Arrival Part 2

So much to do upon arrival.


On Sunday, we were scheduled to have registration from nine am until noon, so I staked out the Economics building to try to meet other students. I must have looked so lost because a Ph.D. student took pity on me, and treated me to coffee in the café in the Economics building, and used my map to point out places of note and helped ease my anxieties. Luckily, I ran into 3 girls also on my program, all from University College Dublin in Ireland. They took pity on me and let me join them on their activities, and we got wifi set up in their apartment and made a Wal-Mart run (thanks, Emily, Shosho, and Lily!). We headed home early since we had to be on campus early Monday morning for our health examinations.

Bright and early Monday morning, we boarded buses with other international students from all over the world (every continent was represented!) to go to the hospital to get our very intense health inspection. This was the weirdest experience thus far in China, but I met all the other international students on my program and we added each other on WeChat (basically iMessage, Snapchat, Facebook all in one). This semester, the School of Economics has three students from Ireland, five from Germany, two from Spain, and me from the US.

The room where they took a chest x-ray, which looked straight out of the 1950s.

The medical exam itself was wild – we needed a blood and urine sample, an EKG, an ultrasound, a chest x-ray, an eye test, blood pressure, basically more medical care than I have received in my entire life in about two hours. The blood test was especially unnerving since I had taken narcotic painkillers after surgery and knew they were still in my bloodstream, and I had to sign that I wasn’t a drug addict. When I picked up the results later in the week, there were no abnormal findings, much to my relief! After the exam was over, we all hung out the rest of the day and planned a dinner for the WISE undergrads (Wang Yanan Institute for the Study of Economics), our program.

All the other international students made plans to meet at a few bars near campus, so we joined them. The best part is that Mojito serves free beer every day from 8:00-9:00 pm, and on Mondays a nearby bar, Phoebe, has 1 yuan beers (about 15 cents) from 9:00-11:00 pm, which is always crawling with international students. Others continued to the club but I retired early because of the whole jetlag/sling/medication combo is not ideal for hitting the club!

Also at the dinner, I found roommates to move into an apartment with – no more dorms! So on Tuesday, we found an English speaking realtor and looked at apartments. We saw one on the 30th floor with views of the Mainland (Xiamen is an island) and the sea, it was too expensive, but the views were difficult to pass up. We ended up renting a sixth-floor walk-up, that still has great views of the sea and can only be described as palatial, for a really good price. Seriously, I will not live in an apartment this large until I’m like 50 if I stay in NYC; my room here is larger than my room at home. I am living with Sophie, a German girl in my program, and Timpa, a Dutchman studying in the graduate school.

My new room…there’s even a balcony where you can see the sea

On Friday, we got to move into our apartment! We have already made three runs to Carrefour, a French Wal-Mart but better, to get sheets and other supplies for our apartment. Luckily, it’s a quick 10-15 minute walk away in an air-conditioned mall so it’s always fun to go. We’re still getting settled in, waiting for wifi to be installed and other things to be fixed, but the apartment has been great so far and is a 25-minute walk to the university, and a 15-minute bus ride.

Arrival Part 1

My first days in Xiamen, part I.

It’s my 14th day in Xiamen, and I feel like I’ve been here forever! So much has happened in the past week and a half that I will break this first post up into a few parts.

Only person in coach.

My flight departed O’Hare at 3:30 pm CDT on Thursday, and the flight to Hong Kong was a little over 16 hours, and I arrived at 9:00 pm local time. Because I am in a sling, I got to pre-board and was the first in coach; I don’t know why but the flight was nearly empty, so I had a 3 seat row to myself, and I got to lay down to sleep. Cathay Pacific is much nicer than any American airline and the food was great, as was the movie selection. I loved that Amy Schumer’s “Trainwreck” was included in the ‘Western Classics’ movie section, though I’m sure that not everyone would agree! The flight was uneventful, but we arrived a little late in Hong Kong, and I had a tight connection to Xiamen, but Cathay provided me with a minder who walked me to my flight, which I made without incident.

I arrived safely in Xiamen at midnight on Friday and was escorted to my dorm by Xiamen University students. What a shock the dorm was – four girls shared a room the size of my Gate House double, and THE TOILET DOUBLED AS A SHOWER DRAIN. Yes, I encountered my first Chinese squatty potty. The boys who picked me up helped me put sheets on the 2-inch thick mattress that was already on the bed, they thought it was gross since most people buy new mattresses each year, but I was not about to spend my first night on plywood. Even though it was so late and I had been traveling for 25 hours, I could barely sleep because of the 13 hour time difference.

The next morning, Simon, who picked me up from the airport, helped me set up my Chinese phone number and bank account. I had to jump through a lot of hoops to convert my USD to RMB, since the Chinese government is strict about the distribution of yuan, it’s hard to get in the States, and they are also strict about the condition of the USD. If you plan to travel to China, I would suggest to just use your US bank account, since banks will require you to open an account to convert. The exchange rate is not too bad, currently, there are 6.55 yuan to the dollar, and banks will give you about 6.45 yuan to the dollar. In China, you have to set up a bank account, which is linked to your student card to eat in the Canteen and pay for other things on campus, much like my ‘Gate Card, and everything is so cheap, each meal is about $0.75. We finished with a campus tour, and though it was only 2 pm,  I was jetlagged and Xiamen is SO hot (it feels like 107 degrees every day), that I headed back to my dorm to recharge.

No clue what this says…

I’m not usually one to talk about emotions, but wow, the first 48 hours in China were the hardest, most draining, and discouraging days of my life, on top of the fact that I only have 1 working arm. I seriously doubted my ability to stay in China for four months. If you know me, I am the type of person who never wants to look weak and will take the bull by its horns, so the feelings of doubt really shook me. I also like to know all the information before doing anything, and this time I was completely in the dark. Since I am on an exchange program, there is no set orientation or activities, so I was kind of set loose on Xiamen and had to figure things out for myself, which I couldn’t really do since almost no one speaks English outside the University. I also didn’t know that classes did not start until the 18th, so I had a whole week to figure things out on my own. I am still kind of in the “what the %#*& am I doing here?” phase, but I am definitely more confident now. I just had to remind myself that I decided to study abroad when I was 12 and was not going to let anything stop me from fulfilling my dream. Ultimately, I think I will get so much more out of the exchange experience than a more traditional abroad one, because I am the only undergraduate American student at Xiamen University, so I get to learn from my European and Chinese peers about how much life differs across the three continents.


Stay tuned for Part II!