6 can’t miss attractions in Beijing

Beijing, the capital of China, is an essential stop for most visitors to China – it’s likely if you’re coming to China that you’ll fly into this mega city, or at the very least pass through it. There’s so much to see and do there, it can be over-whelming trying to decide how to spend your days. Should you stick to the ‘big ticket’ items, or try to find those more unique, ‘out of the way’ sights? Personally, I think a bit of both will serve you well, so here’s my list of 6 can’t miss attractions in Beijing.

The Forbidden City

The Forbidden City is smack bang in the middle of Beijing, and an amazing part of Chinese history. Whilst some of it is still off-limits to the public, there is some spectacularly quintessential Chinese architecture and artifacts to see in this grandiose palace grounds. Some 24 emperors called this place home over the Ming and Qing Dynasties (mid 1300s – early 1900s), and it feels really special to wander around these once exclusive grounds. My personal favorite is the garden; after a few hours walking around this massive space, it’s lovely to relax in this green area. I can only imagine what it would have been like to sit here in the dynasty days.

My tip: try to find a quiet pocket of the garden to sit down and rest for a bit (and people watch!).

the forbidden city

Tiananmen Square

This is the largest public square in China, and apparently one of the largest in the world. The gate to the Forbidden City (the Tiananmen Gate, or the Gate of Heavenly Peace) lies to the north of the square and is where the square gets its name from. Here you can watch the flag raising ceremony at sunrise or sunset, walk through Mao’s Mausoleum (where the real Mao lies embalmed!), or visit the National Museum.

My tip: include Tiananmen Square in your Forbidden City outing; it’s easy to fit them both in one day.

The Temple of Heaven

The Temple of Heaven is where emperors of the Ming and Qing dynasties worshipped heaven, so it’s a very holy place for many Chinese people.This temple features some of the most stunning and unique Chinese architecture in the city. It takes several hours to walk the beautifully landscaped grounds, and every section is quite different from the last.

My tip: look out for the elderly locals playing cards, mahjong, or dancing near the main gate; it’s a feast for the eyes and ears!

Beijing (2).jpg

The Summer Palace

Whilst it’s a little bit out of the way, the Summer Palace is an easy subway ride from the city centre, and is definitely worth your trip. It’s the largest royal park in China and is UNESCO World Heritage listed. The grounds have a delightfully serene feel to them, with loads of gorgeous trees, a river that feeds into a massive lake, and of course beautiful architecture to marvel at, including temples, pagodas, and halls. It’s quite hilly and there are some steep stairs to climb and weave through, but the views from the top of this palace are simply breath-taking.

My tip: wear sturdy, comfortable shoes as some of the paths are uneven and can be challenging to navigate.

The Confucius Temple

This is the second largest Confucius temple in China. Many people whole-heartedly recommend the nearby Llama Temple, and whilst lovely, my pick in this area is most definitely the Confucius Temple. The Confucius Temple is not nearly as popular (so there are generally far less people there), and it has a much more tranquil feel to it. Here you can slowly weave around the grounds exploring courtyards, the beautiful stone and painted artworks, and admire the truly beautiful ancient trees.

My tip: this is a fairly small temple, so relax and take your time to really appreciate and absorb the vibe here; it’s a lovely little oasis from the hustle and bustle.

The Great Wall of China

You can’t come to China and not see the Great Wall! Set aside a full day for this to allow for transport to and from the wall, walking up and back from your transport, and of course photos, a lunch/snack break, and exploring. There’s a part of the wall to suit almost everyone’s fitness level and taste: some parts of the wall have been restored, some are super touristy, other parts are quite ‘rugged’, and are paths less travelled. You can choose to either walk all your way around, or grab a cable car up and back, and walk a little less.

My tip: for something a little different, try tobogganing down the hill from the wall at the end of your day.

