By Abigail Schieb
“What an opportunity”
“Imagine all the things you’ll get to see and do”
“Wow, that’s such an amazing experience”
Before you allow your eyes to widen in shock and the corners of your mouth to crease upwards with excitement, sit back down in your chair and take a second to digest the cold, hard facts about overseas travel that I am about to tell you.
Recently, I was chosen along with nine other students from the University of Newcastle and ten students from the University of Northern Iowa, America, to participate in a month long overseas program in China, touring around the hustle and bustle of Beijing and Hong Kong City and teaching English at a Chinese summer camp.
Wow! I know right. But as amazing as it sounds (and was) there are a few little pointers I wish someone had told me before I left for my first overseas adventure, fresh out of high school at the age of nineteen.
1. Do your research!!
Luckily for me, as a first year communication student it wasn’t much of a problem when I found out that this exchange I had already accepted was in fact a credited course run by the University of Northern Iowa (UNI). The course outline required us to do weekly online correspondence with a teacher from UNI, journal articles, reflection pieces, essays and a final assessment video talking about our experience. Of course, it was a shock to find out how much was expected of me prior to this exchange but being fresh onto the University scene I was able to get the course approved for credit on my transcript. For most of the other participants however, they did not have space for the units but were still required to complete the work online, which proved difficult to manage around exam time.
2. You may need to create a second identity
I can honestly say that I now know how Lizzie McGuire felt when she was running around the streets of Paris with her best friend Gordo and being mistaken for pop princess Isabella. From the moment I stepped out of the plane at Beijing airport to the time I landed back in Sydney, Australia I had approximately 70 billion photos taken of me. To the Chinese I must of looked like a blonde hair, blue eyed, tall and pale version of ET with sweat pouring out of every possible gland of her body. I considered buying a wig to go under the cap and sunnies I religiously wore but instead just got more photos taken of me when I asked the wig lady how much Yuan it would cost me. If you look like a typical Aussie, you will stand out!
3. Learn how to NOT be a fussy eater
My Dad was born in a small country town out west in NSW where grocery shopping was a monthly occasion. As a child he was forced to eat what ever was put in front of him or go to bed hungry. Being my father’s daughter, I was raised along the same principle, eat what Mum cooked or starve.
The meals in China were pre-ordered as part of the tour. Every restaurant we went to was beautiful, clean and bursting with traditional Chinese colours, trinkets and foods. To this day however, I am still 90% unsure of what I actually ate while I was in China.
Thankyou Dad for teaching me not to be a fussy eater.
4. It’s ok to say no to some adventures
As part of the Summer camp activities we got the opportunity on a Saturday afternoon to attend ‘Family Visits’. These Visits were designed to allow us as the ‘teachers’ to interact with our students more and experience traditional Chinese life. I was lucky to be given the opportunity to go to Steven’s house, a lovely student of mine (or so I thought). It turned out to be a complete and ultimate disaster ending in tears.
First of all, Steven’s family spoke the local Chinese language from the province in which they lived so my translating assistant and I could not understand them and sat lost in translation, staring at each other blankly for five hours.
Second, I ate the meal his mother had prepared for me which turned out to be chicken brains and feet. Seriously, I’m not joking! The dish looked like a potato stew with crispy noodles.
Last but not least, I sat front row and centre to a show that Steven had prepared for me. Turns out he’s a big fan of all things horror and gore. I am not going to include details for the discretion of the readers but just sit and imagine the type of show a ten year old Chinese boy dressed in a mask and cape with fake blood would have put on.
If only I had professor Trelawney’s crystal boy to tell me I was doomed for that family visit.
5. Saying Goodbye is harder than saying Hello
You anticipate the hype of arrival and the excitement of everything new but one thing you forget to prepare for is goodbyes. It’s not the most pleasant part of the trip and certainly a day worth dreading but it’s never a ‘goodbye forever’ (unless you really don’t like the poor fella), instead, it’s just a ‘see you again later’.
An exchange is everything you could possibly imagine and so much more. Its hard to find the right words to explain to you just how much fun you have, how much you learn and how much you grow as a person. Be prepared for it to turn and twist in any possible way, keep your mind open at all times and remember these tips!
Abigail is a Communication student at the University of Newcastle, Australia.