Living at IES Beijing – The Good, The Bad, The Ugly

After arriving here at the IES center at Beijing Foreign Languages University, I have the great pleasure of living in yet another new type of environment I have yet to experience: dorm life.  As a transfer student into Penn State I have the luxury of not having to live in a dorm, and my previous university experience I had the luxury or living at home while attending classes.  So when I arrived at IES, I was….to say the least not excited. Mostly about the size and the lack of privacy.

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Welcome to my dorm at IES Beijing

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My roommates bed lacks proper support and cusioning

I will be living with a Chinese roommate that does not arrive until next week.  But after sharing a room for several days with a homestay student, I am worried about how cramped it is.  I have not shared a room with someone since I was about 6 years old and the lack of having my own private space is worrisome, but this is a problem that plagues the entire country of 1.4 billion people.

The Goods:

There’s WiFi (Sometimes.) and ethernet.  There’s also a nice sized kitchen with 3 refrigerators and drinking water is provided since we obviously cannot drink the tap water.  The downside to this is that people don’t remember they put food in there and it spoils very quickly leading to the refrigerator smelling quite funky.  But hey! That’s negative! We don’t think about that for this part.  There’s also a nice community room with ping-pong and some other types of small games which we can enjoy.  Honestly I have never been to the dorms in Penn State so I have no idea how they compare to this, but I have seen many Chinese dorms and I know that I am living a life of luxury.  Many Chinese dorms have 4 to 8 people in a room, have to hand wash everything, no hot water, have to pay for showers outside, no kitchen, and usually have to share a bathroom with more than 50 people, and sometimes there’s no bathroom at all and they have to use a community bathroom outside that’s shared with 2 buildings.  Depends on the quality of the school.  So keeping this in mind, i’m quite lucky to be living in a co-ed dorm building with only one roommate.  My roommate will also be Chinese, so that gives me a great chance to practice my Chinese.

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I haven’t had the chance to cook yet, but can’t wait to fire these bad boys up.

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Western microwave and toaster oven, living the life at IES Beijing

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Ping Pong table which unfortunately has been used more for a studying table than actually playing ping pong

The Bads:

Honestly we are quite segregated and isolated from the other international students and students in general.  This building is all international students, but on our floor there are signs everywhere telling people that the amenities on our floor are only for IES students (people in my program which is all American).  The problem with this is it doesn’t allow us to branch out and meet people from other countries.  Instead it keeps us isolated and segregated from the general Chinese and international population.  There are many diverse countries represented in the building, but it’s a shame that only the American students have signs like this which if I were to see signs like this on another floor saying you are not welcome here, I would have nothing to do with them.  Really hurts our immersion attempts.

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Unfortunately these signs only further encourage our segregation from the Chinese and international student population

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Lounge for IES students only

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Again, if you’re not an IES student you CANNOT use these facilities.

Having to share a bathroom with a floor of strangers is also worrisome.  There’s only 3 toilets and while we voted to not make it co-ed, the females bathroom and shower room had their shower curtains taken away for some reason and they have not appeared again for several days, so like it or not, I am now sharing a small bathroom (3 toilets, 4 showers) with 50 people.  Obviously it could be worse, but this is not a situation i’m accustomed to dealing with, so the only culture shock i’m going to have is from living so close to people in situations where I feel I am being forced to make friends, which is not always the best tactic.

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Our 3 toilets. Note: You CANNOT put toilet paper into the toilets.

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At least we have a washer at IES….dryers not included, we need to air dry our clothes.

 The Ugly:

Well, there’s no too much ugly about living here.  The building behind us has been under construction since we got here, which means loud hammering starting at 6am, but honestly it’s not too bad.  I’m also getting yet another cold which is quite ugly, but aside from that, I think I will be able to make the most of living here for the next year and signs be damned, I look forward to branching out on my own to make friends with different people from different backgrounds.


Location: Beijing Foreign Languages University

Coming to China: What Do You Need?

What Do I Need?

Departing for another country is always a very nerve-wrecking time.  The added stress of study abroad in China comes from the culture being so completely different from that of American culture.  People often get caught up in the trip that they forget about essentials that are necessary for getting around in a developing country.

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Bags are Packed and ready to go!


