“Welcome to Beijing!” As our small group of excited, yet somewhat anxious Aggies arrived in the early morning to the capital of the Middle Kingdom after a 14-hour flight, we were warmly greeted by our local guide, Amber. The initial ride to the hotel made an indelible impression in me, since the breath-taking beauty of the city surpassed my pre-departure concerns with any major commercial population. The complex, industrial infrastructure coupled with the historic, artistic architecture made for an eye-catching tour of the city. Additionally, Amber thoroughly talked about some of the relevant cultural differences among both of our nations, from punctuality in the workplace to relationships among friends.

My assumption was that this distant land would be completely different from everything that I have been raised with and knew about. Little did I knew, this journey would entail some similar aspects to my Hispanic heritage; the flavor-rich cuisine, a strong family-oriented society, traditional customs rooted in spiritual beliefs, a very collectivist culture of respect, hard-working people, and yes—even the hectic, accident-prone traffic. Furthermore, my affinity for hot drinks is clearly shared by the Chinese, who traditionally drink hot soybean milk for breakfast and hot tea in the afternoon.

Our first two days included visits to the main historical landmarks of the city—Tiananmen Square, the Great Wall, the Forbidden City, Summer Palace, among others. This experience allowed me to learn about their importance, along with the composition of the current political environment. What I appreciated was the flexibility in our program to explore the surroundings after our structured schedule, since that encouraged our group to immerse ourselves in the culture by participating with the local community beyond the scope of our study-abroad. Even Amber was surprised when she found out that our first meal was an abnormally spicy one.

After our cultural visits, we attended lectures at Beijing Jiaotong University, where we also met with former exchange students that attended Texas A&M for one semester. That furthered the discussion of cultural differences and engaged us in critical thinking after our academic dialogue. Thus far, I have truly enjoyed getting to learn about this incredible country and will continue to make the most of out this journey with an open mind. The people of China are unlike any I have met before, with many valuable qualities I hope to emulate. This makes me truly grateful to have been selected for this enriching opportunity, having the ability to not only develop myself, but be able to share in that development with fellow Aggies and our kind Chinese friends.

Categories: 2018 Trip

We arrived in China early in the morning and began our journey with Amber, our tour guide. My initial reaction to China was that I did not know how welcoming everyone was. It surprised me how happy they are for us to join their activities, such as hacky-sack. I also did not expect their food to be as delicious as it is. The Peking duck, which is one of their many traditional dishes, is very good.
I also observed the fact that the smoking habit here is much worse compared to America. In the United states, there has been a large decline in smoking, especially in the younger demographic. Moreover, in the bars and clubs it seems like smoking is used as a social aspect. I found this to be a similarity to the United States because many people my age will do this as well. Furthermore, the pollution is still something that I have trouble getting used to. I feel like I have taken for granted having clean air in the United States.

 

The language barrier is also something that you have to get used to while visiting China. Many articles said that most people will speak at minimum broken English, but while here, I have found that this is not the case. If it weren’t for google translate I would be having a very difficult time getting around!

 

I also was also surprised by the amount of people here. It didn’t register with me until I got here how many people actually lived in China until we were walking around Tainanmen square. Having lived in Dallas and College Station my entire life I was accustomed to little traffic and having some personal space, but in China those two don’t exist. For example, we had a three-hour drive back from the Great Wall when it normally would have been an hour and a half.

 

I also observed that there are no large cars here like there are in America. The biggest you will see are minivans. This wasn’t much of a surprise to me because I knew that only Americans and Canadians will purchase large trucks.

Categories: 2018 Trip

When I made the decision to study abroad, I wanted to choose a place that I would have fun visiting as well providing a valuable experience. I decided on China because of the country’s global presence in our everyday lives and the rich culture that comes from this country. In this post, I will share my initial impressions of three different aspects of China: the environment, the food, and the cultural visits.

