1. People are generally very understanding about the language barrier
From what I’ve observed, many people in the U.S. have a short temper when it comes to non-English speakers. The prevailing mindset is that if you live in the U.S., you should speak the national language. In China, however, locals are generally very understanding when you struggle to express yourself when ordering food or buying a ticket somewhere. If you apologize and show that you’re really trying your best, they’ll be patient and help you out.
2. The best way to travel domestically is by train
In the U.S. I’m used to taking a car or a plane when traveling long distances domestically. After a short time in China I realized that the best mode of transportation is by train. The train system across China is new, affordable, and very comfortable. The biggest cities are even connected by a high-speed rail, which significantly reduces travel time. Now that I’m back in the U.S., I really miss the convenience of this system.
3. There’s no toilet paper in the restrooms
One thing I never expected when living in China is that most public restrooms do not supply toilet paper- you’re expected to bring your own. Many shops sell small packets of tissues that you can fit easily into your pocket or purse to take with you when you go out. Although it may initially strike you as inconvenient, it doesn’t take long to adapt.
4. Cities in China are safe
Petty theft can be a problem for tourists in China – if you leave your wallet in your back pocket when walking through a crowded area, you may get it stolen. However, if you’re smart about watching your belongings, cities in China are very safe places to live. I never felt like I was in danger when walking around the city by myself, even in the evening. Again, if you’re careful, there’s no reason to worry.
5. People spit on the ground, a lot
This is a small cultural difference that can be bothersome to students from the U.S. People, men more so than women, often spit on the ground in public to clear their throats. You just have to get used to it, watch your step, and over time you’ll barely notice it at all.
6. It’s definitely possible to access Facebook
Before I went to China I told my friends and family that I wouldn’t be on Facebook for a while and advised them to contact me by email. Actually, it’s definitely possible to access blocked websites by downloading a VPN, a “Virtual Private Network”. The best VPNs require a paid subscription, but being able to contact everyone back home and share photos easily was worth every penny.
7. Traffic laws are pretty much optional
In China there’s different “traffic etiquette” than what students from the U.S. are used to. As a pedestrian you have to stay alert for cars, bikes, and motor scooters whipping past you. Sometimes they won’t stop when you would normally expect it. It may take a little while, but eventually you’ll learn to tune in to the rhythm of the traffic and walk to class without breaking a sweat.
8. No tipping necessary
In the U.S. you’re expected to tip when you pay for a service like eating at a restaurant, getting a haircut, or taking a taxi, but in China this is not expected. Your tip may actually be refused if the person thinks you incorrectly counted your money. This sometimes causes reverse culture shock when you return home and nearly forget to tip your waiter.
9. You will Have friends from all over the world
Not only will you have local friends, but also friends from all over. One of the best things about studying abroad in China is that this destination attracts the coolest people from countries all over the world. I made friends with students and young professionals who were Chinese, Italian, German, French, Swedish, Russian, Vietnamese, Japanese, Mexican, Kenyan, and South African, just to name a few. Being part of such a diverse community is a truly invaluable experience and a lot of fun.