There’s a Chinese folk tale about a frog who lived in a well. Having never left the well before, he believed it was a paradise, preferring his small circle of sky to the unknown world outside.
Like that frog at the bottom of the well, you aren’t capable of fully understanding the culture that you come from unless you step outside of it. Entering a different environment really shows you how much your own culture shapes your reality. Once you leave your bubble, you start realizing how valuable (or meaningless) certain things in your life are. You may go from rushing home from work to catch your favorite sport team’s game on a Friday night to finding a passion for Heyrobics! with the international community in your new city. Instead of Facebook messenger, you might be more likely to check your WeChat messages.
On a macro level, studying abroad in China will also allow you to develop a more international awareness of global issues. My time in China has broadened my perspective and allowed me to reflect on my beliefs and values. If amazing adventures, life-changing experiences, and meaningful personal growth are for you, here are seven reasons you should choose to study in China instead of Europe.
1. China: where ancient and modern cultures collide.
China is a place where culture is not relegated to an old building or a museum. Unlike Western culture, in the average American classroom, Chinese culture is only briefly discussed. Old and new traditions permeate every aspect of society here and it’s impossible to look away (not that you’d want to).
Imagine celebrating the fourth of July, and instead of watching fireworks at set location, like your community park, you can have your own epic firework shows, wherever you want. The entire skyline fills with countless explosions, as people launch fireworks from in between high-rises, and on every street corner. This is Chinese New Years in a typical Chinese city, where all night, fireworks go off in the middle of the street and literally no one cares. Cultural traditions such as this go back thousands of years, but there are also much younger traditions such as the recently famous Ice Festival in Harbin, where you can have snowball fights while riding bumper cars. You will be surrounded by Chinese culture, wherever you turn, regardless if you decide to try on a traditional dress or not, so be sure to open your mind to soak it all in.
2. Street Food. Family-style Dining. Nothing like Panda Express.
Trust me on this; if you try nothing else in China, Chinese food is one aspect of the culture you need to dig into.
You will be constantly on the hunt for the best 包子 (baozi) shop, or a new favorite 四川 (Sichuan) restaurant. Once you find your spot, you will find yourself coming back day after day for the same oily goodness. Don’t worry, Panda Express has nothing on the real deal: with eight regional cuisines, each with their own unique dishes and flavors, there is something for everyone (even vegetarians). In fact, some of the best places to eat are the ‘mom-and-pop’ shops along the road. Don’t let appearances deceive you; they may look nondescript, but some of my favorite places to eat lunch are on street corners, a little shack with tables, and extra seating outside.
As an added perk, the exchange rate is roughly 6 RMB to 1 USD, and the average meal can be as cheap as only two or three dollars. In case you crave a taste of home don’t worry; there are many decent international restaurants (and even microbreweries,) to enjoy here if you are ever craving a decent burger or beer…Great Leap Brewery anyone?
3. Explore cities of ice and steel. Wind through hutongs. Get lost in the countryside.
If you enjoy traveling, make sure you have a good pair of hiking shoes. China boasts a land mass of roughly 3.71 million square miles, and twenty-six provinces, each with their own local specialties and flavor. See the ‘Venice of China’ in Suzhou, the terracotta warriors in Xi’an, walk along the ‘Dragon’s Spine’ in Guilin, or numerous other scenic places.
China’s expansive rail system is roughly equal to the rest of the world’s operating high speed rail systems combined. Frequent travelers can get most places within the country quite conveniently and affordably traveling by train. I recommend taking the regular sleeper car at least once, if only for the experience of getting up close and personal with numerous locals who will be your bunk-mates. Of course, you can always fly to get around the country, which can be much more convenient, timely, and sometimes similarly priced as train tickets.
Regardless of how you get around, you will definitely miss out if you don’t take the time to explore China as much as possible; New York City is not representative of the entire United States, nor is Shanghai or Beijing representative of China.
4. Chinese is spoken by over 15% of the world’s population.
While potentially the most daunting aspect of living in China, it is also one of the most rewarding aspects. Learning Chinese opens the gateway to communicate with over 1.3 billion other Chinese speakers world-wide; that’s quite a large community to be part of.