My first moments in the country were rather quiet, which helped ease the stress of being on the other side of the world. We arrived early in the morning and before most people were even awake. On the hour-long bus ride to the hotel, the first thing I saw was buildings and street signs throughout the city. I noticed that there were many groups (anywhere from 3 to 6) of high-rise buildings that were identical. I assumed these to be apartments, and I assumed they were so tall to help accommodate the large population of Beijing. Looking at street signs and advertisements, I was surprised at the amount of English I saw. Most signs had a translation somewhere on them, making the culture shock a little less severe. Our tour guide clarified that Beijing is a very international place, which helps westerners feel not so lost when they visit.

One of my biggest interests coming to the country was the food. I had always heard that Chinese food was very different from Chinese-American food. My first meal was at a restaurant attached to our hotel. We ended up eating a “hot pot” meal where you put raw meats into a boiling pot in the center of the table to cook them. We had meatballs, beef, and pig brain. None of us knew we had eaten pig brain until after the fact, but it was still an exciting first experience with the food. Most restaurants seat large parties at round tables because meals are a social time in China, and sitting this way makes everyone accessible for conversation.

After checking into our hotel, we immediately began our two days of cultural visits. Leading up to these, the only vision I had of each landmark was from movies, television, and my own perceptions. The main thing I noticed was that each landmark was much larger than what I had imagined. Tiananmen Square is large enough to hold one million people, and now I believe that after seeing its actual size. The Forbidden City seemed never-ending and took more than two hours to walk through. Lastly, the Great Wall was the most breath-taking of the first landmarks I visited. The wall expanded as far as my eye could see, and even further beyond that.

In the first weekend, I got a good taste of the food, the culture, and what everyday life is like in China. This definitely eased any remaining reservations I had about this trip, and with each day that passes, I feel more comfortable venturing out and creating my own experience as I go.

Categories: 2018 Trip

Upon arriving to Beijing, I told myself I would be as open-minded and observant as I could be. I knew it would be completely different but I wanted to dive into the culture. Our first day in Beijing I learned that Chinese love everything warm/hot. Something I cannot relate to as I drink mostly ice cold drinks. It was interesting to see this in every place we went to and although it was something I personally did not like, I enjoyed seeing how evident and wide-spread this was. Another thing I noticed off the bat was the driving in Beijing. Although I may get another experience in a smaller area of China I found it shocking to see that the rules of driving are not enforced like they are in the states. I saw people running red lights consistently, clustering together in lanes, taking illegal u-turns, and even almost hitting pedestrians. I realized that this was because Beijing is such a large city with a huge population so people are always in a hurry to get to their destination. The food here is my favorite already. It is so different from what the states have for Chinese food but it tastes amazing. We have visited places with beautiful architecture such as the Forbidden City and Summers Palace. Although these places are extremely crowded, I felt very safe because the people are friendly and have grown up in a culture where they follow rules because their consequences are severe. The people here seem to mind their own and seem very independent from one another. Amber, our tour guide, emphasized the fact that women in Beijing are rarely married or dating in general because they have huge aspirations and work very hard at all times to achieve them. I found this interesting because in the U.S you can easily find women whose end goal is to be a housewife and to have someone to depend on. We had an office visit with CRCC, a huge company worldwide that designs and builds high speed trains in multiple areas of the world. It was amazing to see how much work and money goes into these high speed trains and to hear an opposing opinion the next day during lecture. Getting to hear both sides of the argument was interesting because I got to form my own opinion on the subject and even get to ride a HST this weekend! Overall I am really enjoying learning about the culture and overall differences from the U.S here in China and look forward to gaining a wider perspective throughout this trip!

Categories: 2018 Trip

Initially, when I arrived in China I was a little stunned with the amount of smog that I saw getting off of the plane. I thought that it was fog, but I was definitely wrong. Once we arrived at the hotel we went to McDonald’s for breakfast, this is when I really realized we were in a different country. Suddenly, Google translate was the only way we were able to communicate, which left me a little uneasy. Later on the first day we went and toured the Forbidden City. This gave a little insight into their culture and how they have a hierarchical governmental system. For example, Chinese students do not ask their professors questions and their parents pick their major. In the United States students decide what their future looks like by picking their major, and questions are encouraged in class discussions.

