Time really flies! It seems like only yesterday we were strolling across the Lawn at the University of Virginia on our way to class at the McIntire School of Commerce, and now we’re wrapping up our nine weeks in China at Lingnan (University) College. 18 members our cohort were already quite well acquainted with China (as Chinese nationals), but for the rest of us it was a big transition. The M.S. in Global Commerce program is all about adapting and flexibility, as we learned very quickly in Guangzhou.
I lived in Korea for the year prior to starting the Program, so I had a bit of a leg up on my classmates as many had never traveled to East Asia. However, something my American and European peers had in common was that we did not speak Mandarin. The language barrier is the most daunting factor for most of us, but we’ve all done our best to perfect our “dui dui” (sure sure) and are not afraid to use translation apps on our phones. Lingnan hosting weekly Mandarin courses that have really helped us too! I’m now able to ask what kind of meat is in a dish, ask if something is spicy, or even more importantly tell people that I can’t speak Mandarin.
The city of Guangzhou is A LOT bigger than Charlottesville, which has forced us to adapt to new changes. Most students take the subway to school, but the ubiquity and inexpensive nature of DiDi (Chinese Uber) means that some get dropped off for class every day. Lunch choices are seemingly endless and can range from dim sum to salad bar-like noodles. Instead of coffee, most students bring bubble tea to class. Rather than cooking at home, it’s often cheaper and more fun to go out to a random subway stop and find a place to eat or have dumplings delivered. As opposed to the hiking and vineyards of Charlottesville, weekends in China involve alley market bargain hunting and strolling along the Pearl River for the perfect sight of the Canton Tower.
There are some aspects of adapting to China that are more difficult than expected. You will be hard pressed to find a fork at a restaurant, so chopstick skills are required. Public toilets are often what is lovingly referred to as a “squatty potty.” Being the only non-Chinese person in a room is a new experience for some of us, but we all benefit from being pushed outside our comfort zone. I have embraced the differences wholeheartedly which helps expedite adapting to new cultures and experiences.
Unfortunately, our time in Guangzhou is the shortest of the Program’s three locations. We have tried to experience as much as possible within these nine weeks while attending class and continuing to work on our thesis projects. I feel so lucky to be in China, in such a colorful, exciting new place with an outgoing, close-knit group. Our China experience will make it easier for us to adapt and transition to our third and final location when we take on Barcelona, Spain!