Lessons I Learned while on Study Abroad… In the Order of Importance

Written by Haoyu Guo, (Grand Valley State University) Student Correspondent CET Beijing, Summer 2017

During this trip, I have been dubbed “Momma” by my friends since I seem to be the go to person if problems pop up. I’m not always helpful, but here is my list of “motherly” advice that I learned the hard way.

  1. Confucius Temple- Can you see the old man resting in the tree

    Medicine: Bring stomach medicine or any type of medicine with you when you go somewhere new even if it’s just a city or you think you have an iron stomach so you won’t need it. Being in a new country is very fun, but you didn’t grow up here so there’s an extremely high chance just eating or drinking will cause some issues like extreme diarrhea. Take me for example. I got really bad stomach aches just in the second to last week of the program, even though I was pretty fine before. So the main lesson is to be prepared. It’s better to have medicine on hand than trying to find the equivalent in another country. If you run out it’s okay because the staff on campus will always get you more medicine, it just won’t be brands you recognize. The best idea is to make a personalized emergency medical kit.

  2. Bottled water: Here in China, people drink hot water more often than cold water, so for a lot of Americans it takes a bit of adjustment to get used. Lots of people also have to get used to the fact that you can’t drink straight tap water because it needs to be boiled first, so bring a large water bottle or get ready to buy bottled water to drink. This also provides great chances to try all the unique drinks the Chinese have that you may not easily find in America such as milk tea, coconut milk drinks and so on.
  3. Directions: Getting lost is an everyday thing that everybody goes through. I get lost at least once a week and without Baidu Maps (the Google Maps of China) I wouldn’t have been able to do as much traveling as I have nor as smoothly. So it’s okay to be lost, but always have a backup plan which in this case is something that will at least lead you back to the nearest landmark you recognize.
    Don’t forget it’s fun to get lost, it’s part of the study abroad experience.
  4. One of the CET roommate takes us to explore one of the local parks, Beihai Park.

    Planning activities: Activities are great! Each city has landmarks, shops and restaurants that are must visits, but no matter how much time you are in a city for study abroad, there isn’t enough time to see them all. Unfortunately, you have to prioritize what you want to see and try, but think of it just as planning for the next adventure in the country if you don’t get the chance to see it this time. Try to do everything you want even if it’s just by yourself, but don’t be too disappointed because what you already did see has added so much to your study abroad experience.

  5. Buying things, is it worth it? Whenever I go on vacation, I enjoy buying souvenirs, but I have a tendency to buy too much. As study abroad students, we also have a tendency to end up at tourist traps, places that sell so-so quality souvenirs at extravagant prices. It’s easy to buy all the things you want at those places especially if you tend to convert the prices in your head to how much you’d be paying in the States. At times, it works for you, but to really see if an object is worth it you have to think about it in local income terms. A good example would be a beautiful tea set that the seller says is worth 200RMB, but the locals probably couldn’t afford at that price, so it’s over charged and not worth it. At that point it’s better to find it somewhere else or bargain down if you can. It’s all part of living in a foreign country to get to know the real prices of something. Of course, its fine to buy something a little more expensive as a gift, but watching prices and bargaining will help you get even better gifts for people back home.
  6. Out for lunch at a local restaurant. The best way to explore chinese culinary culture is to do family style meals.

    Food: One suggestion is to TRY, TRY, and TRY, but be careful where you try and always ask for suggestions from the roommates, teachers and staff because they will introduce you to some of the best places to eat in the local area. Another thing to do is go family style with your fellow students in the program because you can order more dishes to eat at the local restaurants. Though be careful because no matter how cautious you are about choosing a clean restaurant, exchange students aren’t used to the local cooking style, water, and bacteria so, unfortunately you will have some stomach issues sometime during your program at least once. It’s practically unavoidable I’m sorry to say.

Well to end on a better note, I hope you have a wonderful study abroad trip like I did. I personally recommend CET Summer Beijing Internship! The teachers are great, Beijing is amazing and so is China!