I already want to go back… that is how much I enjoyed my two months abroad as an intern in China! I went through a UK-based program called Intern China; in fact, I was the only American in the group with a couple dozen students from the UK and France. So, I was able to enjoy a multi-dimensional experience when it comes to cultures and people. When I look back at my summer in Qingdao, China, I can divide my experiences into the three major portions of Living, Working, and Playing.
I chose to stay with a homestay family while living in China because I wanted as much authenticity as possible on my trip – and I was not disappointed! The home-cooked meals were unbelievably delicious after a busy day at work, and the family I stayed with was extremely kind and helpful. In fact, my homestay mom (Hannah is her English name) was actually a masseuse and she gave me free massages – even when I offered to pay her the first time, she replied “No! You are my daughter here!” I am still keeping in touch with them, because I really feel like they are family! Besides the homestay family, I did a lot of hanging out with the other interns through the Intern China program – we had weekly Thursday dinners and other activities that added immensely to the experience.
As an intern, my main responsibility in China was to get experience at an architecture firm – I was nervous, to say the least, as I walked in on my first day. I had brought along plenty of professional attire to wear to work, but quickly realized I would need to dress down to not stick out like a sore thumb (though, I already was doing that with my 5’-8” stature, blond hair, and blue eyes). Everyone at my office wore casual, comfortable clothes unless they were going to meet clients – so I was more than happy to change style direction to fit in. Furthermore, all the nervous feelings I had initially were quickly eliminated as a response to everyone’s kindness to me! I had people asking me out to lunch, inviting me on afternoon walks, and exchanging numbers with me so we could hang out on the weekends!
Speaking of weekends, when I wasn’t hanging out with work colleagues or random people I met in an elevator or taxi, that was when I did my traveling and exploring. I was able to see Shanghai – took the bullet train which was a cool experience in itself – and stayed in a cool backpackers’ hostel where I was able to meet some great people. I saw The Bund, beautiful gardens and traditional Chinese structures, and ate some delicious dumplings, of course! Traveling to Beijing, I was able to visit the Forbidden City, which was magnificent. Obviously, I had to see The Great Wall and was not disappointed, though I was not expecting it to be such a workout – I was so sweaty by the time I got to the tenth tower of the Simatai section that I felt rewarded by the incredible view. Besides seeing those two major cities, I also enjoyed exploring beautiful Qingdao where I was staying. It was on the seaside and had beautiful architecture, as well as two mountains great for hiking. I really enjoyed the experience of living in a second-tier city because I feel like I had the best of both worlds – the fast-paced city life, but with authentic elements not heavily saturated with western cultural influences.
Overall, I wouldn’t trade my summer in China for anything. I learned so much about Chinese culture, and even about the perspective that people in China have of the United States. We were able to exchange questions/concerns and explain stereotypes and common misconceptions – I think the more we understand about other cultures and traditions, ways of living and perspectives on the world, the more we can appreciate the complexity and beauty of humankind and this world we all call home. Because of my time abroad, I now have connections with individuals from all over the world – Indonesia, Korea, Russia, Malaysia, UK, France, Switzerland, Singapore, and of course… China. Although the architecture was beautiful, the landscape magnificent, and the cuisine unmatched, it was the PEOPLE I met in China that gave me the memories I will treasure in my heart as long as I live.
Annabelle Huffman is majoring in Architecture (Interior). She spent Summer, 2018 interning in Qingdao, Shandong, China through The Intern Group.
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