Monday, September 28, 2015

China through the eyes of an international student: expectations vs reality

This blog post was written for my news and multimedia reporting course in Tsinghua University. Enjoy!

Studying abroad is an amazing opportunity, but it is also a challenge. Especially when you go to a country that is more than 7000 kilometers away and that has a completely different culture from what you’re used to. 

That’s what Karianne Larsen did – she came from Norway to study in Tsinghua University in Beijing for a year and to be honest, it hasn’t all been easy. There are times when all you want to do is kick your head against the wall or take a glass of wine to calm your nerves, but there are also times when everything is so great that you praise yourself for taking this opportunity.

But living in a different culture also means that you see a lot of things that you would never expect to see. You read things before coming here, but when you finally get here you discover that things are really not the way you thought they’d be. That’s why I asked Karianne about the situations where her expectations and the reality didn’t really match up.

1.  Screaming and angry Chinese people

„    "I remember my first bus ride. I was sitting in the bus and there was this Chinese woman sitting behind me and screaming something in Chinese. I turned at her and tried to figure out what’s the matter, but she just kept yelling. It’s pretty frustrating that you really try to understand what they’re saying but can never actually get it and they often sound really angry.“

      2. Cheap Clothes, maybe not?

„    "Everyone has this idea in their heads that everything in China is super cheap and well it is the case with food, but when you go to clothing shops you will definitely be surprised at the prices.“
So if anyone wants to come to China to get cheap clothes, you might want to reconsider your destination.

3. The amount of bureaucracy

      Studying abroad means filling out countless applications and papers and during the first weeks most of your time will be spent on going from one building to another one and filling out papers. „But then when you get used to doing all the paperwork and going from one place to another you suddenly have to do one thing online,“ says Karianne implying to the course registration which all the students in Tsinghua have to do online and which can often cause a lot of stress.

      4. Take-away food in plastic bags

„    "I had seen pictures online before about Chinese take-away food before, but it was still weird to have my first take-away meal from a random plastic bag.“

      5. People really don’t speak English

„    Some people are really good and really try  a lot, but when you get into a taxi where there is again this angry-sounding driver who speaks in a language you don’t understand, this might become an issue. Also when you get lost in the campus on your first day and no-one can understand your cry of help in English.“  

      But that's the thing about coming to live in a different culture - you never know what to expect and that's what makes it exciting. And even though there are times when you sit at the side of the road thinking about how difficult everything is there are also times when you jump out of happiness and do splits at the Great Wall. 

        Yours Truly,


Saturday, September 26, 2015

Overcoming the fear of the unknown

„Thinking will not overcome fear but action will.“
W. Clement Stone

Fear – we often feel it at times when we don’t really expect it and for reasons that we don’t even want to admit to ourselves. Because how can I be scared of something that I have been wanting for years?

This is exactly what I felt before leaving the one and only place that I can actually call home. To be honest, I have never been so scared in my life and I have no idea why I felt like this. But when I saw my sweet little Estonia from the plane and when I set my foot in China for the first time in six years, it all hit me. For the next 5 months I will be living in a city with more than 20 million people and among the 20 million I don’t really know anyone. My family and friends will be thousands of kilometers away and from now on it’s just me.

But you would be surprised to know how quickly this feeling went away. Okay, the first day was honestly pretty bad because after waiting in the passport check line for 2 hours, sitting in traffic jams for almost 3 hours and getting lost in the campus, I finally made it to my dormitory, where there was no internet and no roommate waiting for me.

My first reaction was to just throw myself on my bed, which actually looked pretty comfortable at first, but lets just say I could not have been more wrong. I literally could not breathe because well my bed is actually a wooden plate which is covered with a 3cm mattress and therefore the fall was pretty painful.

Luckily my survival instincts started working after staying in my dorm room for about 10 minutes (the last meal I had was on the plane about 8 hours ago) and therefore I just knocked on my neighbors doors to find someone who could help me to find food and access internet. My mission was successful and from that point on everything started going upwards. Even though there are times when I feel like I want to scream because of all this bureaucracy I have had to handle, there are so many people here who are dealing with the same kinds of issues and there is nothing that a glass of wine with nice people couldn’t solve.

But overall it seems that I have managed to fill out most of the paperwork and solve all of the issues related to registration, visas, bank accounts, internet etc. Therefore I am now the proud owner of a Chinese SIM-card, bank account, meal card, Student ID and other cool things.

My first meal in one of the cafeterias. Price: less than 1 euro

One of the cafeterias in the campus. Note: you will actually never see none of the cafeterias this empty. The place was actually closed (all the places are closed between 13.30-16.30), but we pretended not to understand the angry Chinese women who were screaming at us (actually most of the time we didn't have to pretend since we actually did not understand most of it). 
This is my new home: Building no. 6, Asian Youth Center. As far as I know, it is the newest and best-looking dormitory in the whole campus. Not to mention the fact that we have the coolest people living here. 

I should also point out that I also managed to purchase my first bicycle ever (30 euros for a new bike didn’t seem like a bad deal). Everyone who knows my experiences with bikes understands how badly this sounds because lets just say that if there is a tree or a lamp post somewhere on the street, you can be sure that I will probably crash into it. So far I have actually been quite successful, but riding a bike in Beijing still seems like this big scary roller coaster to me (describing the traffic rules in Beijing would probably need a separate post).By the end of this semester I should be able to ride with a bike on the streets (where there are no rules and traffic lights don't really matter) while holding an umbrella in one and a mobile in other hand.