Even the most basic grasp of the language will make your interactions with Chinese culture, and Chinese people, immensely more satisfying. If you’ve ever been at a bar or a club and at least been able to have a decent conversation in broken Chinese, you probably found yourself with a few drinks, and maybe some new WeChat contacts. A minimal grasp of Mandarin also makes ordering food tremendously easier; say goodbye to the days of rushing to pleco the food menu. Furthermore, if you are brave enough to use your Chinese, locals will be brave enough to talk with you! Through language practice you will be able to view China in a nuanced way, opening up a plethora of doors as you develop deeper connections with Chinese culture.
5. China is developing quickly. You will literally be able to watch the city grow around you.
This is an exciting time to live in China. The entire country is continuing to develop at an astounding rate and you have the ability to see this nation’s growth first hand. Things are developing so fast here, that after only a couple weeks away from Beijing, I found certain shop streets completely replaced with other businesses. Your favorite restaurants can also go from a tiny ‘hole-in-the-wall’ type place to doubling in size…in the span of a week.
Years of economic prosperity and a growing middle class has given China’s youth new-found wealth, and considerable amounts of free time. They are now able to pursue all sorts of activities that were unavailable to their parents and grandparents in the past. Across the country there is a growing interest in sports (China even has it’s own American Football league). With so much change happening in China at such unbelievable speeds, you will feel the shift in history first-hand.
6. You can tell your parents you feel safe in your adopted home.
Simply put, it feels safer here.
It is surprising how many people have the misconception that China is ‘dangerous’, but I actually feel safer here. No matter what time of night it is, and what part of town you’re in, you don’t feel the need to constantly look over your shoulder. However, petty theft is common, and with so many people on the streets, especially in popular tourist locations, pickpockets are able to disappear quickly into the crowd. This precaution is not limited to China; it is no different than other big cities. Locals are typically peaceful and friendly. In fact, the only thing you need to be afraid of is your host mother loving you to death, and fattening you up with “多吃， 多吃“ (eat more, eat more).
7. The Pengyous you meet in China will be for life.
Spending four months with the same group of people while studying abroad allows you to become much closer, especially so when in China. Your first few weeks abroad can be a rough adjustment period for some, but your fellow study abroad students, (or in the case of independent studies, your other foreign classmates,) will relate to your struggles, and can be a great source of comfort. We can all laugh off the peculiar situations we find ourselves in here, like the ‘celebrity treatment’ by locals who want to take pictures with us, and even the occasional sandstorm that we like to joke simply ‘clears out our sinuses’.
The relationships you make here in China are going to last for the rest of your life. These are people I truly want to see again. No matter where we might end up in the world, I know we will always make time for each other.
China has so much to offer…
Roughly 300,000 Americans study abroad each year, over 50% of them study abroad in Europe, while less than 5% of those students opt to study abroad in China. This means that 95% of Americans who study abroad are missing out on the time of their lives. We are already exposed to primarily Western narratives through our education, popular culture, and mainstream media. In China you can shed your biases and re-evaluate what is important to you, while also realizing cultural differences can be overcome. Although the media focuses on US-China relations as a power struggle between rivals, in reality we are quite similar.
Living in China, you will make connections between your academic and daily life. Instead of being shocked and taken aback by cultural differences, you will start to appreciate that every nation has its own unique history, and cultural views. Staying in the ‘well’ of Western ideas limits your potential to see the world from different perspectives. Like the frog in the story, people simply need to climb out to broaden their horizons.
Face the unknown, adapt to life in China and you will learn to approach any new situation with confidence. Compared to Europe, studying abroad in China might seem like a challenge; it’s different, fresh, and at times a little crazy, but trust me, its going to be worth it.
So what are you waiting for? Sign up to study abroad in China today.
Calligraphy image courtesy of studyinchina.universiablogs.net
Construction image courtesy of stockrockandroll.com
Street image courtesy of rebeccacao.files.wordpress.com