Over 5 months ago, in September, I found myself standing in the airport in Xiamen City, China, here to start my year abroad as part of my Modern Languages degree. I had just left the cold, windy weather of London and was met with the warm and humid air of China.
Growing up I travelled a fair amount but only to the western parts of the world. France and Spain were the only non-English speaking countries I visited but even there I often found that many people spoke enough English to be able to communicate with me as and when I needed it. China, however, has been a totally different experience.
Culture shock is something you can never really understand until you’ve experienced it. The absolute safety you feel walking through dark, unlit streets and seeing the trust bus drivers have for their passengers to still pay the bus fare, even when they enter through the back door, is unheard of back home. In restaurants you’ll see customers snapping their fingers at waiters shouting “fuyuan” and not being responded to with glares of hostility because that’s just how it goes around here. And don’t even get me started on queues. I’ve taken it upon myself to nickname the Chinese “space fillers”. If you dare to give the person in front of you in the queue a little bit of breathing room, you might suddenly find that the space will be filled with other customers who will assume that you leaving a gap actually means you’re no longer queuing up. Space is for the moon, not for queues. Over time I’ve found myself becoming more and more like the natives and copying their previously “strange” habits. As comforting as that feels right now, I know I’m going to be in for some serious reverse culture shock when I go home.
It’s impossible to notice the differences between china and western culture without questioning Chinese history and the path this country took to get to where it is. In these short 5 months I’ve already learnt so much about China, its history and its people, I’ve adapted to the culture (not completely but I’m getting there) and found myself living and communicating with Chinese people daily with such ease. It’s so strange to think that a year ago I’d never even ventured into this incredible country I’ve learned to call home.