What NOT to Bring:

It’s important to know where you’re going and what will be available in said areas.  Despite many misconceptions about China, it is easy to find western amenities in any big city that you may be going to.  Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Shenzhen, all have a large international community and thus any Wal-Mart (Yes they even have Wal-Mart in China), Metro, or Carrefour will have the basic necessities you will need.  If you’re just traveling for a semester, you do not need to bog yourself down with a bunch of stuff you can easily get in China.  Clothes, shoes, toothbrushes, toothpaste, shampoo, hairdryers are readily available in China so pack light!  Although I brought two bags, I am staying for a year and although I do not bring many clothes (even though I have to pack for 4 seasons), things add up quickly, so if you’re not positive you’ll need something, don’t bring it.

What TO Bring:

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Bring lots of medicine!

MEDICINE! Lots and lots of medicine.  When traveling to developing countries like China, you WILL get sick.  The food is different, the sanitation regulations are different (if they even exist), and the cooking preparation and storage methods are different.  Most importantly: The bugs are different.  Bugs as in virus’.  Being prepared for the sudden strike of 拉肚子 (diarrhea) is important, and trusting Chinese made medicines can be sketchy.  I make sure to bring plenty of aspirin, laxatives, anti-laxatives, stomach medicine, and cold medicine.  Bring it and do not be afraid to use it so you can be up and running as soon as possible.

Deodorant is also a great idea, but only as long as it isn’t in spray form.  Cans of compressed air can be taken from you at any transportation hub for being potentially dangerous (I found this out the hard way), so bring at least two sticks of deodorant instead.  It’s hard to find and it’ll keep you smelling fresh! Shaving cream and good razor blades are also a must.  You can find razors and shaving cream in China, but it is expensive because most Chinese do not need to shave, and most Chinese ladies do not shave their legs.  So be prepared and bring your own.  Ladies also may consider bringing a significant amount of feminine hygiene products.  You can buy them here, but they may not be as good or as comfortable as ones you can get in America.  This isn’t from experience……..I heard it………from a friend…….yeah that’s it.

Socks and underwear are a necessity as well.  Chinese made socks are cheap and do not provide enough support as western made, and the same goes for underwear.  Stock up! There’s a reason Chinese come to America and bring them back to China, so learn from them. Prepare for the worst

 

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Small Eyes

It’s hot. So extremely hot and sticky outside. I can feel my hair follicles sticking to my scalp. As I’m walking in the streets around my campus in search of food, all I can think about is my makeup melting away.

I’m standing next to my friend. She has fair skin, a quirky smile, and a slight accent from where she’s from.

IMG_0845We look at each restaurant and see what tickles our fancy. They’re all pretty small, and lacking air conditioning, but we just stop at the busiest looking one.

As we reach an empty table, right away they look at me for some sort of response. I hear a bombardment of Chinese words. In my head I’m thinking once again they are assuming and mistaking me for someone else… 

And it is true. Each person that speaks to me in Chinese is thinking of me as someone that I am not. Just because of my appearance. Just because of my hair. My face. My little Chinese eyes. But as you probably guessed, I’m an American born Chinese. Raised in New Jersey. I took a couple classes to learn Chinese, but to be honest I took Spanish for 5 years instead. Yet for me, going to China was my chance to jumpstart my language growth, and to be more at one with my roots.

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But it is a challenge at times having people already have an impression of you even before you speak. It’s even worst when they realize their impression of you was wrong and they get disappointed.

I look up at the server speaking to me. I just wave my hands and say “Duibuqi, wo bu shou zhongwen”, which translates to “Sorry, I don’t speak Chinese”. Sigh, once again I use the only sentence I know in Chinese. But with time I hope to see things change. I hope to grow from this and take the shame I feel and use it to my advantage. To be stronger than I am now.

Stay tuned,

Jessica

 

Skiing in the Andes

Driving up through the Andes on our way to Valle Nevado to ski for the day

Driving up through the Andes on our way to Valle Nevado to ski for the day

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Slowly but surely adjusting to winter in the Southern Hemisphere

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Yeah. We took a selfie on the ski lift. We’re not ashamed.

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I know the outfits are deceiving, but we actually did go skiing today and not in the ’90s.

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Everyone stopped skiing as a cloud covered the mountain

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“When you can’t find the bunny hill”

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When you can’t see 10 feet in front of you. It’s cool, clouds. We’ll just chill here for a sec.


