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The beauty of cultural diversity!

Updated: 2012-12-25 16:53 By Kigen Morumbasi

China indeed is a land full of amazement! As fate would have it, my decision to pursue my studies in this country has not only changed the opinion I had about China but also helped shape my entire paradigm of thought. I previously envisioned a country where the buildings were of typical Chinese architecture and with bicycles all over the streets. Rather than anxiety, I actually had lots of excitement due to the mystical illusion I had about the country that is home to a very rich culture, has a long historical background. Despite the perceived language barrier and cultural differences, I was looking forward to having a lifetime experience in China, which is home to the largest population in the world and is making headlines as a country on the rise in the global sphere.

My initial arrival gave me a firsthand experience of what it feels like to be a foreigner in a country whose language I could not decipher. My first real encounter was with a university employee who had been sent to meet me at the airport. The only thing that was familiar to me as I walked out of the airport was my name scribbled on the placard he stretched out above his head. Though relieved that there was someone to meet me, fears were finally confirmed: he could not speak a word in English! The words he spoke sounded like nothing I had ever heard before and all I could do was to respond in English, which he could not understand. A silent ride is all that followed with our departure from the airport into the heart of Changchun. That marked the beginning of my new journey into life's experience and self development.

Kigen is a Ph.D candidate at the Institute of International Studies (IIS), Jilin University, in Changchun. [Photo provided to]

The long silent drive from the airport to my destination gave me a quick orientation into the world of Chinese characters, as I would later refer to them as Hanzi, mandarin. Road signs, building names, advertisements, and everything around me looked nothing more than artistic drawings and I wondered to myself how on earth the symbols could make up a word, let alone a sentence! The first surprise however was that the buildings were of modern architectural designs, bicycles not as many on the streets, and clothing style more western than the elegant indigenous silk garments I had envisioned.

Funny as it may seem, my first meal happened to be at McDonald's. I was taken there the first time I arrived at the foreign students living building at my university. This was indeed beyond my expectations (I only imagined getting noodles) but it made me feel better knowing there were some familiar fast food outlets. I also became self conscious of the curious stares I got while strolling around, trying to familiarize myself with my new surroundings. At that time, which is four years back, there were not as many foreigners within the vicinity hence the mystic expressions I could see on the faces of some of the people I encountered. Looking back now, I must say that there has been some change.

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