Great Wall of China

One last tip for traveling in Beijing: of course, it pays to check the weather and smog levels before heading out for the day, but sometimes you don’t’ have the luxury of time. If that’s the case, I recommend investing in a good quality face mask to filter the air for you.

So there you have it, my 6 can’t miss attractions in Beijing. Of course, with a city as massive, and historically and culturally rich as Beijing, there are so many more things to do there, you could easily fill several weeks with amazing activities! Hopefully this list gives you some good ideas, and at the very least, a good starting point for you trip to Beijing! Enjoy!

What are your favorite attractions in Beijing? Let us know below.

Written by the Travelling Penster

Living Like a Local: How Do I Get WeChat?

I arrived in China before WeChat had taken over everything. In fact, I still remember carrying cash around and routinely taking out money from the ATMs. But I also lived in Luoyang at the time, which isn’t as developed and modern as Beijing and Shanghai. But I remember relying on the desktop version of QQ to contact people (QQ was all the rage back then) but there was no English version for phones just yet, and naturally the phone version of QQ did not include a translator. Things have sure changed!

Launched in 2011, QQ’s owner, Tencent, launched Wechat. A new instant messaging app that has since then taken China, and some parts of the world even, by storm. Similar to WhatsApp, Line, and other messaging apps, on the surface, but WeChat has developed a very sophisticated network of mini-apps, games, payment options, taxi-hailing, and bike-sharing. You can access just about anything form WeChat these days, and it can seem daunting at first, but believe me, just like Alipay, WeChat is a must have for anyone living in China.

Stay Connected

The most critical function of WeChat is to connect with people. You can stay in touch with friends and relatives, inside China and out. I had my family back in Denmark get WeChat on their phones because I do not always have access to Facebook. So now I can chat and call my parents and my sister with ease. You can send text messages, voice messages, videos, share your location, send a location, do voice- and video calls. WeChat has it all.

You can also let the world around you know what you are up to, using your Moments. Moments are similar to Facebook posts, and allow you to post short video clips, up to 9 pictures or text messages that others can “like” and comment on. This is how my family knows what I am doing every day.

You can add users based on their WeChat username, their phone number, QQ number (if they initially had one) and a personal QR code.

In WeChat you can also create chat groups. Groups can easily hold up to 500 members, and with some upgrades, they can have up to 1000 members. Groups are great for a couple of friends organizing an event or activity, or just putting your whole family together or even your department at work.

Shopping

WeChat pay, a feature similar to Alipay, has also become one of the cornerstones of WeChat. Restaurants, shops, even street vendors now allow you to pay with WeChat. You can have money in your WeChat wallet, or you can link your WeChat wallet to your bank-card as you do in Alipay and then do payments via scanning their QR code and sending the specified amount of money, or you can open WeChat pay, and they will scan your payment code. It is simple, efficient and very safe.

So how do I get WeChat?

Well, I am glad you asked!

WeChat can be found in most APP stores today, either as WeChat or 微信 (weixin) it’s Chinese name. Don’t worry, if you download the Chinese version of the app, you can change the language to English later. Open the app on your phone, and you can change the language on the front screen at the top right corner, log in at the bottom left, and sign up for your account at the bottom right.

On the following screen, you should enter your name, select the region of your phone number (in my case, I am already in China), enter your phone number and select a password. The password should be between 8-16 characters long and contain a symbol as well as a number. For example WeChat?0005

Click the green Sign Up button, and you’ll be taken through a little security check where you have to drag the missing piece of the picture onto the correct spot.

Next you’ll have to agree to the Privacy Policy guidelines, and finally, you will be asked to do an SMS verification. Using your phone number, send the shown text message to their number (you can click the “Send SMS” button, and it will do it for you). Once you’ve sent the message, return to the WeChat app and click the SMS Sent. Go to Next Step button, and after a short verification, your WeChat account will be open and ready for use!