Location: Valle Nevado, Vitacura, Chile

Safety in Chile: Bras edition

When it comes to living in the U.S., I’m not a big supporter of bras (get it…support). If I were a cup size or two smaller, I would never wear one. And I do like to think that 1960’s Emma would’ve been the first person in the street burning her bra at a women’s rights protest. But I do have to say, there is no more helpful piece of clothing than a bra when it comes to life in Chile. My bra is my lifeline. I put everything in there. My keys, phone, money, metro card. You name it, it is in my bra.

Now I do get some strange looks when someone calls me and I stick my hand down my shirt, but there’s a method to my madness. In the US, most females store their belongings in their bra for convenience because they do not want to carry around a purse. In Chile, I do it for safety. I may not be able to feel someone slipping my debit card out of my pocket while I’m riding the metro (which I’ve had to do a lot now that classes have started). Someone may grab my purse while I’m walking down the street. However, I do think I’ll notice if someone sticks there hand down my bra. Plus boob sweat makes stuff stick in there, making things a whole lot harder for a thief. Therefore, bra = best storage location for all important items. If someone sticks their hand in my pocket or steals my purse, jokes on them because all they’re getting is a handful of tissues (some used), some chapstick, a half-empty water bottle, and a crap ton of tampons. Stay safe and happy travels, folks!


Location: San Joaquin, Santiago, Chile

My feminist view on Chilean Clubbing vs. American Frat-ting (if that’s even a word)

Wow. That title sounds intense. Why did I pick that title? Well because my parents read my blog, and I thought it would make them a little less concerned that I went out clubbing. I don’t think it will worked though because I also just admitted that I have indeed attended frat parties before. Sorry Mom and Dad.

Anyways. Last night after seeing Los33 (amazing movie about the 2010 mine collapse in Chile), we went out to dinner at a Mexican restaurant to celebrate the birthday of one of the girls in my program (Happy birthday, Serena!). After some delicious food, we headed to Club 57. There is a program for exchange students at La Católica (the university where I’m studying) called CAUC. CAUC organizes trips to see different parts of Chile, barbeques to socialize with Chilean students at the university, and parties at clubs in Santiago (like the one I attended last night).

As we left dinner and started walking, I’m not going to lie, I got a little nervous. We were going to a club in a big city. We had been warned to not bring anything important with us because it would most likely get stolen (but honestly, this is a risk just taking the subway or walking down a crowded street). The women in my program had also been warned that men at clubs are very persistent and will ask you to dance again and again and again and again… My first reaction to this was “Wow! They actually ask you to dance?” Men (and when I say men, I don’t mean all men) will sneak up behind you on the dance floor and start rubbing the fabric covering their genitalia against the fabric covering your buttocks. Super sexy. What really gets to me is that many men at frats (or clubs or bars or wherever you are out dancing) do not ask. They just have this weird sense of entitlement over a woman’s body and think that just because you are out dancing that you want to dance with them. Now it can be argued that men at frats are too scared to ask girls to dance at the risk of being rejected, so they try to ease into dancing with someone. But wouldn’t you rather be turned down with a “no” instead of risking possible sexual harassment charges?

We arrived at Cub 57 and there weren’t that many people there. This was to be expected because clubs and bars don’t usually fill up until 2AM and people leave around 5AM, as opposed to American party hours which seem to fall between 10PM and 2AM. As more and more people arrived and staff moved the tables and chairs out of the way, we started dancing and having a grand old time. Much to my surprise, nobody was asking us to dance. The dance floor seemed to be relatively safe. As long as we all stuck to ourselves and danced like complete idiots, we were fine. But then I had to go to the bathroom (with a friends of course – buddy system!). As soon as I left the dance floor and started searching for a place to “break the seal” (as the kids say these days), it started. Some asked in English, others asked in Spanish. But they all grabbed your arm. Right above the elbow, at the bicep. That was something that nobody had warned me about. This arm grab made it a little more forced and not as polite as I had expected. I was kind of hoping for a nice hand offer. I supposed this physical contact when asking a woman to dance is better than a man placing his junk near your junk, like in the US. Regardless, it was unwanted physical contact, so I didn’t feel the slightest bit bad turning them down. As everyone became more and more inebriated, the dance floor was no longer a safe haven no matter how crazy you danced. Believe me. I tried.

Man: Would you like to dance?

Me: No, thanks.

Man: Would you like to dance?

Me: No.

Man: Dance?

Me: No.

