I can’t believe I’ve been here for a month already! The time has really flown by, what with everything that’s been going on. In the past month, I have spent a few days in Beijing, registered for uni, started classes and gotten to know my new home! There’s been a lot to get used to in the past month but also a lot of time for thinking. I want to do this kind of blog, which will be a more reflective one, when I hit some of the big milestones. So expect something similar around the 3, 6 and 9 month mark!
Not having been here all that long, I’ve been taking joy in the little wins. These have been things like finally adjusting to the heat and humidity, getting the hang of using chopsticks or finding my way around campus without getting lost.
On a slightly larger scale, I’ve noticed a big improvement in my Chinese in just the last month. Constantly being surrounded by Chinese characters means there is always something new to learn and constantly overhearing it everywhere has helped tune my ear in to the sound of it more. My comprehension has improved rapidly, though I would say my speaking still needs to catch up a little.
I also had (and won!) my first argument in Chinese! Well, argument might be a strong word. It was more of a misunderstanding. I didn’t get given the right change after paying for my lunch and a lengthy explanation on my part and help from a girl waiting in the queue who seemed to understand what I was getting at. A team effort but still a win!
Self-esteem is something that I’ve been struggling with since I got here. I’ve always lacked confidence when it comes to speaking Chinese. I think it stems from coming into university with no previous knowledge which made me feel like I was always behind. That, combined with no experience speaking it outside the classroom had me a bit apprehensive before I even got here. While my confidence has definitely improved while being here, there are still days when I question myself. The class I’m in is the right level for me but it still feels like a lot of my classmates can have more fluent, complex conversations than I could even imagine having.
Socialising has also been a bit difficult too. I’ve made friends with lots of my classmates but living with a host family, as good as it is, sometimes has me feeling like everyone is getting to know each other and having fun without me. Not true (hopefully). There also isn’t as much of a culture around activities as in the UK so I haven’t found any clubs to join yet either. Lots of people play basketball, football or volleyball on the courts or use the pool but there’s not as much organised sport. I have heard rumours about a swim team though and also various teams in the School of International Education. Stay tuned…
One of the biggest adjustments I’ve had to make, which is actually quite small, is drinking hot water. You can’t drink the tap water in China which means a lot of people boil water and will just drink that. I can handle it but it’s not my favourite. There’s one thing that makes it much more bearable – adding instant coffee!
Another minor adjustment has been the toilets. In a throwback to Honduras, you can’t flush toilet paper here so have to put it in a bin next to the toilet. Turns out its just like riding a bike. A more uncomfortable addition is that fact that squat toilets are abundant and as pleasant as they sound. Often requiring you to bring your own resources (tissues, hand sanitiser, a nose peg for the smell), the ‘squat’ has been one of the hardest things to master.
My high points so far have come from the little things – going for a swim, eating lunch at my favourite hot pot place, spending the day at the beach or having a successful day in class. I think embarking on something as new and different as moving to China can be overwhelming and a year can feel like an extremely long time, so it can be helpful to hone in on the little things that bring joy.
One particularly hard moment while I’ve been here was watching all of my friends go back to uni in Edinburgh but in general there haven’t actually been many low points. There’s been a few moments, for sure, moments of homesickness, worry or stress but these have been few and have all passed.
At the minute I am looking forward to going to Beijing next week. We have a week off to celebrate National Day, the anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China, so I’m heading out of Dalian for a bit. I want to see more of Beijing because I didn’t really do much when I was there last time.
After that I head into a 16 week stretch of class – not sure if I’m looking forward to that or dreading it. I’m kidding, it will be good to get stuck into class as the three weeks up to now have had a fair bit of disruption. It’s definitely going to be a long road but I want to plan a few weekend trips to have some breaks to look forward to.
And now for some goals for the next few months. I obviously want to keep improving my Chinese and my main focus will be on oral Chinese. I want to be able to have what feels like a smoother conversation, using more complex language and phrases.
On the other side of things, I want to try and join a club of some kind. As I said before I’ve heard about a swim team and a few other options so I’m going to investigate those. This might help me with another goal which is to make some more Chinese friends. I have one or two but its hard as the language course is kept pretty separate from everything else and because I don’t live on campus either.
And there you have it! 1 month in and I’m feeling excited about the ones that are still to come!