WeiQi – One of the Oldest Board-games in the World

It is possible that you’ve never heard of it, despite it being possibly the oldest known board-game in the word, still in existence, even played in its original form. You may have learned of the game and thought it came from somewhere else. Weiqi, an ancient board-game of strategy, is surprisingly simple, yet incredibly challenging to master. It is one of my new hobbies for the year 2018, and I thought I would share this cultural interest with you all today!

The first time I was introduced to WeiQi, was around 17 years ago, at a youth club organized by my primary school back in Denmark. I would have been in grade 7 or 8 at this time, around 14 or 15 years old. One of the organizers, Peter, told me about the game and taught me to play it, only then, we knew the game by its other name, Go. I played with Peter and few other classmates for a few months, and then someone stopped playing. It wasn’t until February 2017, when I bought a beautiful WeiQi set for my friend, Paul, that I got back into playing. When Paul moved back to the states last December, he asked me to hold the board for him, for when he comes back so we could play together. And I decided to make use of this beautiful board and to learn more of the history behind this fascinating game.

In ancient China, Weiqi was viewed as one of four essential Arts of the cultural elite; Qin (a classical musical instrument), Calligraphy (the writing of Chinese Characters), Painting and Weiqi. The origin of the game is unknown. However several stories have survived through the ages. One such story is about an ancient Chinese emperor, around 2357-2255 B.C. who wanted to prepare his son for taking the throne, used the game to teach warfare and balance.

One of the earliest written records of the game comes from an old text published around 559 B.C., where the phrase “Ju Qi Bu Ding” appears. The phrase is still popular in China today and translates roughly into “A person who picked up a stone and can’t decide where to make his move.” Stones are the pieces used to play WeiQi; white and black. The game was hugely popular in the Han Dynasty and was even criticised for being addictive. WeiQi eventually shed this lousy image and rose to even higher fame as a game of military strategy. Where the board was the battlefield and the stones the soldiers of the two armies fighting over control.

Chess is widely considered to be one of the more significant strategy games in the Western world. Chess is a lot like a single battle. You have your troops and units in different classes in front of you. The board is smaller than the WeiQi board, and because you can always see all of the pieces, you’re able to calculate your risks continually. Your chess pieces may move around on the board to capture other pieces, and chess is very confrontational. You’re going against the guys in front of you.

In WeiQi, you place your stones on the board, one piece at a time, meaning that with every stone set on the board, there is a shift in balance. In Chess, you take an opponents’ piece by eliminating them and taking their space, in WeiQi, you capture a stone by surrounding it on all four sides. In Weiqi, you can even capture an entire group by surrounding them. In Chess, you try to take the opponents’ King, but in Weiqi, you have to try and control the entire board, by capturing more territory than your opponent.

The Weiqi board size is traditionally 19×19 squares. Stones are placed on the intersections, and you gain points by controlling as many intersections as possible. In more recent times, newer players tend to start on 9×9 boards, still a little larger than Chess’ 8×8. With the grid size being 19×19, the board has a total of 361 intersections, at all of which, a stone can be placed or captured, but never taken away. Throughout the whole game, which usually lasts 20 minutes to 1 hour or more, you have to continually be aware of what is going on, on the entire board and how each stone changes the balance of power.

The rules of WeiQi are immensely simple. You can place one stone on the board anywhere you want, but if a stone or a group of stones are surrounded, they are captured. Your opponent may try to circle around you, to capture your precious stones, but in doing so, he might leave himself open for you to circle around him as well. So keep your eyes peeled, place your stones carefully and watch the game change with every turn.

If you’d like to know more about WeiQi, I will be writing more the game and my own experiences playing in the following weeks and months.

Founding of a Republic – China’s National Day Holiday

As October approaches, so does one the major holidays held every year in China, the National Day of the People’s Republic of China, also known as the National Day Holiday or Golden Week. There are in fact three holidays all called Golden Week, but the National Holiday is what I often hear associated with the Golden Week Holiday. The other two are the Spring Festival holiday and the Labor Day Holiday. In Chinese, the National Day Holiday is called 国庆节 (Guóqìng jié).

