Written by Sheiran Phu, (Yale University) Student Correspondent CET: Harbin, Fall 2018
Adjusting to life abroad can feel like an endless cycle of frustration. So have fun reading through my struggles so that you can avoid them if you end up deciding to study in Harbin 😉
My flight plans changed at the last minute. I was set to arrive in Harbin at 11 AM rather than 2:45 PM. I had contacted the CET office in Washington DC, and had uploaded an updated itinerary a week before the program started. Unfortunately, the information didn’t make it all the way to the on-site CET Harbin staff. Luckily, Li Laoshi (our residential director) had added all of us on WeChat in advance, so after connecting to the spotty airport WiFi (it’s always worse in the baggage claim area), I was able to give her a call. Moral: If your flight plans change, it’s a good idea to tell one of the on-site staff in advance.
WeChat Pay is more popular and convenient than cash in China, but it requires that you link WeChat to a Chinese bank account. What should have taken about 1 hour ended up taking 2 due to long lines and communication difficulties. Also don’t forget your WeChat Pay password after you set it.
I’m constantly switching between WeChat, Zalo, GroupMe, and Messenger (when my VPN is on) in order to stay in touch with friends outside the program. WeChat is best for video calls but unfortunately it doesn’t let you react to individual messages. #missednotifications #forgivemefornotreplying #toomanyappslol. Despite the hashtags though, I AM grateful that we live in a time where technology makes it possible to stay in touch with friends.
I arrived to realize that towels are not provided. Sheets are only changed once a month so maybe bring an extra pillowcase or two as well.
I always forget to drink water, which is bad because dehydration always increases frustration. Unfortunately, my tired, jet-lagged self left my water bottle in a restaurant. Luckily there’s a supermarket super close by where you can get everything you need.
I got locked out of my room but because my room lock and key set is weird, the extra set of keys the receptionist had didn’t work. It took 30 min and several trips up and down 4 flights of stairs to get me back in. Moral: Don’t forget your keys. Be more mindful of what you have and don’t have in your bag before leaving your room. Or any place for that matter.
China Mobile SIM cards don’t work on iPhone 5s or older. They don’t work on LG G5’s either. I only learned this after I’d bought a China Mobile SIM card. So be sure to do a quick internet search before buying because there are no refunds and they don’t let you try it out before you purchase. I ended up buying a China Unicom SIM card and that works fine.
My phone battery life was pretty great before I left the US. Unfortunately, the battery drains very quickly here because Google Play Services is constantly trying and failing to connect to the Google server (I think?), and this is not a normal app that I can just delete. I’ve found that connecting to WiFI instead of using my data connection helps significantly reduce battery drain though. A battery pack would also help.
If for some reason Venmo has black-listed your account and you’ve resorted to PayPal to move your money, make sure to get everything handled before you leave the US for the reason that PayPal always wants you to authenticate by entering in the code you’ve received through text via the US number you have linked to your account. RIP.
So do your best to resolve all bank and money related issues and potential issues before leaving, e.g. set up that travel notice so your card doesn’t get declined.
One of the CET roommates and I had an interesting conversation about Chinese beauty products—mainly about how one should avoid them and go for Japanese or Korean products instead because the quality of ingredients is higher. Japanese and Korean products here are more expensive though (due to foreign import tax) and unfortunately there are A LOT of fakes on the market that appear to be genuine. She said a lot of Chinese after going abroad bring back foreign beauty products to use or sell (profit margins are high). Moral: Face masks from the US (including imported masks) might be a good gift for your future roommate.
My complaints may appear numerous, but I’m very grateful that most of these “problems” were solvable with time and patience. Anyone who knows me knows that I have very little patience but hey, I guess this is my chance to improve that aspect of myself, in addition to my Chinese fluency.
Clearly a lot of these challenges are just Adulting 101, with the twist that you have to solve all your problems in Mandarin. So far, it seems that CET Harbin expects students to be more independent, more so than in some of the other CET programs. It’s difficult for me personally because I am very much not an independent adult, but I’d like to think of these experiences as preparation for the near future haha!