Welcome to the Suck 

When applying for study abroad, many people told me it would be “fantastic” and “awesome” and “the best time of your life” and… you get the point. I’m writing this post as much for the people reading stateside as for myself. In a few months when I’m home, I will hopefully look back on this post and remember what happened. Then, if I choose to promote the study abroad experience, I won’t sound like a car salesman. Let’s begin the countdown.

3. Food Culture

Really? He’s complaining about the food already? Yes, but hear me out. Most restaurants in Nanjing serve family style dishes. I can order dishes on my own, but unless I order 3, I end up with a strange nutritional imbalance in my meals. Therefore, my ability to eat a good meal without wasting extraordinary amounts of food or money is to go with a group (I could just go to a western restaurant, but why would I come to China to do that?). Thus, I find myself being somewhat more reliant on my fellow group members than I would like to be. This isn’t a huge inconvenience, but anyone who tries to coordinate logistics with a group of finicky eating college students will relate when I say this is a pain.

2. School

Ranking at a close second, school has been a surprising source of stress. I have language class from 8am to noon 4 days a week, 30 minutes of pronunciation practice and a 2 hour area studies class on Wednesday afternoons, 2 hours of mandatory tutoring sessions each week, and mandatory office hours with professors and advisors. Oh, there’s homework too, lots of it.

Is this so bad? Not really. I’ve spent similar hours doing work at school, and sitting down to study and get things done usually isn’t a problem. What’s been an issue has been the type of work I’m doing. I usually enjoy studying Chinese, but 4 hour sessions of professors talking at me and giving me busy work is already driving me nuts. When I have the time to get a 6am training session in, I at least start class in a good mood. But after 4 hours of sitting in a box, I’m frustrated to say the least. There’s a whole country out there to explore, and I feel like I’m in a cage.

Keep it real Calvin

The tedium, combined with my quickly depleting interest in awkward textbook dialogues that seem to have little application outside the classroom, feels like high school all over again. Add on the fact that the American students have found out that the Chinese pronunciation for France (fa guo) sounds like “faggot”, and now it’s just like high school. (I’m a dual citizen of France and the US, if the readers didn’t know).

Since it’s like high school, I’ve been doing what I did in high school. I draw cartoons, think about training, and do anything else in class that involves not paying attention to what’s going on or listening to my compatriots’ sense of humor.

1. Pollution

Squeeking in at first place, just above having my nationality referred to with homophobic slurs and sexist terminology while trapped in a box doing tedious busy work is pollution. “How could this be?” you might ask. Well, try coughing up a lung every day with a runny nose and sore throat, and tell me how much you like it. At least when being made fun of, I still have my health.

Thank you Mentos, thank you.

Coughing itself isn’t the worst. What actually worries me is the fact that I know with every breath I’m taking in a lot of carcinogens. A little research has indicated that the coughing is most likely a result of breathing in ozone and sulfur dioxide, which are both common in automobile exhaust. Who knows what else I’m inhaling. That being said, it could be worse: I could be breathing in Beijing.

All of this in mind, study abroad has still been a good experience so far. I manage to find good food, I take my school frustration out at the dojo, and Mentos gum seems to minimize my coughing fits. The obstacles presented haven’t taken the joy out of exploration, learning a language, and meeting new friends. However, they are very real, present, and definitely weren’t included in the brochure.

Best of luck to my readers and fellow Asiapod bloggers.