The holiday commemorates the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949 and the forming of the Central People’s Government. What many people do not know, is that The People’s Republic of China was actually founded on September 21st, 1949. The Central People’s Government was established on October 1st, and the Resolution on the National Day of the People’s Republic of China was passed on October 2nd, declaring the National day as October 1st.

All over China, you’ll find the Chinese flag hanging on almost every street corner, in malls, and on pedestrian streets. National Day is celebrated typically with fireworks, speeches, concerts and media coverage. In certain years, large, and often impressive, military parades take place at Tiananmen Square in Beijing across from the Forbidden City, an event attended by thousands and broadcast to millions. The military parade is typically followed by a parade of civilians showing their love for their country, with colorful costumes and displaying pictures of revered leaders since the founding of modern-day China.

The National Holiday is also marked by traveling and is one of the busiest travel periods in China from October 1st to October 7th. Popular tourist destinations like Beijing, The Great Wall, Shanghai, The Avatar Hallelujah Mountains, and others see thousands of visitors within these days. I traveled to Shanghai myself back in 2010 during the National Holiday, and while it’s exciting experiencing Shanghai like this, it was hard to enjoy the views and the beautiful scenery while also fighting to stay in place.

A lot of Foreigners tend to travel locally during these days or try to travel outside of the of the first and last two days of the holiday where the lines are the longest.

How I Stayed Sane While Experiencing Culture Shock in China. Part 6: Reverse Culture Shock

Now that we have looked at the different stages of culture shock that you go through in a new country, it is time to look at how some people experience a sort of Reverse Culture shock when they come back to home after years abroad. For me, coming from a small country like Denmark with considerably fewer people than China, it was the open spaces and emptiness that made me feel awkward being back in my once familiar surroundings.

Above, I have a photo I took in Shanghai on the pedestrian street known as Nanjing Lu. It is the main shopping street in Shanghai, and there are thousands of people walking here. I took this photo back in 2010 on my first trip to Shanghai, but the sight is the same today if you are there around the time of the Spring Festival like I was. The street is absolutely packed with people.

For contrast, try and look at the photo below, taken in Ringsted in Denmark, close to where I grew up. And then consider the next photo from the main shopping street in Copenhagen, the biggest city in Denmark.

Now, to be honest, the picture in Shanghai is taken around the most important Chinese festival of the year in China, the photo from Ringsted is taken during a weekday in the summer break and so is the one from Copenhagen. You cannot really compare the images, but still, the difference is striking.

Whenever I come back to Denmark, I am amazed at how much space I have, how few people I see and, how expensive everything suddenly is. I don’t have to worry so much about getting on the bus, there are plenty of seats, but unlike China, in many parts of Denmark, the bus only leaves once every hour. And where in China, taking the bus costs about 2 yuan, in Denmark a single bus fare is closer to 20 yuan, and don’t even get me started on the trains.

In China, everything is convenient. I live close to everything, I can have just about anything in the world delivered to me, and I haven’t actually considered getting a car, there is just no need. In Denmark, we spend a lot of time driving around to get to places, because not everything is within walking distance.

Speaking Danish again after two years abroad and only speaking it a few times a month is also an adjustment. I suddenly understand everything around me, even people who just walk past me on the street. I feel connected to other people even though I do not know them.

Reverse culture shock is real. It doesn’t happen to anyone in the same way, but many feel a sense of awkwardness when they return to their own country after spending a few years abroad, getting used to how their life is there. It isn’t usually as severe as culture shock you experience living abroad. When I go home on holiday, I a typically at home for about three or four weeks. It takes me, sometimes a week, to get adjusted to living in Denmark again, and then, when I travel back to China I need a few days to get back to normal life there again.

