Looking through the window of memories
It was the late morning of a summer day in Switzerland, I was sitting in the train. I had taken this same way for years to go to the university. Yet, at that time, I had a weird feeling. Looking at the passing by landscape, I started to realize that I would not see it again during the following months. I enjoyed every second of the journey and some thoughts of what may have happened after my arrival at destination went through my mind. Nevertheless, I could never have imagined what truly happened after my plane touched the ground in Beijing.
As I left the airport, the true adventure began. First, I had to adapt myself to the environment. Coming from a village with five hundred inhabitants, to be nothing more than one rice grain in the middle of a ton of it, was impressive and frightening. I had no chance to get to know people around me and therefore, I had nobody to ask for help. In addition, as I chose to stay in a cheap hotel for the first two weeks, I experienced the language barrier. A simple mistake, which was to close my room with my key inside, took me over 15 minutes to make the employees understand my problem. Troubles in getting to know local people and to communicate with them, made me get into my bubble. I did my best to avoid situation, where I may need help, and started to discover the city by myself. It was not without any danger. As I wanted to survive until the first day of university, I had constantly to focus on the fact that traffic in the capital of China is not as friendly to pedestrians as it is in my home country.
Then the class started and I found a balance between positive and negative experiences. I got to know people from all around the world. Students from the USA, Germany, Mexico, France, Belgium, Japan… and of course also China, all gathered in Guanghua. Yet, before I could enjoy my exchange time and learn more about them, I still had to handle a major issue. The final step of my arrival process was to find a room for the following months. This was not as simple as expected and I found myself searching on a Chinese website with a local friend. That’s how I landed in a shared apartment near the Anheqiao North subway station. Living with two Chinese girls and being far from Wudaokou and Sanlitun, I had a great opportunity to experience the local life.
However, signing the rental papers and paying the monthly costs, was not the most difficult part of the housing. Being a foreigner, I had to register at the police station the day after I moved in. So, the next day, I went to the police station directly after my afternoon class. I arrived there during the opening hours and they told me that I could only register in the morning. As I had classes the whole week until midday, except for Thursday, I decided to fulfill this duty on that day. When I returned there, nobody was speaking English and my weak Chinese skills could not help to justify the situation. After struggling, I called a friend to help me with the process, but the policewoman did not want to accept my explanations and decided to send me to the Haidian prefecture. There I should have gotten a fine, but my friend helped me to get out of there with a warning. When we arrived back at the local police station, the policewoman was surprised that I could walk out of it without being penalized and I finally got my registration in the late afternoon.
Afterwards, the fun of being on an exchange semester in Beijing could begin. I experienced the history and culture by visiting the great wall, the new and old summer palace, the hutongs and many other places tourists have on their to-do list. Furthermore, I learnt about the local culture during classes, like “Doing Business with the Chinese People”, or just by talking with students. With freshly made friends, I visited a car production factory, participated to my first birthday party in a Mc Donald’s, discovered the nightlife of the capital and had interesting discussions about the differences of the countries we came from. Later during the semester, I also participated in the international day of the university. I spent most of the day taking pictures with people passing by the Swiss booth. I will never forget the pleasure everyone had to see all those countries at the same place on campus.
Finally, the biggest part of my memory book is dedicated to one person I met here in Beijing. She helped me to discover the country in another way. Beginning with the local food, she brought me in small restaurants, where menus have no pictures or translation and made me taste jackfruit, hot pot, Chinese barbecue and other dishes, which were occasionally burning twice. Then, with her I also got the opportunity to travel to Tianjin and Shanghai. We were perfect tourists there, but we also spent some time to lose ourselves in unknown streets. Later, as the winter started to appear, I got an opportunity to give back by helping her to experience one of my hobbies. That’s how I put on the teacher uniform during one weekend in Chongli to show her how to ski. After one or two minor accidents, she got the basics and we spent nice days with some other people from Beijing riding down the slopes and eating together in the evening. In other words, she helped me to feel at home here and to take the most out of the experience.
To conclude, when I will look out of the planes window and see the city of Beijing one last time. I won’t remember only one special moment, but all those good ones with friends from all over the world. Keeping all those experiences in mind, I will go back to my hometown with a brighter mind, than when I left. Before coming to China, I thought only my village could drag me back to it, I know now, that I have a second home here, where the adventure only started.