Why China? That is probably the question I got asked most before coming out here to do a five months internship at a company that actually arranges internships (how awesome is this?!) My standard answer to that question used to be: “Well, the Chinese culture is just so different from anything I know or am used to. I would love to see this country for myself and experience firsthand what it is like to live there for a while.”
Part of the reason for coming to China was also the fact that I studied Chinese at university back home with the intention of going to China “some day” and putting my skills into practice. One morning I woke up and found that “some day” had suddenly come- I would go live in China for five months! After everything had been arranged, I started getting more and more excited to set out on this adventure.
Although I was incredibly excited to finally go, my feelings were still somewhat mixed about what I was getting myself into. One the one hand, I could not wait to get on the plane and arrive in Chengdu, on the other hand I was a bit nervous. Despite my impressive “I want to see for myself what China is like” speech, I was not entirely sure how well I would deal with the cultural differences or the culture shock. Little did I know then just how true this would turn out to be!
I have done a fair degree of travelling and lived in places like Scotland and New Zealand for more than a year. I am used to spending time away from home and adapting to a new environment. However, nothing could have prepared me for what I was about to experience in China. For the first time in my life I felt really homesick and the first few weeks were quite tough in terms of getting used to this totally strange and somewhat alien culture. Just about everything was different from home: The food, the noise, the smells, the people, the way the city was designed, the traffic…
Getting used to everyday life in China has been a huge challenge but one I am more than happy to have tackled! Looking back on everything I have learned during my internship and my time here in China, I am really glad to have come. I have met so many interesting and lovely people from all over the world; made strong friendships both with locals and foreigners; seen some of the most famous cultural and historical sights in the world and experienced what it is like to live in a second tier city. I have been happy, sad, lonely, in best of company, frustrated, on cloud nine all at the same time. Though, more than anything I am proud of having put myself out there and tried to understand a country I knew so little about before. Even after having spent almost five months in Chengdu I would not claim to really know China or the Chinese (I think that as a foreigner you can live in China for decades and still discover new things every day). However, I think I am entitled to say now that I have a much better understanding of what is going on in this country on a day to day basis. On top of this I do not feel like a cheat anymore if I tell someone “I can speak Chinese” (which, come to think about it, is actually pretty badass). Language classes and speaking Mandarin on a daily basis have helped a lot to improve my language skills.
Living in China, I have come to look at what is underneath the surface of this noisy, busy culture. China can really drive you nuts sometimes, but at the same time, the people have an incredibly warm and welcoming nature that is unlike anywhere else in the world.
To all of you who are reading this right now and who are still not sure whether to come to China or not, I can only say: Do it! Test yourself. Your strength, your willpower and your endurance.
Embark on this once in a lifetime adventure and afterwards, be proud of what you have achieved. Yes, living China is challenging. No, it is not easy and I do not think it ever will be. When you give this country, its people and their culture a chance, you’ll be in for some of the best months of your life. You definitely won’t regret it!
There is a saying that once you come to Chengdu you won’t ever want to leave. After five months of living here I find this to be more than true and one thing I know for sure: I’ll be back!
For your chance to fall in love with China yourself, apply here!