How I Stayed Sane While Experiencing Culture Shock in China. Part 5: The Adjustment

When the depression finally hit me in China, I made a conscious choice that I wasn’t going to let it ruin my time here. I decided not to give in to the homesickness, focus on my work and try to learn about the things I didn’t understand, instead of just complaining about them. I also knew that my time in Changsha was going to be limited. Once I would finish my internship, I would likely move somewhere else, and I’d have a chance to start over fresh.

This method isn’t necessarily the magic cure, just bite down and focus on work, but for me, it helped. Focusing myself on working and learning as much as I could about my surroundings, meant that I kept myself busy (too busy to think about other things), and I also accumulated a lot of knowledge about the local culture, customs and their way of life. For some, they’ll need to focus more on physical activities, or do sports or go to the gym like they’d do in their home country to feel more at home. We are all different, and we will need different ways of dealing with the depression phase, if and when it sets in.

Doing observation classes with teachers and the school principal at my school in Changsha.

After a while, things started to get better. Once you start to accept your new surroundings and how different everything is, you can focus on learning more about it, understanding it and take it in to make it part of your new life. You won’t be able to live in the same way as you did back home. Luckily for me, I didn’t want to. I moved to China to explore something different, to live differently and more independently than I had ever done before. But when I first arrived, I still had blinders on, expecting the Chinese people to behave like Danish people. It doesn’t work like that, and you have to embrace it, learn from it and make it part of your new life.

It isn’t quite as easy as it sounds, and it takes a bit of work finding a suitable compromise between being who you are and changing just enough to fit into your new surroundings. You learn to appreciate the 2-hour lunch break, the energy of the people around you, the funny little things you see every day that you’d never see back home. You also learn to be flexible. Danish people tend to love schedules and to have plans for weeks ahead. In China, things are sometimes more fluid, and you have to adjust your plans a lot. That used to bother me a lot at first, but now, it is just a way of life.

I have learned to embrace and love the life I live now. I still miss Denmark, and how quiet and calm everything is. As I am writing this, I am back in Denmark on holiday for three weeks, and I love everything about being back home. Being home makes me realize how much I am missing all the things I took for granted when I lived here more than seven years ago now. Which brings me to my next article, about Reverse Culture shock, which is what you experience when you have been away from home for a while and come back to what your life used to be, which is typically quite different from your life in China. It can sometimes feel like Culture Shock all over again, but in your own country and in your own home.

How I Stayed Sane While Experiencing Culture Shock in China. Part 4: The Depression

This article is part of a series on experiencing, and dealing with, culture shock in China. The articles are based on my own experiences moving to and living in China, looking back at how I overcame each phase of culture shock, making it through to the other side and having stayed in China for over seven years.

Previous (The Honeymoon Stage)

Have you ever had that feeling, when you wake up in the morning of just not wanting to go to work? We all have it occasionally, but it can be an indication that your depression stage is setting in. For the first few months at your new job, you’ve likely felt full of energy, excited and happy about where you are, so how come suddenly you no longer want to get up and do it?

This very feeling, was how I knew my mood was about to change and that harder times were coming. Having experienced it before, meant I could start to prepare for it mentally and already now start processing it. I began to notice a chance in my attitude and my energy towards work. I’d usually arrive smiling, greeting students and having my can-do attitude. But it was slowly changing into me rushing to the office and avoiding people as much as possible. Getting up in the morning got harder and rather than arriving 15-20 minutes early I started arriving more or less on time. I spent more time by myself than with others, often going straight home after work, not attending social events or going out to dinner with anyone.

Even though I had gone through this before in Australia, it is different in a country where people do not speak your language or behave the way you are used to. I wasn’t the only one, though, and some of my other foreign colleagues were also dealing with this stage to some degree, but handling it in different ways. There is no recipe for getting through this stage, everyone is different. But I remembered one of the things that helped me in Australia was not sitting around by myself. I had to force myself to go outside, meet people, and try to have fun. Who knows, if I tried, I might have a little fun by accident. But I also decided to give myself a purpose. I liked teaching but I always knew I wanted to do more than just being a teacher and the next day I decided to devote myself to my job, and let everything else come to me naturally. I was going to be one of the best teachers this school had ever had, and it was going to be my way out of this little bubble.

