On the ninth day of September, 2015, I arrived in at Beijing International Airport excited and tired. For the entire duration of my flight, I couldn’t sleep or eat, as my mind raced with many possible situations of my new home:
“Am I going to like it here…?”
“Will I be able to survive in China?”
“Did I make the right choice? What did I get myself into this time?”
Before I managed to finally drive myself insane, the flight attendant calmly announced that we had arrived at our destination. My palms were sweaty and my heart began to race as I began to realize: After two flights and twenty two hours in transit, I had finally left the familiarity of Sunny South Africa and had arrived in China.
Then everything changed.
We took a bus to the Beijing West Railway Station that would bring us to Jinan. As I was looking through the window, holding tightly onto my dumplings, I knew I was in another world. The old lady who sat next to me smiled at me and I smiled back. She asked me something and I had no idea how to respond to her. I could only manage a broken"我不会说汉语" that I learnt in a Crash Course on the internet. I had never seen so many people in one place in my entire life. And the bicycles were so many, also!
I finally arrived at Shandong University, bright-eyed and bushy tailed. It was about 7:00pm when we had arrived on campus. Our school bus was even more comfortable than the bus we took to the Railway Station. I thought “…maybe I would survive here, after all.”
The process of registration was smooth and everything was perfect. I checked into my dormitory and I could finally lay back and relax.
Days went by and the first day of term slowly came closer and closer. By this time I had met so many new friends from different countries. Everybody had different backgrounds and life stories and came from all over the world to Shandong University, to study language, thereafter; we would all go to different Universities to pursue studies in Medicine.
On the first day of class, I was surprised that I could understand the first few words spoken to us by our very friendly teachers. They made a few jokes here and there and made us feel right at home. They found my name so funny, (王大智) and as they got to know me, they felt that the name fitted my personality!
Days became weeks and weeks became the end of the first month… Even though the homework was a lot and I was beginning to feel the pressure of learning a new language, I became comfortable with speaking Chinese with my new Chinese friends. They took me to Daming Lake,the valley of red leaves and many other places.
Even though, in the beginning, I was scared and thought I had thrown myself into the deep end, I became familiar with Chinese culture and way of life.
Slowly but surely I have learnt that, even though the Chinese way of life and the tradition and customs are different to those of my country, we share a few common things:
Here, we work hard. We set a goal and work diligently to achieve it. We value family and friends too. Often we would spend time having a big meal, laughing and talking and enjoying life together. Here we support each other through difficult times and lift each other up when we are feeling down.
Shandong University and Jinan became like a home to me. As the language barrier is slowly breaking down, I am beginning to understand this beautiful country and its people more and more. I was eating mooncakes with my Chinese friends during the autumn festival. We went to KTV together on weekends to celebrate a week of hard work and good test results; we learnt to celebrate life together!
As the days became shorter and shorter, autumn slowly turned into winter on our beautiful campus. It was now time to pack away all the short pants and open shoes and buy some thicker jackets to protect ourselves from the cold. We were so excited about hearing that it might snow this year! We heard that it hadn’t snowed in Jinan for a couple of years and that this year would be a special one.
I was so excited, as I have never seen snow in December in my entire life (in my country, winter is normally in the middle of the year, from May-July).
One morning, I dragged myself out of bed to attend the morning classes and it was a normal day like any other. I showered, brushed my teeth and packed my books without looking outside. When I opened the door to hang my towel outside, I was shocked at the beautiful world outside. Our beautiful campus was now covered in a white blanket of the whitest snow. The air was crisp and clean and I was very excited to go to class that day. I put on two more jerseys and two pairs of socks!
I felt like I was a walking snowman as I wore almost all the winter clothes I had, at once!
During class, we could hardly contain the excitement that the snow brought! We couldn’t wait for lunchtime to go outside and take as many pictures as our phones would allow us, and send them to our friends all over the world, who are green with envy!
I will never forget the day our entire class took a photo out in the snow.
The time for exams was fast approaching. I could now go to the Supermarket by bus or with a taxi with no help from friends or a dictionary. I could even have a chat with taxi drivers and crack a few jokes. I was surprised to find out that the only thing most taxi drivers have heard about South Africa, was the big diamonds! They were very disappointed to hear that I, a South African, haven’t even seen one before. Some were even more disappointed to find out that we indeed do not live in the savannah and we don’t have lions in our backyards or ride to school on elephants.
Every day I realize more and more how privileged I am to have this opportunity to study at Shandong University. I plan to make the most of this opportunity and achieve the best results I can.
I urge all hard working International Students to seriously consider this University. It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity to see places and meet people you would have not been able to, in your own country. It is also a great benefit to have international experience, especially experience of China, as China is fast becoming one of the most important nations in the world. China is one of South Africa’s biggest trade partners and our friendship has gotten stronger and stronger as time goes by.
Here are a few tips for students starting out their amazing Shandong University journey:
Firstly, don’t be scared and be yourself. Embrace this new place and open your heart to people, you will find that many would want to be your friend.
Join a debating society. Shandong University has a Model United Nations Debating Society, where you get to meet many different Chinese and International Students, learn more about China and other countries and make a ton of friends!
Experiment with the food. You will find that the food is different to what you’re used to, but it is just as delicious. There are many restaurants around the University, specializing from Hot Pots, Dumpling Dishes, Noodles, fried food and street food. The food is cheap and delicious!
Go to the night market! Here you will find most of the things you will need to make your dorm room feel like home, from blankets, pillows, clothes, shoes to plants and weird and wonderful toys!
Go climb a mountain!
Visit the Shandong Museum. There are often amazing exhibitions held here.
Study hard, get enough sleep and have fun!
Thinking back to my first day getting off the plane, I want to laugh at myself for being so scared and I am also proud of myself for how far I have come. I am learning a new language, made a lot of friends and am living comfortably in one of the most beautiful countries in the world. I could say so much more, but I invite you to experience it for yourself!