Monday, 14 March 2016

First Week in China - First Impressions

Moving to another country is always going to be different. I suppose that’s exactly what we all sign up for when we decide to pack our bags and relocate. Moving to another country that doesn't recognize English as a first language however, can be more difficult of a transition than it may seem.

I've been in China for over a week now; and it is poles apart from what I initially imagined it would be. Moving to America previously was a lot more simplistic in many ways; the natives spoke the same language as me, the food was relatively similar and the integration in to society was a lot smoother.

China is a different kettle of fish completely. When I arrived in to Hong Kong airport after a lengthy journey that began in Belfast, I was pleased to see all of the signs in the airport were in both Chinese and English. However, when arriving by ferry in to Zhuhai, the dynamics changed completely, and finding any form of communication in English was like trying to find a needle in a haystack.

Luckily, I had Janice, a member of the Intern China team with me to help me get to the apartment. When I arrived at the apartment though, I just passed out after a pretty long journey. The view from our balcony is awesome too; and at night you can see Macau in the distance. 

Next day was orientation day; so I met the rest of the Intern China team, was introduced to the company I would be working for, and had my first taste of real Chinese food with chopsticks! 

The next few days was more of a settling in process before I started work the following Monday, so I spent my time very wisely doing something I do best; sleeping! 

The company I am working for is Recycling Times Media in Zhuhai, a print consumables company that operates in a very diverse and niche industry. My role is in the brand marketing team, focusing mostly on social media editing and engagement. It's a pretty cool role with a lot of responsibility, and it's right up my street. 

Outside of work, there are many aspects of life in China that are different from the Western world. A few examples;

Everyone stares

Whether it's the 2 year-old child looking at you for the full 20 minutes you are on the bus, or the shopkeeper in the corner shop who glares at you when you're trying, and failing, to read the Chinese writing on a carton of milk, you can't help but feel like a bit of an outsider. Earlier this week, a Chinese man legit crashed his bike in to a wall because he turned his head to stare at me. Now he has a broken bicycle, and who knows, possibly a broken neck after rotating it 180 to see why there was a white chick in his neighbourhood. 

Squat toilets exist

They are on the ground, and it's basically a hole in the floor. You have to squat if you want to use the toilet. I'm not really sure whether to hold the walls or the floor to keep balanced; but once I find a good strategy, I'll let you know! P.s, friendly tip - try to avoid when you've had a few too many Tsingtao's!

The food is different

Noodles and rice everywhere. Literally, everywhere. There are nice markets close-by though where you can buy potatoes and veg. I tend to buy quite a lot of potatoes, funny enough :)

Social media is blocked

You're probably wondering how I'm using social media if it is blocked in China, right? Well, there are apps and programs called VPNs. They are networks that you can download to be able to access banned sites. They come in really handy, but can be a little temperamental at times.

Traffic is INSANE

Cyclists, everywhere. Buses, everywhere. Cars almost knocking over cyclists and pedestrians and cutting out in front of other cars with so little concern. Zhuhai is a very busy city, and getting to work in the morning can take quite a while!

The first week of my time in China has been very eye-opening, and adjusting to life in a non-English speaking country has been one of the more difficult aspects. However, the important reason for being here is to learn about a new culture and embrace everything, because we live in a world with so many unique individuals and diverse cultures. 

Being in China also gives you the opportunity to do things you wouldn't otherwise get the chance to do, like using chopsticks, and learning (or in my case, trying yet failing miserably) to learn a new language. All of the cultural differences are staggering, but it is such a worthwhile experience, and going solo is one of the best ways to discover, because you are forced to do everything yourself. 

One of the main benefits of being here is the support network that I have available to me. Intern China have been fantastic throughout the whole process of applying for the program, travelling to Zhuhai, and integrating me in to the new role and environment.

The Intern China team also arrange weekly activities, such as football games on a Tuesday night, Chinese language classes on a Wednesday, Thursday night dinners and larger weekend activities. Last week I met the rest of the interns in Zhuhai, and was able to go to the ATP Challenger Tour Final at the Hengqin International Tennis Centre at the weekend, which is a fantastic venue. There is also a great network of people over here, and it makes life in China a little bit easier.  

I'm excited about the rest of my time here in Zhuhai, and I'm looking forward to sharing more blog posts online about expat life in China. I'm also very excited about spending St. Patrick's day here - so I'll have to show the locals how it is done! Xiéxié nín de yuedu (Thanks for reading)!

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