Over the past few weeks, since the onset of my more negative emotions, i had changed from this outgoing and welcoming person into someone who just wanted to be alone. I was going to change that, and become more sociable, more active and more appreciative of my new surroundings. I volunteered to every assignment I could get my hands on, participated in every activity I could and started making myself known for my work. I spent more time planning my lessons, stayed late at the office if I hadn’t finished my work and started to arrive early again.

Focusing on my work, gave me a purpose and a goal that I could work towards. It worked, but it will not necessarily work for you if you are facing this situation. The most important thing was that I kept myself busy. I spent time planning classes, I went out to dinner, participated in activities and helped do observations for the Chinese teachers giving them suggestion on how to improve their English. I did not leave a lot of time for sitting around and not doing anything. There more I was on the move, the better I felt and before I knew it, the depression was as good as gone.

From listening to others who have dealt with culture shock and the depression that sometimes follow, one of the most common things I hear is that isolating yourself only makes the depression worse. As hard as it can be, going out and being social really makes a significant difference. It can also be tough if you only have non-local friends. Having local friends means someone can explain you to the things you don’t understand. By understanding why people say or do what they do, life also becomes much easier. Everything is about balance and finding a mix that works for you.

Depression is a natural stage of culture shock, at some point we all have to go through it, but with a little preparation, the depression will not be as crippling as it can sometimes be. But you will need to make an effort and take control of your time and your feelings. The good news is, it is easier than it seems. Go out, meet people, learn about the culture and the things that are different and confusing. Focus on your work and become the best that you can be and before you know it you’ll be feeling much better!

How I Stayed Sane While Experiencing Culture Shock in China. Part 3: When everything is Cool

This article is part of a series on experiencing, and dealing with, culture shock in China. The articles are based on my own experiences moving to and living in China, looking back at how I overcame each phase of culture shock, making it through to the other side and having stayed in China for over seven years.

Previous (What is Culture Shock?)

The first time I visited China was my trip to Shanghai in 2010 right before the Chinese Spring Festival, the Chinese festival similar to our Christmas and New Year’s Eve put together into one. Everywhere I went I saw red lanterns, happy people, and tall skyscrapers. I fell in love instantly.

Shanghai Skyline

A friend of mine, a local Chinese girl, was working in Shanghai at the time, and she agreed to show me around. Coming to China for the first time as a tourist can be a bit overwhelming. Many do not speak English very well so having someone around who could help was valuable.

Having someone around to talk to the taxi drivers, show you around and take care of you was great. I got to experience everything while worrying about nothing. My visit to Shanghai was smooth, energetic and full of excitement. A great experience, everything was cool!

I finally moved to China in the summer of 2010, starting out with a month-long TEFL training program in Beijing and then moving to Changsha in Hunan province for my 5-month teaching practice. The time in Beijing was like a study-holiday. We would study during the week, but we would go on trips on the weekends.

The Great Wall of China

Arriving in Changsha, we lived at a privately owned boarding school for primary grade students. We worked in the English teachers’ office, and all the teachers communicated well. They took care of most things for us, and we were even assigned a kind of “buddy” who would help us out with anything we needed.

It was great! It was not my first time in China, but it was my first time in Changsha, entirely different from Shanghai and Beijing. Every day was a new experience, and something as simple as going to the supermarket was a new feeling. Shopping alone was a challenge and an experience. Missing your bus stop was an excuse to wander and get lost, talking to a person saying more than just “hello” felt satisfying. “I could live here!”

New people, new tastes, and smells, the language, the culture. I felt like I was living an adventure, nothing could compare. I was not making much money or anything special, but the experience was fantastic, and I loved every second.

