What I Wish I Knew Before Coming To China
I would like to think that I was highly prepared for my year-long stay in China. I packed just about everything I could think of that I would need, but I was still missing something: the ability to speak and read Mandarin. Unlike traveling to Europe, where you can easily get by without an understanding of the language, China is a tough country to survive in if you can't communicate with the locals.
The country is more technologically dependent than back in the States. For example, there are two apps that you have to use to do just about anything: WeChat and Alipay. You cannot order a ticket to the movies without using one of these apps because the theatre doesn't accept cash. In order to use these for transactions, you must obtain a Chinese phone number and bank account. While this would be a simple 30-minute process back in the States, it takes hours here in China, simply due to the fact that there is a large population. Once you add a language barrier on top of that things get very complicated. Finding an English speaker in a business setting is a rare occurrence. Had I not known someone who speaks both languages it would have been impossible for me to just about anything.
While language barriers are an issue in every non-English speaking country, it becomes more difficult when the language system is based on characters. This eliminates the ability to guess the meaning of the word and how to pronounce it. I have experienced this issue when doing anything from grocery shopping to ordering food. Pointing at a word can only get you so far so do yourself a favor and learn a bit of Mandarin!
The best advice I can give to anyone who wants to travel to this beautiful country is to either learn as much Mandarin as you can before you get here or become great friends with some locals. I did the latter. They’re great people and completely willing to help you out!
By: Vanity Washignton