 

Early into the trip I discovered that the majority of China runs off of Wechat. They buy taxi’s, food, and pretty much everything through Wechat. Unfortunately, I do not have a Wechat bank account so purchasing things is not always the easiest. Another big difference between the US and China is how they eat. Everything is served on a turntable and shared with everyone sitting at the table. The plates are the size of a bread plate and the cups are essentially the size of a shot glass, which is very different from the supersized plates and cups in the US. I actually really enjoy the smaller plates because it prevents overeating and wasting food. The only thing that I really wish I had practiced using before coming to China is how to properly eat with chopsticks. Every time I eat a meal it is a workout trying to figure out how to operate the chopsticks. Even our tour guide, Amber, told me how brave I was for using chopsticks. Another, big difference between the United States and China is the temperature of their drinks. Most drinks that are served in China are served hot. The water in the morning is warm with lemon. I have actually begun to enjoy the warm, lemon water and I think that I will continue to drink it when I get back home. Also, the Chinese live a very active lifestyle. Since arriving here in Beijing we have walked close to 40 miles in four days. That is very different to how things are back home. The ease of driving somewhere prevents us from walking as much. Although they have cars here in Beijing, only a small percentage of car owners are allowed to drive each day.

 

We have been in China now for four days and I still feel like they have a very unique culture. It is a very collective society and they like to spend the majority of their time with family and friends. I am slowly getting used to the food and warm drinks. I am looking forward to going to Shanghai and being able to compare the two cities.

Categories: 2018 Trip

Ni Hao! My name is Lily and I am a Junior Accounting major from Katy, Texas. I came on this trip because I have never had the opportunity to come to China, or even Asia, and I wanted to experience the culture of China because it is a leading force right now in many ways. I have been impressed by the innovation that is everywhere in China. Stepping off the plane, I was greeted by one of the most impressive airports I have ever seen simply because of the massive size; the ceiling felt like it was miles above me. We then got to experience the infamous Tiananmen Square, which has always been a landmark that I would visualize when I thought of China, and I like being able to bring that visual to life. This was the first time I experienced the Chinese people wanting pictures of us, which at first felt odd and uncomfortable, but I have grown to appreciate the fact that they are just as interested in our culture as we are in theirs! Once you go through the initial gate, you enter the Forbidden city, where many emperors lived so many years ago. It felt surreal to be able to walk in the exact places that the people that shaped Chinese history walked. Day 1 was so full of excitement, but I was TIRED. As jet lag typically goes, I fell asleep at 8 and was woken up by a surprise at around 4:50… the sun? I was surprised to discover that the sun rises so early here, and I have learned to make sure my curtains are all the way closed so that I can sleep in a little later!

Day 2 was the day that has been most exciting for me, The Great Wall. We started by walking through Summer Palace which was beautiful, and showed us a little bit of how beautiful the nature here is. Then we got to drive about an hour and a half to the Great Wall which was nice because we got to see what life looked like outside of the crowded city. The Great Wall was well worth the hike up, and I was able to take some breathtaking images to share with my friends and family at home.

One of the most interesting days to me has actually been Day 4 when we went to the CRCC and learned about the innovation going on in China as well as the work they are doing internationally. I was especially interested in their discussion about the high speed rail because that is something I wish could be incorporated in U.S. travel, but then we went to lecture and learned that maybe it is not quite as great as we had initially thought. The Professor told us how much debt this ambitious endeavor has put them in, and while it seems more convenient, people often still choose airplanes to get to their destinations. I have learned so much so far, and I am excited to see how much more I will learn on this adventure!

Categories: 2018 Trip

From the moment we landed and got off the plane, I knew I was in for a completely new experience. It was 4 AM in Beijing, and the sun was already up. We grabbed our bags and headed out to meet our tour guide, Amber. She has been working in Beijing for the last 4 years as a tour guide, and hopes to open up her own travel agency. We got on the bus and drove about an hour into the city to check into our hotel. As I looked out my window, we passed through many skyscrapers, shopping malls, schools, and people, but there was one thing that looked really real familiar, an ofo bike. That little connection from home gave me comfort that no matter where we are, we all have at least one thing in common.

