Everybody says great things about travelling. After all, it’s the chance to explore new settings, people, cultures, and well, a different part of the world. So why not?
Choosing to intern in China had many benefits in my mind. It was a place I had never stepped foot on. I could practice my Mandarin. I’d be surrounded by people who don’t speak my language, my culture, and my heritage. In other words, a chance to explore and learn. On top of that, I’d get a chance to do journalism abroad. It couldn’t get any better, but I did not anticipate the degree of culture shock.
Upon arriving, it seemed as if not a single person spoke English. I wondered, “where is the international to Shanghai?”
I went to a restaurant only to be served boiling water as a drink and hot soda. This wouldn’t happen at home I thought. Where were my cold beverages? Oh and I couldn’t even dare to drink tap water.
I went to the food market, couldn’t read the labels, nor could I properly ask for what I wanted. This wouldn’t happen at home I thought, yet again.
Yes, food was crazy cheap, but the mere sight and smell of it was daunting. Going for McDonalds or the international options just didn’t seem right either. I was hungry and food portions were significantly smaller.
I didn’t have the luxury of easily complaining to my friends and family back home either. My internet was slow and I’d quickly lose signal if I tried calling.
I could say I was miserable for the first few days and wanted things to get a bit easier. Lucky for me they did. This only came with deciding to give China a chance and fully living by their rules and customs.
The initial comparison was only doing more harm than good. My prejudice was preventing me from exploring the differences and the beauty of Chinese culture.
I came to love the food and it’s spices. The city life was fast paced and lively. Despite its massive population, it felt safe. Getting around was affordable and easy. The buzz of the city and its people is what made every day different and interesting to watch.
I came to learn that fully immersing in a setting and traveling are two very different things. Traveling can give me a superficial understanding to a culture. I choose what to try and what not to. With working and living in China, I didn’t really have the chance to choose. Adapting was in my best interest and fully immersing gave me a peek at what it really is to live in China.