But as the night went on, our patience ran thin. Rejections became less and less polite.

Man: Would you like to dance?

My friend: No.

Man: What’s your name?

Friend: No.

Man: What’s your name?

Friend:

I think I can conclude that I prefer the Chilean way. Asking first is always better. But both cultures are not completely up to par in terms of respecting women. Now you may say, “If you don’t want to dance with guys, just don’t go out.” I say to you, “why do I have to stay in and not the guys?” In conclusion:

Rule 1.) No touchy unless you asky.

Rule 2.) No means no.

Busting the Stereotypes

After strolling around for almost 2 months in the Russian Federation, I have learned so much about cultural differences. I have seen things that I never would have imagined I would witness here in Russia, and I would love to share these “stereotype-busters” with you in this post.

1. Russia does not have year-long winter: “You are studying abroad in Russia?! You will have to wear your winter coat ALL summer!”

While it may seem that almost every American film set in Russia involves freezing weather and fur coats and hats, brutal cold is not the only temperature. Sunshine does exist: I have seen beaches and people sunbathing in parks. There are fountains here that children play in and adults run through. On sunny days, my phonetics professor actually teaches our class outside on the green lawn!

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They have beaches in Russia?!

To be completely honest, the weather is a little odd. The rain and wind here can get pretty funky. My host mom just informed me that there was a small tornado in St. Petersburg yesterday, and she said it was the first time ever. (This is also the record coldest summer since 1948, which is unfortunately ironic.) Nevertheless, even during an unusually windy and chilly summer, sunburns and sweat are still very much a reality.

 

2. I haven’t seen any bears roaming about in Russia. I haven’t even seen a pet bear on a leash. But I have seen stray dogs and more pigeons than I would ever like to see. And I have also seen pet monkeys in outfits and raccoons on leashes. Go figure.

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This lil guy actually has an owner, but he was strolling about campus today and interrupted our last outdoor phonetics class.

 

3. All Russians are not as “serious” as one might have thought. Humor is a huge part of life here, and it is enjoyable to catch silly moments on the metro or marshrytka (like when an elderly woman starts laughing hysterically and blessing you repeatedly because she fell onto your lap during a sharp turn …or when it starts raining out of nowhere and the wind blows your umbrella inside-out and an elderly man finds it to be absolutely hysterical). Actually, a lot of these LOL moments happen at home. I woke up the other morning to some Russians teenagers singing “Hakuna Matata” outside my window.

And the other week, I bought a purse during a huge sale at the mall, and my host mom liked it so much that she went out and bought the same purse in a different color …and could not wait to tell me about it. Now she enjoys telling me “good job” every time I take it with me out the door in the morning.

And sometimes, when she knows I have been to the mall, she will ask me if I saw any good deals.

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“Super American Sandwich”… Russian humor at its finest.

 

4. Fastfood is better abroad. There is just something about sitting in a Burger King with a ceiling fit for a cathedral and biting into the most plump burger that makes one start to compare…

 

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The prettiest Burger King ceiling I ever did see

 

And… Russian McFlurries are creamier than American ones, too.

"The Well-Done Farmer's"

To be entirely honest, the best American hamburger I had here was from a Russian cafe…

 

5. Russia has roller coasters. I would know – for the Fourth of July, I went to a “Disney-like” theme park. Oh, and they are WILD. The advertisements for the particular roller coaster that I rode said it went from 0 to 100 km/hr in 2 seconds, but the fact that there was no bar over my shoulders during all the loops and corkscrews was slightly more terrifying. But for the split-second I had at the top before the plunge, I could see the most spectacular view.

Roller Coaster in Russia

How Americans celebrate the Fourth of July in Russia…

 

6. Not all Russians drink. But when they do, according to my culture professor, they do it right. And it is normally vodka. “To warm Russians up because we are such cold people,” he would sarcastically explain.

 

7. The Minion movie in Russian is great. Without having really seen either Despicable Me movie, I can say that my friend and I laughed our pants off in a theater that only had a handful of other people in it… and they were all under 3 feet tall.

That reminds me…

 

8. Russian movie theaters have the comfiest seats ever. And probably the coolest refreshment options ever. A pint of Baskin Robbins? Sure. Refillable giant sugar sticks? So that’s why the little boy kept leaving the theater…

 

9. While it is advised to keep a straight, blank look on your face on the metro, some people are doing just fine without their “Metro Face”:

After this Russian man spontaneously hopped on the metro and started playing his electric clarinet after everyone had a long and tiring day (Navy Day celebrations – long travels, lots of walking, lots of exciting events)… he ran up and down the aisle – asking for money – and then hopped off at the next stop.