The first meal we had, unfortunately, was McDonald’s. Only because the bank wasn’t open for us to exchange our money and no places took cards. Our experience their taught us that communication was going’s to be a struggle. We attempted to pay with our credit cards from our bank’s back home, and were all rejected. Luckily, someone in our group had the foresight to exchange money prior and gave us a small loan. Then we encountered another barrier, a language barrier. This one was more easily solved with pictured menu, but it let us know that communicating the simplest things were going to be a constant challenge.

From there, Amber took us to Tiananmen Square, the site of many significant historical and cultural events throughout the long history of China. The moment I stepped off the bus, I was overcome with an energy from the environment and people around me, that gave me a feeling of happiness. And I have continued to feel this same way throughout the beginning of my trip. As we walked through the square and into the forbidden city, I was drawn to everything and was deeply interested in the history of it all.

Afterwards came dinner time. We had all heard of Peking Duck before our trip and were so excited to try it. When we sat down at our table we saw a big round glass on top of it. We learned about how communal meals are in China. She explained to us that people in China always talk about food, similarly to how we talk about the weather and sports. It is an opportunity to bond with on another not just time to kill hunger. The glass was used to place entrees on and easily pass them around the table. Which was something that took adjustment to, since back home each person typically order there own dish.

When the food finally came out, I went all in. I made sure to try every dish. And trust me when I say this, Panda Express has got nothing on authentic Chinese food. Then the moment we had all been waiting came, the Peking Duck was finally served. It had a golden brown skin and moist meat. It was everything that was promised.  Ducks should be be on the look out when I get back home, because I am coming for them and their delicious meat.

And that was just the first day.

I truly have enjoyed my first couple of days here in China. The people are all so friendly and understanding of my inability to communicate with them properly. They are patient and try to make it as easy as possible on all of us. The US and China are constantly at odds with each other politically and economically, but I never felt any such tension with anyone my short time here.  I have meet some amazing people and have made some unforgettable memories. For me, it was love at first bite with China.

Categories: 2018 Trip

From the first day in China up until this point i have noticed a lot of differences and similiarities between China and the United States. Starting with the people, everyone so far has been very friendly and welcoming. Even if they do not understand what I am saying or do not know English at all, they will try their hardest to try and help me. I was shocked at the fact that they took pictures of us when we visited cultural landmarks, and were not even discrete about doing it.

Eating in China was a new experience for me. In China there is rarely any single serving portioned meals. Everything, especially the food is family oriented. The tables are big and round with a spinning glass center piece so that all the food can be easily shared. The portions are also much bigger because of this. When it comes to paying for food at restaurants, it is hard to do separate bill when eating with someone at the same table, because everything is shared, including the bill. The food here is also very different from the food back at home. Many animal / animal parts are eaten here commonly, that typically would never be seen on a menu back in the States.

Transportation in China is a bit chaotic to say the least. Everyone on the streets and roads have a “I have places to be” mentality and basically almost hit each other if they are not paying attention to gheir surroundings at all times. There is also always honking going on and a certain number of honks actually is a commuication tool.

Another thing i found interesting is how much people smoke in China. I always knew that the Chinese care a lot about their health and well-being, and yet many people will be smoking cigarettes everywhere we go, including in the college campus buildings. A majority of the people I have seen either have an umberella, even with little to no sunlight out nor rain in the air. Another thing I have seen a lot is masks being worn to help from breathing in polluted air, which is a rare thing to see back at home.

Just yesterday I decided to find a gym nearby the hotel we are staying at so I could get a nice little workout in, especially after all this amazing food I have been eating. The task of trying to purchase a day pass was tough at first, but luckily a student I asked was nice enough to try and help me out, even though he could not understand me completely. When entering the gym I knew this was not like back at home. There was a wave of heat that hit my body immediately. There was no air conditioning nor any sort of air circulation in the area. People were scattered around with weight plates all over the place. The machines were similar to the ones back at home, but were in terrible condition. Nothing in the gym was sanitary, but it honestly made the experience so much better for me.

