if you’re thinking of doing a gap year or travelling in china, this post might help you to prepare for all the trials and tribulations.
china is the most beautifully diverse country i have ever visited. the climate, food, languages and culture changes depending where you are in the country, but thankfully, mandarin is widely used and understood. hence my first tip
- learn some mandarin
it doesn’t matter if you’re only starting out, what’s important is having the determination to learn the language. and i promise that it’s alot easier to learn when you’re actually in china. before going to china, i swore to never learn a language with tones and now it is my favourite feature of mandarin. using your hand to signal out the tones also helps. i would say focus on speaking and listening before you dive into reading and writing as speaking with local people will build your confidence and positively reinforce you to keep at the language. apps i recommend are lingq, pimsleur, lingodeer and the textbook assimil. its worth getting the hsk textbook series as you’ll have to pass those exams to demonstrate your proficiency but you will need a chinese teacher to help you with that. once you are at a b1/b2 level, 机器猫 (doraemon) is a fun way to reinforce what you have learnt.
2. find alternatives to your social sites because your vpn will have issues
unless you’re working for a big company which bulletproofs your vpn, its likely that it will bug out on important events such as international summits or national week. it’s easier to just find alternatives, i.e. get your friends and family to use wechat rather than wasting your energy on facebook and whatsapp. billibilli is a great and even improved version of youtube, didi is used instead of uber, remove google as your search engine and install bing, and take a kindle with ebooks for when the internet slows down. also if you’re having trouble with running apps, change to the chinese app store and reinstall your app.
3. try as much food as you can
i would recommend learning some basic characters for certain vegetables and meats but if you haven’t then wechat translate (a function on the wechat application) also works wonderfully. chinese food is so much tastier in china than the chinese food you get in the uk, so even if there’s a dish you think you wont like, definitely try it before making your judgement. there’s really a dish for everyone. my favourite was chinese eggplant in a spicy sichuan sauce or well, any sauce. even something as simple as broccoli in a light oyster sauce can be transcending. just keep trying.
4. travel to another province
the bullet train to a neighbouring province is relatively affordable and well worth the experience. you can also try the overnight train if you want to save money on your hotel. i never felt unsafe travelling across china and there’s just so much to see.
5. accept that people do things differently
my last tip would be to just accept that china will be different to any other country you have visited but to just enjoy it. you will also realise that there are so many kind and interesting people that make it worth the difficult times. you might get homesick or you might find it tiring that people keep staring at you, you’ll definitely run into a lot of language barriers and cultural differences but that’s part of the experience.