Monday, September 22, 2014

Don't Go To China

The first piece of advice I can give anyone considering going to China is: don't.

Unless studying or working in China has been your life-long dream, I honestly can't say that I'd recommend coming to China long-term, in any way, shape or form. Especially not if you're used to a country that has any semblance of a working system.

Don't get me wrong: this scholarship is a great opportunity for me and I'm very grateful to have been given this chance. But there are so many things that make it just not worth it to come here under your own steam.

Mainly, everything is incredibly disorganized. Jiao Tong University is supposed to be one of the absolute elite universities, not only in Shanghai but in all of China. However, I've already met a whole barrage of foreigners from all over the world tearing their hair because there is no organization whatsoever.

Almost all the correct and relevant information I've gotten has been off other students, not the people who are supposed to be in charge. There's a great sense of community among students, but the flipside is that people have no chance but to open up and rely on each other, because we have nowhere else to turn. I learned how to eat at the canteen and get hot water from another student. I learned about the school's online account from another student. I learned how to (provisionally) send mail from another student. I double-check all the information about visa processes with other students. And if I hear something from an official channel, I don't trust it until I've heard it confirmed by another student.

I still don't know what's going on with my residence permit, that I think the school is supposed to help me get. The process is basically "come to this place in a week to find out what the next step is." And sooner or later, my visa is going to expire.

I still don't know what's going on with my bank account, that the school is supposed to set up for me. I have, however, received emails telling me to hurry up processes that no one told me about in the first place.

I still don't know what's going on with the money I'm supposed to get each month from my scholarship. Well, besides the fact that a guy who had the scholarship before told me not to expect or count on that money, because the payments are "slow and irregular" at best.

I still don't know how to pay my electricity bill. I still don't know the exact price of doing laundry, because there is no price list and it seems to get more expensive each time someone goes. I still don't know if they gave me the correct postal address after asking three times. I still don't know if people answer "no" to my questions because they mean no, or because they just don't feel like helping a foreigner.

Googling doesn't help, because most information - even official information, about official procedure - is several years old, or poorly translated.

I realize that it works this way in many parts of the world, and that what I'm actually experiencing right now is just what life is like when it's not super comfortable all the time, when your citizenship number opens up every door. Being able to deal with these situations is a great life skill to have. But I'm never going to willingly put myself through this bureaucratic labyrinth ever again.

Talking to people who've been abroad before - Japan, Great Britain, America - they all agree that nothing is as disorganized as China. Sure, each country has its problems. But they don't tell you to fill out forms specifying "to be filled out by the school" yourself. They don't expect you to show up one day not knowing whether or not you'll have a place to live.

I'm certain this year will give me loads of great experiences and let me meet tons of amazing people. But sorry, China - once this year is over, I won't be coming back.


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