Yes, it’s happening. In a mere 18 days I will be returning to that most rambunctious Chinese city, Beijing, to pick up where I left off last summer in my studies of the Chinese language. This time I return to be a proper 留学生 (foreign student) for a full academic year.
The question does beg, however, of just how much I qualify as a “foreign student”. This is the least of my concerns, anyway. I am currently trying to mentally prepare myself for certain… things that I know await me, and to which I must rapidly adjust if I am to last more than a week out there. For a start, I’ll be sharing a room. This is one of the conditions of my scholarship; accommodation is free, but it is to be in a twin room in the oldest dormitory building designated for foreign students. For the entire year. I haven’t shared a room for more than two weeks since I was about 9 years old. I just hope I can handle it, and won’t end up shutting myself up in the wardrobe for some privacy, or gnawing my roommate’s foot off in the middle of the night. I’m someone who needs my own space.
Casting an eye over my articles from last summer might give you an idea of some of the other cultural discrepancies that I’ll need to get used to. For example (something very personal for a British person) I must remember to readjust my perception of what constitutes “manners”. These will need to be left behind if I am to tolerate people loudly hocking spit in every direction, bumping into me, staring, taking photos of my white friends, etc.
I won’t deny having a panicky, should-I-or-shouldn’t-I-go moment when I stupidly googled the words “Beijing pollution”. This was a mistake. Try it, if you dare. I have no especial desire to enter into the particulars regarding food safety (there is none) and bottled water (unregulated and probably not drinkable). I would much rather focus on the fact that I’m going to Beijing for a year. Hopefully I’ll be making new friends, sampling some deeeelicious local cuisine (don’t mention the food safety thing), travelling and having a great time. Oh, and learning Chinese of course.
Beijing is truly my kind of place. There are those who will scoff, and say Shanghai is the superior city, and I did hesitate between the two. Ultimately, SH is China’s financial centre, but BJ is the heart of China’s culture; the seat of government, home to the country’s best universities and lots and lots of old stuff. Heaven to a Classics graduate like I. Less skyscraper and more Forbidden City, if you get my drift. In addition, the Beijing accent is the closest to “pure Chinese” as any regional accent elsewhere in this vast country can get, making it the best place to learn standard Chinese. The people are friendlier and more open than any other place I have experienced in China, and did I mention the food is DIVINE?
I don’t know if I’ll last a whole year out there. Hell, I’d consider one semester an achievement. I truly feel like I am entering the jungle for a good long stay; let’s just hope I’ll toughen up enough to keep my head above the water (or, in this case, the smog). First step: acquiring a VPN so I can get around the Great Firewall of China and keep this blog updated. Wish me luck, my friends. And if you happen to have any spare gas masks lying around, do send them my way.