Moving to the other side of the world can be a daunting task that is difficult to plan ahead for, and in exactly that way, summer went by in a blur, and before I knew it, I was at the airport in Hamburg with my suitcase, ready to move to Beijing. I felt strangely unprepared – my previous experience studying in Hong Kong had been in the company of classmates from Germany and in a city where English is one of the official languages. This time, however, I was by myself and very aware of my basic language skills in Mandarin, which I knew from my previous visits to the city is vital to get by here. Considering the worries that I had before coming here, settling in has been a mixture of unexpected ease, and unexpected complications.
Making myself at home
First of all, arriving in China was made much easier by the fact that I am lucky enough to receive accommodation in Peking University’s Global Village, which is right opposite the campus. The dorm is home to International Students from all over the world, studying for degrees or language courses at PKU. I share a room with a Japanese girl, who is a postgraduate student of International Relations just like me. Living in a shared room always come with a little bit of anxiety for me – getting on in a small space requires a lot of consideration, patience and respect from both sides. So far, I have always been incredibly lucky with roommates and I’m still friends with everyone I lived with in Hong Kong until today. Even more, luckily, my anxiety was completely unnecessary this time around as well, as my roommate and I get on very well. She has not only been someone to share my thoughts with when coming home after a day of new impressions and experiences, but also someone to always lend a helping hand whenever my Mandarin fails me in daily life, which has been a life-saver more than once! This way, the dorm has become a home for me much faster, and while I was pondering the advantages of living in the city rather than on campus for a while, I am grateful for how much easier having this room has made my arrival here.
Paper and the Internet
Bureaucracy has its special sides in every country and China is no exception. It took me more than a month before I had officially finished everything I was supposed to do to enroll in university here. The process surprised me over and over again. On the one hand, opening a bank account was done in less than two hours, after which I held my bank card in my hand and had access to online banking and WeChat Pay. On the other hand, it took me multiple trips to the photographer before I had a picture of the correct size, wearing the right clothes and having the right hairstyle for my residence permit. I am fairly sure that these two things would have been exactly reversed in Germany.
Another surprise was the extent to which WeChat and digital technology, in general, are integrated in daily life here. I always feel a little bit like I’m in a Sci-Fi movie when I use facial recognition to open the door to my dormitory, and the comfort of every service imaginable being available in one app is undeniable. I had read a lot about WeChat before, but actually using it in daily life is an entirely different experience!
Back to School
Considering how digitally interconnected China is on a service-level, navigating university platforms is a bit of a struggle, mostly because they are entirely in Chinese. In order to register for courses, I followed an English manual, instructing me which buttons to click. Luckily it all worked out and I am happy with my course selection. The first weeks definitely required me to work hard, and with examination season coming closer, this probably will not change anytime soon. Especially in my Chinese class, I spent the first weeks wondering what the teacher was saying, as it is taught exclusively in Mandarin, with no translations at all. However, I am glad to say that this approach is starting to work and has helped me improve a lot already. I will write more about my study experience in the weeks to come.
Catching a breath
The time that I have spent in China so far has more than flown by – partly because there was so much to do, and partly because there were so many new experiences to process. Looking back after my first months here, however, I am glad that I chose to come here somewhat blind-eyed and without too many expectations because it has allowed me to see the city from a much more open-minded point of view. As the semester progresses, I am trying to slow down a bit and take this city and country in at a less reckless pace, catching a breath and allowing myself to explore beyond the surface. I hope I can report more on this adventure soon!
November 2019 | Leonie Kellerhof