get startled when the strangers examine you. In rural areas where outsiders don’t usually wander you might become the news of the day.

3. Be Prepared to Answer the Same Questions Again and Again

Naturally, you are going to get acquainted with new people and they will have a few preconceptions about what America is and what it’s like to be a cowboy with 2 revolvers. They are going to question everything that makes the general image of the US: “Is everybody eating burgers?”, “Do you know your president is black?”.

Now you know what being the frontman of your favorite band is like – “When’s the next album coming?”. Groundhog day. But don’t get too misanthropic, you’re not a real celebrity. Rather, you should appreciate that people show interest towards you.

4. Know How to Forge Friendships

Chinese are a hospitable and friendly nation and people are going to look up to you. Show gratitude if they help you. In China the friendship is about always returning  a favor. Present your friend a thankful gift or a meal and he or she will always be there for you.

5. Try the Local Lifestyle

When you’ve made a few friends it’s time to get some of that popular local pastime. Karaoke it is then! Since you presumably have the basic command of Mandarin, you should have no trouble singing along with hieroglyphic scrolling text. China also has history with kites so let your friends take you to fly one or learn to play Mahjong.

6. Get Ready to Eat Weird Things

As a part of cultural exchange you are going to try the local cuisine. And if you’ve chosen a family dinner as the lesser evil compared to karaoke, mind the 2 possibilities:

a) they might try to impress you with some local delicacies;

b) the custom is to try all the dishes.

So, be prepared for a 1000-year old pungent alien looking egg, snake tongues, salvia bird’s nest soup and so on.

While we’re at it, remember the main dining etiquette rules. Basically, observe the others with a couple of don’ts:

  • don’t plant the chopsticks in your bowl upwards – IT MEANS DEATH;
  • don’t tap your bowl with them;
  • it’s considered extremely impolite to turn down an old person offering a toast. Even if you don’t drink at all;
  • when drinking – tap the table twice.

7. Learn the Language on the Fly

It is important to learn any language in the native environment. You don’t want to miss the opportunity. Even the basic knowledge of Chinese will bring some benefit on the spot. Knowing Mandarin well is also a great plus. Besides with so many dialects you will need to adjust your vocabulary to your specific area to make it well applicable. So don’t be shy to practice. The attempt itself will win the affection of the locals.

8. Bargain in the Markets

In the market they do that. Usually the foreigners are not expected to know this. Compared to the local shoppers, merchants offer higher prices to tourists. Make a counteroffer. Knowing the true prices of commodities is your best memo when doing so. The rule is only applied when the price is not written.

9. Ensure You’re All Set

Can’t stress this enough. Before coming to China or any foreign country for a lengthy period, make sure you’re all set. Start packing at least two weeks prior to the flight. Take additional money for the case of emergency. Adjust the settings on your phone for intercontinental calls to your parents.

10. Always Remember Who You Really Are

As much as you may feel obligated to embrace China and the local life, remember you don’t have to be perfect at it. Sometimes you may will feel a bit alienated. And it’s okay to feel out of place and miss home. Remember that you are an individual with different origins and mentality.

Now that you’re armed with some good intel and know what to expect, prepare for an adventure of your lifetime. The ever vibrant Celestial Empire awaits.