My Adventures in China: Part I

by Katelyn Noll '07

Ni hao! As a new semester begins and students settle into their new schedules and living areas at Azusa Pacific University, I am doing something similar—in China. As some of my friends at APU know, I will spend the fall semester at Xiamen University in China, along with 19 other students from schools that are part of the Council of Christian Colleges & Universities (CCCU). I expect a semester filled with adventures and unique learning experiences and look forward to sharing stories with my fellow students at APU.

The university's Chinese name is Xiaman Daxue, or Xiada, as the locals call it. Known as the "garden island," Xiamen is located just off the mainland of Fujian Province in southeast China. The weather is tropical—hot and humid. The beautiful campus displays a unique mixture of Western- and Chinese-style buildings. The ocean is so close I can see it from my dorm room, and on clear days I can see the mainland across the water.

After three weeks of life in China, I hardly know where to begin. I've started to learn how to use the buses to get around the city, and I've found the bank, the international bookstore, and Walmart. Even with these small steps, I have a lot of work to do. Between classes and culture shock, we're kept busy here.

My typical weekday includes getting up by 7 a.m. to get to class by 8 a.m.. We have classes until about 11:30 a.m., and then we break for lunch. Classes resume at 1 p.m., and we're usually done at about 3 p.m. This semester I'll study Hanyu (Chinese Language) I, Chinese History, Contemporary Society, Intercultural Communication, and Eastern Philosophy and Religions. We are largely independent and are responsible for buying our own meals, so we eat our lunches and dinners at restaurants near Xiada. The food is delicious, and I have been quickly learning how to order my favorite dishes in Chinese!

In my Intercultural Communication class we recently discussed the difference between schedules and routines. Our professor defined a routine as something that you do often enough that you are able to do it without thinking. So far, after living in Xiamen for three weeks, I can't say that I have developed many routines. There are things I do regularly, like make breakfast, walk to class, order lunch at restaurants, and go to the grocery store. These things require little or no thought to accomplish in the United States. However, when I do them here, the language and culture differences give me good reason to constantly be aware of what I'm doing, watch what the Chinese people are doing, and attempt to mirror my actions to theirs. I am now so used to eating with chopsticks that the idea of using a fork seems foreign, and I've figured out how to count out exact change at the store, but even as I become more comfortable, everything takes so much energy. However, I came here to be stretched, and these are the things that make this whole experience an adventure.

One thing that I look forward to most about the semester is the relationships I hope to build with Chinese people. Every Tuesday and Friday night I go to English corner, where Chinese students at Xiada gather and practice speaking English with foreigners. I have had conversations about everything from American pop culture (I'm no expert there), to what my hometown is famous for (not much), to my political viewpoints (I try to avoid this topic), to whether or not I like Chinese food (of course!). I think that these informal meetings will lead to good friendships, and I always look forward to meeting new people there.

Besides our mini-adventures on the Xiada campus and in the city, our group has already had two special activities. About two weeks ago we got to visit a stained glass factory and saw how lampshades, mirrors, and other decorative items are made from stained glass. We had a great time touring the factory and watching their work in progress. We also got to attend a local church last Sunday, which was an amazing experience. Of course the message was given in Mandarin Chinese, so none of us understood much of what the pastor said, but we loved being part of the global community of believers.

As I begin this adventure, I invite you to keep looking for my updates. I can't wait to share some more stories with you! After just three weeks of living here in China, I can tell that this will turn out to be an invaluable learning experience, and an exciting adventure!

Until next time, zai jian!