No study abroad experience comes without it challenges–whether its cultural differences, language frustrations, being surrounded by strangers, or getting used to the food. Beijing is no exception to the rule. To help you on your journey, here are a few ways I believe you can make your time in Beijing, and perhaps the rest of china, a bit easier.
The infuriating internet!
China is notoriously infamous for its stringent internet regulations which might prevent you from accessing sites that you’ve grown to rely on. While you might be looking forward to that much needed break from Facebook, that isn’t the case for everyone. You also might end up quite frustrated when your knight in shining armour–Google Maps–doesn’t save you each time you stray off course. The VPN has been the traditional method to circumvent these restrictions and can easily be downloaded from either the apple or google play stores. But make sure to do this before you reach China (or download a Chinese app store) as the android play store blocked as well. Since a VPN may significantly slow down your internet speed, you might want to consider the social media alternative–WeChat and Baidu maps for your navigational needs. Afterall, cultural immersion is multifaceted and why should your internet use be exempt?
While the contactless and cash-free ways of the UK have changed the way we think about money, technological developments have taken a range of different forms across the globe. In Beijing, you might find that your trustworthy Visa or Mastercard, whose hands you’d placed your life in, has let you down. While you’ll be able to use them at ATMs, you might not fare as well at most smaller stores. The solution? Union Pay is the standard replacement to Visa. So, if you get a cash-card, that’s the way to go. Paper money is another way to get about, though you might want to look up the surcharges your bank imposes on withdrawals. While the temptation of having the local solutions of WeChat Pay or Alipay on your phone might be overwhelming, unfortunately you might struggle to put money onto the app as most foreign cards are not accepted. However, should you find a local friend who is willing to help you out, your payment problems will be an issue of the past!
English is the native tongue to only a small minority of Beijing’s population and without additional assistance you might struggle to truly explore the depths of the city. While language enthusiast will see this as the incredible opportunity it is to develop your skills, for the rest of you it might just be your phone that comes to the rescue (again!). Google translate does a shabby job at best and may be difficult to access in China. The alternative, as most Mandarin students will tell you, is an app called Pleco. The app works as a brilliant two-way dictionary and can be used with a range of different keyboards. Pleco can come in handy while ordering food (and limiting the spice), asking for directions to a specific place, or simply trying to read a sign. But at the end of the day, nothing beats meeting friend(s) who can show you around and help you navigate the fascinating city.
A few final thoughts…
I do believe that a large part of a study abroad experience is being in an unfamiliar setting and dealing with challenges that you face along the way. That being said, there’s nothing wrong with going in well prepared so you can make the most of your time abroad–rather than being caught up with frustrating technicalities of a foreign land. But if I was to give one piece of advice to someone exploring Beijing, it would be to befriend locals who can give you a different perspective on the city, help you with your problems, and give you company while you enjoy your study abroad experience.