I cannot wait to keep trying new exciting things for the remainder of this trip and gain much more knowledge about the Chinese culture.

 

Categories: 2018 Trip

Stepping onto the bus to head to the hotel, I had no idea of what was to come from this trip. They say the air is highly polluted and it was only confirmed by my weather app displaying a message of “very unhealthy air quality,” but I was not hit with a thick wave of filth the way that I expected—though, it was still hazy. Friends told me to expect crowds of locals flocking to take pictures with and of us, but people were fairly respectful of us as we toured the monuments and landmarks around Beijing. From the moment we hopped off the plane, nothing had been what I expected. Because of the fact that I had no true understanding of what China would be like, it’s allowed me to keep an open mind on each of our experiences. However, I was quite skeptical about the attitudes and culture of Chinese people in respect to the role communism has played in the People’s Republic. My premature judgements were neither good nor bad, but simply wrong. The people that I have come across in China, especially our tour guide Amber, have all been wonderful and very understanding of the language barrier that exists between us, but have always been more than willing to help us. The pride that they have in their culture and their country and their willingness to share it is something that I have such an admiration for.

 

The part that I came in being most excited about is the food and constant access of Chinese food anywhere we go. Within the first few hours being in China, we ordered one of the most difficult meals we could have possibly chosen for our first meal—hot pot. Though I sat with a burned tongue for the entire meal from underestimating the spicy beef, I thoroughly enjoyed the experience of using a translator app to communicate with our server while the staff crowded around to help us and take pictures with 18 struggling American students. Thankfully our other meals have gone much better as well as the food. One things for sure and it’s that I would never get sick of eating this much Chinese food if I were to live here. What for me is a meal every now and then is their livelihood. With this being the case, I feel like the food tastes even better than most foods we get in the states because meals seem to be prepared with even more care and pride.

 

Though it’s day four and it still hasn’t hit me that we’re in a foreign country, I feel like I’ve been able to appreciate and soak up as much of this experience as possible. I can’t wait to continue exploring and learning more about Beijing, Shanghai, and the overall culture of China.

Categories: 2018 Trip

My first impressions of China really began on the plane ride there. Since we flew on Air China you could already feel a different atmosphere on the plane. We arrived very early in the morning and as I looked out the window the first thing I noticed was the smog. The smog is something that is a very big issue for Beijing in particular, but the country is trying to improve on it. We have done so much so far such as visiting the Hidden Palace, the Forbidden City, and even the Great Wall which is so breathtaking.

I don’t think I felt such a big “cultural shock” as maybe others on the trip because I have visited Mexico before and some aspects are similar such as the roads and traffic. Something that did shock most of us were the restrooms, specifically how the toilets are literally on the floor. It is something that none of us have seen before and takes a lot to get used to.

What is different than what I imagined is that most of the cars in Beijing are luxury or just very new. This shows how wealthy you have to be to have a car here in the first place. Another thing I did not know is how hard it is to get a license or license plate in Beijing. Out tour guide described it at winning the lottery if you got a license plate in order to get a car in the first place. It also amazes me how much they hold on to their past history and how much they value it everyday. I saw this when we visited Tiananmen Square because there were so many people from China itself visiting the beautiful site because of its importance in the Chinese history.

The food in China is something very unique. The first day here we tried “hot pot” where you basically order certain meat and you cook it yourself in a boiling pot in the center of your table. We tried different types of meats like spicy beef and even pig brains. Chinese people like to eat donkey meat as well, and our group tried it at one of our dinners which was delicious. Regarding the food, I have noticed that they not only eat most meals in a family style but in very small portions too. This entire trip we have been walking more than I have since I visited New York City and it shows how much exercise the people who live her get on a daily basis.

Overall I have had such a blast on this trip. I never imagined I would visit China in my life until I joined this program. It has been an eye opener being immersed in this very unique culture. We have learned so much about the differences and similarities between China and the U.S. in regards to culture and the way they go about business. I’m so glad and blessed to be learning through this experience.

Categories: 2018 Trip