Chicken feet, you gotta have’em!

Moving to China was, however, not my first time to live in a foreign country for an extended period of time. I spent one high-school semester studying at the TAFE institute in Wagga Wagga (Yes, that’s the name of the city) in Australia. Wagga Wagga is the biggest inland city, about 400 kilometers east of Sydney. I knew that eventually, I would face a wave of discomfort and slight depression because I’d gone through it once already when I was there. Having traveled a lot with my parents and sister as a child, I am very familiar with this feeling, and I can sense when it is starting to change. For me, personally, this is a great tool because I can then prepare for the coming phase of uncertainty where the excitement is replaced with worry, confusion and, sometimes, anger. Having had this particular experience before, also made me able just to enjoy how I was feeling, and mentally prepare myself. I wouldn’t be surprised by the onset of the depression stage, I was anticipating it.

In Australia, everyone speaks English, so even when I was feeling down, it was easy to talk to people around me. In China, I was surrounded by English Speaking teachers who all communicated quite well, but where Australia shares a lot of culture with other Western countries, China is vastly different, and sometimes the culture and how people behave can be tricky to adjust to.

While you are enjoying yourself, wandering around, getting lost and tasting the delicious food, remember to get to know the people around you. It is easy to get lost in your own agenda when all you want to do is explore your new surroundings. But your friends and colleagues will be an essential lifeline for when you start feeling down. Take them with you, explore together, share memories and your adventures. Don’t forget to talk to your friends and family back home, the more they know about what you are doing and experiencing, the more they will be of help when you need them later.

How I Stayed Sane While Experiencing Culture Shock in China. Part 2

Culture shock is complicated. Moving to another country long-term affects people differently. I’m no expert on Culture Shock, but I’m happy to share my experiences trying to stay sane while experiencing culture shock in China. Everyone experiences culture shock differently, but it does affect everyone.

The model below shows one of the simpler illustrations of culture shock. It shows four phases that travellers or expats go through when visiting- or moving to another country. The four stages are called honeymoon, negotiation, adjustment, and adaptation.

We first experience the honeymoon phase when we visit another country. Everything is new, exciting, and interesting even though we can’t communicate with the locals. Little setbacks such as getting lost, or not finding what you needed from the supermarket, you shrug off as being on an adventure. Also sometimes called positive culture shock and this is why we like travelling. When we visit a new country or place, we experience this feeling, falling in love with the language, culture, food, and history.

When the second phase, the depression, sets in, this is what most people refer to as culture shock. You’ve been in the same place a while, and you’re no longer on an adventure, now it’s everyday life. You notice you can’t communicate efficiently, find what you need to buy, or order food at a restaurant without help, this leads to feeling powerless and dependent. The locals act differently than what you’re familiar with, and you start missing home and your family. It’s natural to feel sad, irritated or depressed and it’s important to have someone to talk to and lean on for support at this stage. Stay in touch with friends and family, keep a positive outlook. Some make it through this stage very quickly, but others need more time to adjust.

Everything improves when you reach the adjustment stage. You begin to overcome your depression and learn why you’re experiencing these emotions. You learn more about the people around you, the customs, traditions, and how to interact with your surroundings. Your view of your new home changes and starts to make sense. You’re on the right path, already further than many who go through culture shock. It becomes easier to take care of yourself, you learn the language and get into a routine of working, playing, socialising, and relaxing by yourself and your newfound social circle.

Finally, you’ll experience the adaptation stage. Also known as the acceptance stage, you feel that your horizon has broadened, you’ve become more open-minded and more tolerant of what bothered you before. Your more proficient in the language, you’ve made local friends, and you’re starting to make sense of everything. Life is more comfortable and normal and although you might not reach the same high as the honeymoon stage, you’ll feel like you belong.

