Chasing the sunset to Beijing. Photo courtesy of Kate.
After a surreal 11-hour flight from Seattle spent chasing the sunset halfway across the globe, I am beyond thrilled to report that I have arrived in Beijing and survived my first week on the InterExchange Teach Intern and TEFL Training program in China! What an intense, confusing, and absolutely thrilling week this has been.
I arrived late, around 11 p.m. (Beijing time, which I was surprised to learn is consistent across the whole of China), and made a super first impression by waking my new roommate up from a jet-lagged sleep with my inability to work absolutely everything from the strange door key to the incomprehensible light switches and the toilet (sorry again Paula!). Luckily she's fantastic (and forgiving!), and we get along well.
On orientation day, 45 (there are 47 of us, but two arrived a couple of days late) nervous interns from all over the globe gathered in our first Chinese classroom to learn more about what the next six months of our lives will be like. My roommate is from Brazil, and there are interns from Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Belgium, Germany, Australia, the U.K., and the U.S., give or take a few places I've likely missed. Oddly, some of the best fun I’ve had since arriving in China has been learning Swedish drinking songs and German children’s songs!
Orientation & tour schedule for the Teach Intern and TEFL Training program. Photo courtesy of Kate.
With people from so many Western places all trying to find their way in this chaotic city, the program staff have been giving a lot of (often alarming) advice. I find it strangely soothing that even the most shocking suggestions are delivered with a blasé, that's-just-the-way-it-is-so-why-don't-you-relax-and-get-used-to-it attitude. You'll probably think I'm overreacting (I am a self-acknowledged germaphobe, after all), but I can’t get over this one: never sit or lie on the floor around here because no one in China uses disinfectant, and mops are stored in unused toilets between uses. Seriously?? Eeeek!
For this first-time Western visitor, Beijing is a confusing, sort of scary place, and the bitter cold of winter doesn’t help. Initial culture shock and insufficient winter clothing aside, though, I'm starting to realize I really am enjoying this experience. At what other time in my life have I been this proud of successfully locating and purchasing toilet paper? And that's not the half of it…EVERYTHING I've eaten this week has been conveyed from my plate (or the communal dish) to my mouth with chopsticks, and, get this, I haven't starved!
Here are a few other random observations from this week:
- Crossing streets in China is an act of faith. So is riding in a taxi. Both are terrifying, but necessary.
- The showers here are not exactly an indulgence. The one in our room is cool, at best, and doesn't drain so much as the water that collects at the bottom seems to eventually evaporate. We take fast showers.
- The elevator at the school is a bit temperamental. I'm hoping it's just eccentric, and not homicidal.
- And finally, in China, soup is a breakfast food. I've had some kind of soup for breakfast every day so far. Odd, but I'm sort of liking it.
So that's the quick-and-dirty on my first week in China. It was a huge adjustment, but it'll almost certainly be well worth the effort.
Kate is a participant in the InterExchange Teach Intern and TEFL Training program.