Never a dull moment.

BK

^^^ Not even for him.


Location: st. petersburg, russia

Valparaíso and Viña del Mar

My apologies in advance. This is not one of my funnier posts; it’s more of a this-is-what-I -did post. So if you are not my mom or dad, you have no obligation to read this.

On Saturday, I visited Valparaíso and Viña del Mar with the other chicos in my program. In Valparaíso, we visited one of three of Pablo Neruda’s houses. It was a beautiful house with 5 levels and had a beautiful view of the Pacific. However, it felt really strange being there. It felt like I was at one of Pablo’s (or should I say Neftalí’s?) parties to which I wasn’t invited. It was a cool experience to have, but I got an unwelcoming vibe (probably because I prefer to address a famous Nobel Prize winning poet by his first name).

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Pablo Neruda’s house

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The view from the 5th floor of Pablo Neruda’s Valparaíso house

After our visit to Pablo’s house, we walked the streets of Valparaíso, looking at the famous hills chock-full of colorful houses and admiring the graffiti. I definitely want to beach it for a day in Valparaíso when the weather gets a little warmer.

Graffiti in Valparaíso

Graffiti in Valparaíso

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“Use the bike”

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“Do something good today”

The hills of Valparaíso

The hills of Valparaíso

We took an ascensor (just like the Incline in Pittsburgh) down a hill and walked toward the port, passing by the Chilean Naval building. On our way to admire the ocean, we got a few Halo’s and a few middle fingers. I guess when you’re sightseeing with 21 students, it’s hard to blend in. I swear, it wasn’t us being obnoxious Americans.

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Chile’s Naval building

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By the port, a gringo who you can tell is a gringo

Our last stop was Viña del Mar for lunch before walking along the beach. We ate at an Italian restaurant. Why not Chilean cuisine? (1) Our professors chose the restaurant. (2) I’m not gonna lie, Chilean food is kinda meh. It’s pretty bland in my opinion. However, I did eat a Chilean (or, depending on who you ask, Peruvian) dessert called suspiro limeño (dulce de leche pudding under meringue topping – YUM!).

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Flower clock, a gift from Switzerland

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Suspiro limeño

Along the beach, there were vendors selling everything from Chilean flag hats to alpaca sweaters. Guess which one I bought? You guess it, the alpaca sweater! I’m planning on wearing it to class Monday, so maybe I’ll snap a photo for you to admire its gorgeousness. Chao for now!

The beach in Viña del Mar

The beach in Viña del Mar


Location: Valparaíso, Chile

My first poop

I’m constipated. Seriously. I recently pooped for the first time since I left my house in the U.S. I left Saturday morning and finally pooped Tuesday. That’s four days of no pooping. I’m telling you this not because I’m crazy (which I am), but because I feel like this constipation is very symbolic of learning a language in a new place. Allow me to explain:

At first, you don’t feel like you even have to poop. You need some time. You don’t speak much. You’re just waiting it out. You’re enjoying being in a new place, but you are also too nervous to talk or poop. You are very thankful that people are understanding of not wanting/being able to speak much yet. In the same way, you are thankful that you don’t have to poop yet because pooping in a new place can be awkward at first (even though everybody does it).

Then you get a little gassy. You try a new food that your host mom serves you. You think that you could poop now, but you’re going to wait. You blurt out only words or short phrases as you grow more comfortable in this new location.

Then you lose all inhibitions and go for it (and by go for it, I mean when everybody is asleep or out of the apartment). You decide to not be embarrassed and just poop. Just speak whenever you have something to say, whether it is grammatically correct or not.

I suppose the moral of the story is, when learning a new language, one cannot be embarrassed to make mistakes. This constipation will only make it harder and harder to build up the courage to speak. Just poop already!

On a side note, the toilets do not flush the opposite direction compared to the U.S. (see my first post). They kind of just suck everything down. Now you can go hope, pray, cross fingers, wish upon a star, do whatever you have to do to ensure that I don’t get kicked off the Penn State Geoblog for writing about poop.


Location: Providencia, Santiago, Chile