Traditionally, culture shocks ends with the adaptation stage but I think it’s also important to consider how you feel going home after spending years abroad. When you return home you can experience reverse culture shock, having to get used to your old surroundings all over again. Reverse culture shock is not as prevalent as culture shock but it remains somewhat common.

Culture shock isn’t a disease and it is not the same as a depression. You should never be afraid to talk about culture shock. Admitting you’re experiencing it, sharing with friends and relatives and other expats are the first steps of dealing with it and getting through it.

How I Stayed Sane While Experiencing Culture Shock in China: Part 1

Around eight years ago, I found myself sitting in front of my computer, experiencing a broad range of emotions. On the screen in front of me, was a “thank you” note, confirming my application for a teaching internship in China. This program eventually leads to where I am now, living and working in China, making this my chosen career. I was 21 years old, scared to leave everything behind but excited about what my new like might be. I was hopeful of what the future might bring, but doubtful if I would be able to pull it off. I was proud that I made such a dramatic decision but remorseful that I didn’t include my family more in the process.

Nonetheless, I called my family to tell them the good news. I remember my mom being emotional and my father’s resistance. But they understood this was something I needed to do, and they even lent me the money I needed to pay the program fee. They were worried because China is so far from Denmark, and so different. They couldn’t fathom their son living so far away, let alone imagine how I could get used to living there. The image Western people have of China is distorted, and coming to China is vastly different from anything you think you know from movies and the news.

Before making this decision, I had just returned from my first overseas trip alone. I spent two weeks in Shanghai, looking for a university to study at, but ended up spending most of my time just touring around. I experienced the kindness of the people, the great food, amazing architecture, and stunning views. I had always known I was a big-city person, even though I’d only ever lived in smaller towns, and I fell in love with Shanghai in a matter of hours. My camera was glued to my face, and I still go back to revisit my photos to relive my memories of my first visit. For those two weeks, I was euphoric; everything was new and exciting, and I loved every second.

Copenhagen Airport on my first ever trip to China
Copenhagen Airport By Mikkel Larsen

Traveling to a new place, be it on business or holiday, makes us feel excited. I have traveled to a lot of locations in the past, and the feeling is always the same. But, that feeling of excitement is just a fraction of the emotional rollercoaster you go through when you visit another country. Your holiday is typically not long enough, for you to experience the rest of the ride. Being on vacation for one, two, or even three weeks, you only feel the newness. When you get lost, you see a chance to explore, and when your food tastes funny you just photograph it, post it on Facebook with a comment and quickly order something else. You’re only experiencing what is commonly known as the “honeymoon” phase of culture shock, something you are likely to face if you move to a new country for an expected period. Knowing about culture shock and how to deal with it, can significantly improve your experience of living abroad.

Culture shock happens in four distinct phases known as “honeymoon”, “depression”, “adjustment” and “adaptation”. Each step, its length, and impact vary from person to person. The honeymoon period is what you experience in the beginning when you first arrive in a new country. Everything is new, the language is interesting, the habits of the locals, and the food will almost get you high. But when the honeymoon ends, reality starts to set in, and you start feeling depressed with your surroundings. The language barrier, traffic, safety, difficulty of doing things without assistance, and missing home are all very prominent feelings. The second phase is usually the hardest, and it can last anywhere from 3-9 months. This is the stage that makes some people return home. But once you make it past this stage, comes the adjustment. Here, you will start to grow accustomed to what is going on around you, you develop a routine, you start learning the language, and you can support yourself. You develop skills to deal with everyday problems, and adverse reactions to the culture around you lessen.

Finally, adaptation sets in and you begin to take control of your surroundings. You participate in social events, you make close friends, you learn to accept the new culture, and you become somewhat bicultural. Now, living in the country is, in many ways, similar to living at home. You’re no longer bothered with the new culture, but start to embrace it.

In the following articles, I’ll talk about each of the stages I experienced, and I will touch on how you can overcome each of the stages of culture shock while living in China.