Tips and Tricks from a Recent Study Abroad Grad

Class visit to the museum.
Class visit to the museum.

By Xin Dong

During my senior year, I decided to take part in a language intensive program at Capital Normal University in Beijing, China. In addition to improving my Mandarin, I also gained a number of priceless experiences.

Students networking at the Project Pengyou dinnerMy experience would not have been possible without the Gilman Scholarship. To qualify for the scholarshipa student must study abroad for one semester or at least three weeks in the summer and must receive a federal Pell Grant. The application requires an essay and a follow-up service proposal. In addition to financial reward, the scholarship also provides many networking opportunities while in the country of study. Through the scholarship, I discovered many other programs in Beijing. At a Project Pengyou dinner, I had the opportunity to go to the ambassador’s residence and meet the ambassador himself. At the same time, I met other students participating in similar programs. I spoke at the embassy with other students about our experiences studying abroad and met a lot of locals in the process. Overall, the scholarship gave me the opportunity to branch out of my language program and meet other people with similar goals.

wechat logoLeaving the country always comes with certain struggles, but most can be avoided with preparation. Packing properly is the most important—be prepared for the seasons to go by very quickly. There are also some things that are just more convenient to buy in the United States: tampons, binders, and medicines (e.g. Nyquil and Claritin), etc. Having a Chinese bank account makes living in China easier by tenfold. ICBC and China Construction bank offer bank accounts to foreigners. Opening a Chinese bank account grants you access to the most important shopping and transportation apps. Most places in China do not even have an option to swipe your card or insert a chip as a majority of transactions are made through WeChat or Alipay.

Chinese vegetarian foodA personal struggle I had was maintaining a vegetarian diet abroad. Most Chinese foods are made with meat or animal fat, and the definition of “vegetarian” varies from one person to another. For example, some foods are garnished with small pieces of pork and some people consider that vegetarian friendly. If your dietary restriction is more serious, it is always important to ask specific questions. I was able to find a lot of vegetarian options and maintain a happy and healthy diet.

During my time abroad, I had a lot of time to reflect on my values and priorities. In this program we were each assigned a local roommate to get to know and exchange cultural facts with. From my roommate, I gained a deeper understanding of what being a young adult in China is like.

Xin Dong smiling with her teacherOverall, the lifestyle in China seems more humble and simple than in the U.S. People are generally less materialistic and less brand-obsessed (there are so many independent stores that it’s difficult for a certain brand to become mainstream). How people treat one another is also a huge difference. There is not a strong sense of judgement towards one another, people are usually open to newcomers and are not afraid to give compliments. After this experience, I like to think I have grown as a person: I have become more detached to material things and have started to focus on experiences that make me happy.

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