Study Abroad in Beijing (Part 2): Everyday Life in Beijing

jasminebeijing.jpg

In my first blog about studying abroad in China, I wrote about the initial culture shock that I experienced during my first few weeks living in Beijing. This past week marked the halfway point of my semester in China, a milestone that seemed to come both too soon and too late. Sometimes, I feel like time passes here extremely swiftly, but in another moment, I feel like I’ve been in China forever. If you’ve ever lived in a foreign place for an extended period of time, I think you can relate to this feeling. Once my primary phase of culture shock passed, I gradually began to adapt to my routine of everyday life in Beijing. I’ve fallen into the rhythm of taking classes at Peking University (it’s amazing how activities like homework and group projects can normalize life even in a completely different cultural environment), riding the packed subway to and from my internship in the business district and going out on the weekends. I’ve enjoyed chatting with fellow exchange students from all over the world such as Europe, Australia and Canada and demystifying stereotypes about what it means to be "American." I've loved speaking in a hilarious—but functional—mix of English and Mandarin with my language partner and wandering through the quaint networks of narrow streets and alleys, called hutongs, which capture the essence of old Beijing.

However, I think what has impacted me the most is just observing the day-to-day life of the local Chinese people. Some of the habits I’ve observed are gross (locals like to spit on the ground—women included!), some practices are fascinating (the abundance of vendors selling their wares on normal street corners, carrying everything from pineapples on a stick to parakeets) and others are endearing (the palpable sense of family that I observe by watching parents interact with their children).

One of my "goals" I had before coming to China was to try and gain a better grasp of my identity as an Asian American. To say that I'm different from the local Chinese people here is an understatement; despite my efforts to improve my Chinese, as soon as I open my mouth to speak to a taxi driver, my accent gives me away, and they immediately ask, "Ni shi na guo ren?" (Where are you from?). The longer that I'm here, the more I realize that trying to discover who I am isn't going to happen in a span of four months. However, living in China has forced me to open my eyes and throw away my preconceptions, and while I'm still confused about who or what I am—perhaps even more so than before coming here—perhaps it's the journey that matters most, and not the outcome.

This is the second part in a series on studying abroad in Beijing, as seen through the eyes of Mochi staffer Jasmine Ako. To reach the writer, send an e-mail to jasmineako@mochimag.com.

Header credit: Jasmine Ako