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My Chinese dream

I want to tell you about my unforgettable experience in China and the first encounter with the Chinese culture.

I am a Finnish student and I got a five months internship in a company based in central Shanghai. I was very excited about the trip and had no idea that the trip would affect me so much and change the direction of my life.

On the arrival day in the end of May 2012, the company had arranged airport pick-up for me. This was very convenient and it made me feel very welcome, being in a new country. On the same day I visited the office briefly to introduce myself and to meet all of the other employees. I got to spend the first day just resting, settling down and getting to know the neighborhood around me.

Before my trip I did a lot of research and study about China. Like I always do before I leave for a destination that is unknown for me. Still under the first weeks of my stay, I was little confused about everything. I had expected people to speak better English in this multi-cultural city, so the first problems I ran into were language barriers. Luckily I had studied a little Chinese before my trip. At least it made some things easier, for example getting around or ordering food in a restaurant. Anyhow my Chinese skills were not great but I managed surprisingly well to make myself understood and to understand the people around me.

There were many things in China that I could not understand, even if I understood that they were a part of the Chinese people’s lives and their daily routines. Things like people taking a nap in public places and that they actually were able to get some sleep amazed me every day. I saw people napping in the strangest places, curled up in weird body positions and having a rest without being bothered about things going on around them.

The way people move in the city was also strange to me in the beginning. The people in China take their time and they do not rush in the same way when comparing to other big cities I have visited. There are so many people in Shanghai and the city can be very crowded, so it is only understandable that it takes time to get to your destination. The best way was to go with the flow, that was what everybody else did!

In Finland I live in a town of 180 000 people and let me tell you something: We stress all the time, mostly even for things that are not so important. Traffic jams back home are nothing compared to the ones in Shanghai and still we get mad and frustrated if we have to wait a while in the rush hours, which normally last only for 90 minutes. Same goes for people in the supermarket in my home town. People hurry their way through the aisles and if there are a few people in the cashier line before you, people get impatient and look at the cashier with a face that tells her to hurry up. In the end most of us just go home to sit on the couch in front of the TV. So I have to ask, why the rush for nothing?

Now let me tell you about my free time activities in Shanghai. As I enjoy sports and the Chinese people love badminton, I got the opportunity to participate in playing twice a week. A chance to play Badminton weekly was offered by my employer and we were usually 3-4 girls playing for one hour. It was a great way to spend time with my colleagues outside the office. During the game nights we spoke about the differences in our cultures and our countries. Every time we were mutually amazed about the big differences.

In the mornings I went running by the river Suzhou Creek, which was located near my apartment. There was a nice park by the river where I loved to spend time in the mornings. The park was full of life and for a moment it felt like I had stepped outside from the big city life. It made me forget about the everyday routines, work and made me appreciate life and the way people took their time to get outside early in the mornings. It was like a big social happening with many sports being performed. People singing and playing nice tunes with the flute made the experience even better and I thought that there could not be a better way to star your day. I saw a group of women dancing to Chinese music and it looked like so much fun that I wanted to join them. I was intrigued by the dancing so I had to ask my colleagues at the office, if it was allowed just to join them dancing or would I be intrusive. They told me that it was perfectly okay to join them. Next morning I ran to the park again and joined the group. I took a place in the back corner just to stay somewhat invisible. I had a lot of fun and I could tell about the smiles around me, that I was accepted in the group. So I started to run to the park almost every morning and joined the dancing group and after a while the women did not let me stay in my corner, they took my hand and led me to the center of the formation. I appreciated the gesture deeply, because it made me feel even more welcome and as a part of the group.

I also tried to get around the town as much as possible during the weekends. Sometimes I also went on trips outside Shanghai. Mostly I spent my free time with the new friends I met. We used to go out for dinner and drinks or just enjoy time together. I also wanted to explore other parts of China, so I visited Beijing and Xiamen. It did not matter if I travelled north or south, the charm that China had, seemed to be around me where ever I was.

When I started to adapt to the way of living here, I really started to like it very much. I started to like it so much, that I have now dedicated my free time in Finland to studying Chinese and searching for suitable work opportunities that would make my permanent move to China possible. My expectations about China were totally over exceeded. Never in a million years had I thought that I would fit in there so well, that my biggest dream at the moment is a life in China. I will finish my studies in the end of 2013 and then I will finally be free to fulfill my Chinese dream.

After an amazing time in China, came the hard re-entry to Finland. I did miss my family and all of my friends. In Finland I live near the ocean and I definitely missed the fresh air and the smell of the ocean while staying in Shanghai. When I got back home, I took a long walk on the beach, sat on the rocks, just enjoyed the fresh air and looked at the dark blue waves rolling in from the ocean. Sitting by the ocean made me realize that I had now got the best of both worlds.

I can honestly say that the time in China was one of the happiest times in my life. I learned a lot about life, different cultures and I learned to appreciate some things that many people take for granted. I enjoyed everything China had to offer me. I miss all the people I met there and mostly one special person who made my stay in Shanghai unforgettable.

For people going to China for the first time I can say: Go with an open mind! If you are open minded you will fit in anywhere and make the most of your time in China. The local people are very warm and welcoming, cherish that and show them your appreciation. A good advice is to do some reading about the China before your trip. It would be a complete waste of going to China without having any idea about what the country has to offer you, because there are many extraordinary things to discover in this amazing country.

By Karolina Kolehmainen

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