Although I actually have so many stories to tell it doesn't feel right to fit all this information into one blog post. Therefore I promise that next time I will tell you more about China, Tsinghua University and my adventures in this amazing city. I can just tell you that I am pretty sure that coming here was one of the best choices I have ever done and I could not be happier! Everything in here is so different and so interesting and every day I learn something new.

The Beijing Olympic Park and The Water Cube at night. 

The Bird's Nest

But until then, be safe, travel and enjoy life (because I know I will).

Yours truly,


Thursday, September 3, 2015

Kas ma tegelikult ka lähen Hiina?

Minu Hiina seiklus saab alguse 3 päeva pärast ja ma ei ole üldse veel minekuks valmis. Mul ei ole õrna aimugi, milliseid aineid ma seal võtta saan, kas ma sõlmisin õige tervisekindlustuse või mis ma endale järgmiseks pooleks aastaks kaasa peaksin pakkima. Olgem ausad, mul pole praegu isegu aimu, mis ma homme hommikul selga peaksin panema.

Õnneks on paar asja siiski kindlad – minu lennuk lahkub 6. septembril kell 15.25 ja pärast 3,5 tunnist reisi Istanbuli, 9-tunnist lendu Pekingisse ning tunni kuni kahe pikkust taksosõitu peaksin ma jõudma Tsinghua ülikooli, mis kõikvõimsa Google’i andmeil kuulub maailma tippülikoolide hulka ning omab seejuures ka ühte maailma ilusaimat ülikoolilinnakut. Tegelikult on kindel ka see, et mul on ühiselamus olemas oma tuba ja ka korterikaaslane, kelleks on hiinlasest programmeerija (ühtlasi vihjavad tema pildid sellele, et talle meeldivad hirmsasti suured loomamütsid).

Seoses minu Hiina minekuga on aga märkimisväärselt suurenenud uudishimulike inimeste arv, kes tunnevad suurt mure selle üle, mis mul ikkagi viga on, et sellisesse riiki täiesti ihuüksi lähen.
Tegelikult ma ei teagi täpselt, kuidas või millal see kõik alguse sai. Kas siis, kui mu reisihimulised vanemad 2007. aastal Hiinast tagasi tulid ja reisil nähtust imejutte rääkisid või siis, kui kogu perega 2009. aastal sinna tagasi läksime?

Hiina juures oli lihtsalt midagi erilist. Tegemist oli hiiglasliku riigiga, mis oli niivõrd erinev kõigest sellest, mida ma Lääne ühiskonnas elades näinud ja kogenud olin, kuid sellegi poolest tundsin end seal kuidagi koduselt. Ma avastasin, et väljaspool Euroopat on olemas täiesti teine maailm, kus ei kehti samad reeglid ja normid nagu siin. Ma tahtsin mõista, mis see Hiina siis õigupoolest on.

Esialgne vaimustus hajus aga tasapisi ning hoolimata sellest, et huvi säilis, ei leidnud ma sellele 15-16 aastase noorukina mingit väljundit. Õnneks käisin ma aga ühes Eesti uuenduslikuimas keskkoolis ning 2011. aastal tuli kooli juhtkond välja teatega, et uuest õppeaastast hakatakse koolis õpetama hiina keelt.. Kuna Hiina oli tolleks hetkeks tõusnud maailma juhtivate riikide hulka ning nii mu isa kui ka ema olid täiesti kindlad, et just hiina keele oskus võib mulle tulevikus tohutu eelise anda, olin üks esimestest, kes end keeletundidesse kirja pani.

Huvi Hiina ja ka teiste kultuuride, poliitika ja rahvusvaheliste suhete vastu viis mind ka pärast keskkooli õppima riigiteadusi, mis pärast minu ohtraid reaalainete olümpiaadidel käimisi ja kuldmedaliga lõpetamist tuli ilmselt paljudele üllatusena. Kohalikus ajaleheski leidus kommenteerijaid, kes nimetasid minu valikut rumalaks ja arusaamatuks. Lõpetavad ju sotsiaal- ja humanitaarteadlased hamburgeriputkades, sest nende erialal pole mingit väljundit.

Mina olen aga siiani oma valikutega üsnagi rahul olnud.  Ma olen saanud õppida seda, mis mulle meeldib ja kombineerida õppetöö reisimisega. Seetõttu ei mõista ma riigiteaduste ja rahvusvaheliste suhete tudengeid, kes pärast kolme aastat ülikooli õppimist kurdavad, et nad ei ole mitte midagi uut õppinud. Asja sisu seisnebki ju tegelikult selles, kui palju sa ise oled valmis õppima ja ette võtma.
Seega ei piisanud mul vaid USAs õppimisest, vaid lähen täiendan end veel Hiinas, et viia end samm lähemale oma unistustele.

Kas ma kardan? – JAH! Kas ma jätan selle pärast midagi tegemata? – Ei, sest lõpuks jääme me kahetsema vaid neid otsuseid ja tegusid, mis me elus tegemata jätsime.  

PS: Kui ma Hiinas oma blogile ja muudele suhtlusvõrgustikele ligi pääsen, kuulete minust varsti. Kui ei, siis näeme veebruaris! 

Teie Kai  

Siin postituses kasutatud pildid pärinevad 2009. aastast, mil käisime perega Pekingis, Xianis ja Guilinis. Suurem osa piltidest on tehtud minu ema poolt.