When researching study abroad, you often hear about culture shock. The question of culture shock then prompts you to ask how you would handle it. When preparing to go to China, you hear a lot about the major cultural differences. Now, having lived in China, I’ve learned that these differences make everyday a new experience!
Here are 6 interesting cultural differences I’ve noticed while abroad in Dalian, China:
How to Tie a Knot
One of the first differences I noticed in China was when ordering takeout. First, you have to order it by saying Dabao (打包), which literally means “pack bag.” After successfully asking for your order to go, you must get it packaged. Every food place in China loves plastic bags, from tea shops to restaurants, so of course your meal comes in a plastic bag. The interesting part is when they tie it. To make a knot, they intertwine the handles twice, which makes a quick strong knot.
Follow the pictures below for a step by step guide on how to tie this knot. At first, it may seem difficult, but with practice it becomes quick and easy. I can say I may never tie a knot the same again!
If you’re like me, when you think of a hamburger you think of how much you’d rather eat a hotdog! However, if you’re like the 99.9% of the population, you think of a juicy, beefy burger, some complimentary condiments and a fluffy bun. In China, however, your thoughts would change.
The first time I noticed this difference was in KFC. I was traveling with two Chinese students and they asked me if I wanted a hamburger when we got to KFC. Because I’m not particularly fond of hamburgers, I said, “no, thank you” and decided on popcorn chicken. When we sat down to eat I noticed that they both had chicken sandwiches, which I found odd, as they were so insistent on ordering hamburgers. I asked the two girls what they ordered and they replied, “hamburgers.” I was so confused because I was 100% positive there was no beef to be seen!
After a couple instances of people telling me they ordered a hamburger and it turning out to be chicken on a bun, I realized anything that comes on a bun is a hamburger. The picture to the right is a hamburger, otherwise known as an egg and bacon sandwich.
You should also be warned that the bun you dream about will not be found in China. All bread in China is sweet. If you want something sweet, stay away from the cake and go straight for the bread. I am almost positive you won’t be disappointed with your decision. Of course, you might be disappointed when it’s on a chicken sandwich. I’m used to it now, but I will be happy to have traditional bread when I return to the States.
One of my favorite aspects about studying abroad at DUFL is hearing all the different languages. It’s not uncommon to sit down at a café and hear four different languages one minute and then, suddenly, only hear Mandarin. If you sit down at a table with international students, I can guarantee they will be speaking Mandarin because it is the common language here.
Even though Mandarin is the common language, most students speak at least two other languages. One of the first questions international students ask you is what languages do you speak; my answer is always Chinese and English. This answer confuses a lot of people. Most people expect me to speak French. Apparently, there is a myth that in America everyone learns French. The other Americans and I quickly squashed that rumor. Without speaking French, I feel very outnumbered. Everyone at school is studying Mandarin, which means they know that language. Then, almost everyone speaks some English, if not fluently. To top it off, add on their native language, and that’s a total of three languages. That is the norm around here, unless you find someone from Armenia, in which case they speak Armenian, Russian, English, and Mandarin.
Studying at a language school not only makes me want to keep working on Mandarin, but also makes me want to learn more languages. Right now, I want to learn Russian and Spanish, but that may just be because some of my closest friends speak Spanish, and more than half of the students here speak Russian. By the time I go home, I may have a couple other languages added to the list of what I want to learn!
If you come to study abroad in China, make sure you bring a lot of money if you plan to travel to tourist destinations. If you plan to travel to non-tourist destinations, you will not need as much money because travel in general is very cheap, minus what I call “tourist traps.”
Tourist traps are all over China. A tourist trap is an area, such as a mountain, which has historic or scenic significance. It becomes a popular spot for everyone to travel, so locals set up shop right outside (and sometimes inside) the gates of the spot. They sell over-priced items from drinks and snacks, to actual meals, toys and memorabilia. The overpriced items are typical, however the hardest thing to get used to is the overpriced meals. Somewhere like Ha’erbin (哈尔滨), which is in northeast China and is famous for ice sculptures and integrated Russian culture, has outrageous prices for meals. Every meal is about ¥60, compared to a normal meal off campus at about ¥20.
Also be warned that tourist attractions on mountains are not as dangerous as they are said to be. Most attractions have paths attached to the side of the mountain, which allow you to walk along a paved path. The picture to the right shows one such path. As you can see the path is literally on the side of the mountain. I enjoyed walking on the path because it was very safe and I’m not very good on my feet; however, if you want to hike, I suggest finding a mountain that is not a tourist attraction.
I am notorious for waiting until I am out of clothes to do laundry. China, will change that. Everyone here washes clothes daily, which is great because the washing machines are small. I am the type of person who shoves everything into a washing machine, but in China I can only fit about half of my normal load. Therefore, I’ve started to do laundry more often.
You also hang dry all of your laundry. This means every dorm room has a balcony! The washer is very good at draining clothes because I find my clothes dry much faster here, even inside, than they do in my college dorm room. I’m going to miss air drying my clothes, but I will not miss doing laundry as often as I do.
One of my initial least-favorite, but now favorite things about China is the water. Because you cannot drink tap water you must buy a water card, which allows you to get water all over campus. If you don’t want to deal with this, you can also buy a kettle and boil your own water everyday, however the card has its perks.
The water fountains have cold, warm, and hot water. In the beginning, it felt like I could never find cold water. The “cold” water was always just room temperature, which I hated when it was hot outside. However, now I love the water. The colder it gets the more hot water I find myself getting. I fill my water bottle with boiling water and hold it during classes to keep warm. I sleep with the water bottle at night to stay warm. I drink the hot water when I’m sick. I can officially say that I can’t remember the last time I got “cold” water. I think this is going to be one of the things I will miss most when I return to the States. I may have to buy a kettle because I love hot water so much!
These are just some of the differences I’ve noticed being here close to three months. Everyday there are new surprises and I can’t wait to see what the last month an a half bring!
Emily is a sophomore, International Business Major with a Finance concentration at Elizabethtown College. As a BCA Storyteller studying abroad in Dalian, China, she is excited to experience anything and everything China will throw her way!