Anastasiya Egorova: “China is Different for Everyone. Just Find Your Own”
During the first semester of the 2018/19 academic year, I was fortunate enough go on exchange to Guangzhou University. My main goal was to improve my Chinese and to immerse myself in the culture and life of this country as much as possible.
About the language and my expectations
At first glance, it seems that Guangzhou - the "heart of the Cantonese dialect" along with Hong Kong - is not the best choice for learning Mandarin Chinese (standard Chinese), because in everyday life everyone here speaks Cantonese, which is in fact a different language. This, perhaps, was my biggest fear before the trip. Will I have enough opportunities to practice a language outside the university? Will it be comfortable in Guangzhou without knowing Cantonese?
It turned out to be that all my fears were in vain. Southern Chinese are very open and sociable people, and they use the standard Chinese dialect by default in conversations with foreigners. Let’s also not forget that Guangzhou is a huge metropolis, where the masses of visitors from other regions of China flock to. So Mandarin becomes one standardized language of communication between locals and visitors.
As for the English language (except for Hong Kong), everything is a bit more complicated, rarely you can use it in communication with the Chinese. However, despite this, on and outside campus, I occasionally met young people who spoke excellent English. What is more interesting, many of them had never even been abroad.
About the atmosphere
I have a special love for the South of China that began with my exchange programme in Taiwan during my undergraduate studies. Subsequently, I also visited Yunnan province with its multi-ethnic population and highland villages. There is a special atmosphere in the south, and it is not only warm weather, green vegetation and open architecture style. For me, it is more of how I feel myself there, a lifestyle that is radically different from ours. In this regard, Guangzhou fully met my expectations. The city is very different - tall skyscrapers alternate with rural landscapes and green parks. When my sister came to visit me in Guangzhou, she said that she had never seen such beautiful parks as in China before.
The campus of Guangzhou University is located on a separate small island where all the campuses of the city’s universities are concentrated. Therefore, a truly student atmosphere reigns here. In addition to dormitories and educational buildings, the island has everything you need for a comfortable living: shops, cafes, malls and sports centers. Instead of using public transport, you can ride a bike to any destination you want. The bikes are easily rented through a mobile application. In general, China is a country of bicycles.
During the internship, I started every day with Chinese lessons, then after lunch there were classes for our major subjects. The lecture room for foreigners was very comfortable and equipped with the latest technology. In the evenings there were different events organized by student clubs. At the beginning of the semester, these clubs hold a big fair, inviting new students to sign up. Along the main road, tents and stands are set up, where you can learn all the information, concerts and master classes are odganized. Everything is here: from anime lovers and musicians to environmentalists and volunteers of the Red Cross. Everyone can find something to their liking.
About food and talents
Of course food is also worth mentioning. In general, there are a lot of canteens and cafes at affordable prices on campus. You can find both traditional dishes from different regions of China and European cuisine in them.
However, a real feast begins only after 11 o'clock in the evening, when street vendors from the nearest village come to the campus, forming a long chain along the side of the road. By this time, all the canteens are already closed, and hungry students flock here to buy rice, noodles, cakes, tofu, grilled meat and seafood, tea, fresh juices, fruits... In other words, whatever bringing the food to the cult Chinese soul needs.
Having bought delicacies, students sit right on the ground along a wide asphalt road and begin to eat. Every evening, especially on weekends, you can watch companies of Chinese students sitting on the pavement with food and drinks. They come here to sit with friends, celebrate birthdays, hold meetings of student clubs and improvised open-air concerts with guitars and dances.
Speaking of creativity, I was amazed how many talented people were around me. Someone sings well, someone dances professionally or plays musical instruments, and someone makes videos. One day you can accidentally find out that your Chinese friend is actually a university star, while he or she will say they are not good enough, or there is nothing special about this.
About the drawbacks
I do not really want to describe the shortcomings, so I will dwell on the two that especially caught my eye and caused indignation during my entire stay in China. Both of them are not directly related to studying process, but are rather cultural impressions.
The first is hand hygiene. Despite the fact that in the university canteens there are sinks and soap, as well as posters on the walls that remind you to wash your hands before eating and illustrate in detail how to do it correctly, students do not seem to notice this at all. I went to eat with my Chinese friends many times, even if we had danced and lay on the dirty floor before that, rode bicycles, or held onto handrails on the bus, not even one thought to wash their hands! This was really surprising to me.
The second minus is the lack of culture in the subway. The rule “first let people go out from the car to the platform, and then go in yourself” does not work here. Add to this kilometer queues just at the entrance to the subway and huge flows of people at central stations not even at peak hours, and get a hell of a mixture. Of course, generally there are more people in China than in any other country, but still it is not a very pleasant impression.
I still didn’t mention a lot of things: the fact that in China you always feel like a superstar because of the increased attention from the locals; the magical mobile applications WeChat and Alipay, with which you can do everything and without which it is very difficult to survive in China; the developed system of express mail deliveries, thanks to which you sometimes receive packages from the other end of the country the next day; the fact that in the south in winter there is no heating inside buildings, and the temperature indoors can be lower than outside, and it doesn’t matter that you are from Russia.
However, these are already fairly well-known features of life in China. As I said, the main thing is how you feel and what exactly you expect from your life in this country. China is different for everyone. Just find your own.