Culture Clash in China

Monday, October 14th, 2013

by Gabriel Heckt  

Mt  ChongQing

When going abroad, what sometimes comes to mind are adventurous trips to incredible monuments and unforgettable locations and people, I think the story that really fits my study abroad experience is one that can be seen as slightly commonplace, but represents the day to day experience of living immersed in a civilization I was completely unused to.

My friends and I had taken a taxi down to the middle of the city to look for gifts we could get for our families. The place we went was known for its bargain prices and authentic merchandise, so we were excited to try to find things we had never seen in the U.S. However, as soon as we got there, we started to run into problems. The place was extremely crowded, unlike anything we had experienced back in Washington. There were thousands of people, so many that we couldn’t figure out where we were supposed to go. Also, we couldn’t seem to find the place that we were trying to go, despite talking with several shopkeepers in Chinese. We always wound up at extremely pricey name brand shopping centers, the opposite of what we were trying to find!

As if to make matters worse, it suddenly started raining. This didn’t seem to be much of a problem to me. After all, I’m from Seattle, so there was no reason I should be worried about a little rain, right? I didn’t even bring an umbrella because it didn’t seem like it was going to rain that day. I couldn’t have been more wrong. This rain was nothing like even the heaviest rain I had ever experienced in Seattle. It came down in sheets, drenching in literally seconds. It was almost comical just how fast the streets cleared of the massive amounts of people. They seemed to know how to respond to the torrential downpour, but we had no clue. The rain was so heavy, that the streets started flooding, and police had to start blocking off intersections.

Now, not only had we not found our destination, but also we were completely soaked and were running out of options on how to get home. Had we been in Seattle, I’m positive we would have known how to respond instantly, and have been able to navigate our way in and out of an area. But we were in a completely unknown area, and had no knowledge of how to proceed in a situation like the one we were in. Completely by chance, we actually managed to find the shopping place we were looking for, but then we had to start the process of bargaining, which is full of subtleties and very difficult even with the decent grasp of Chinese we had. I spent around twenty minutes bargaining for a pair of shorts with a saleswoman because she wouldn’t give me even a slight discount. I was almost positive it was because I wasn’t Chinese, because I had seen Chinese people in other shops bargain to almost half the price of very similar goods. It was a pretty challenging, but also rewarding process when I finally got a small discount on what I wanted.

Trying to get back to the Sichuan University was another problem in and of itself. Because of the extreme rain, almost everyone was trying to catch a cab, and people kept moving in front of us to grab them, because unlike Seattle you have to be assertive and even appear somewhat “rude” to obtain something if there is a wait in China. Thankfully, we eventually found a very unsafe looking box motorcycle to take us back. We managed to negotiate a price and describe how to return to the University. Although we were drenched, freezing, and tired, we felt happy that we had managed somewhat successfully to navigate our way through some of China’s cultural differences that day.

Though every day wasn’t as hectic and confusing as the one above, almost every day was a learning experience, whether it was buying food or just asking for directions. Learning to adapt and fit into such a different culture through events like this was one of the largest parts of my study abroad experience, and that day is an excellent representation.

Technology, Business & Students in China

Wednesday, October 10th, 2012

Written by Kathleen Hatch, Assistant Director, Global Business Center

Huskies on the Great Wall

Each year during the month before the University of Washington starts, groups of students led by UW Faculty travel to all parts of the world to explore a topic and a world region. This fall, I was really lucky to co-lead a program focused on how internet and technology businesses are transforming in China. We spent three and a half weeks meeting with companies and learning about Chinese culture in Beijing, Shanghai, and Guilin.

Our group at Microsoft's campus in Beijing

China is moving fast. Walking around in Beijing for just 8 days is enough time to notice that the whole city seems to be lurching forward. Our hotel was located near the center of Beijing, and when we arrived they were remodeling a store on our block – the sidewalk was completely torn up and the store was gutted. By the time we left Beijing to take the high-speed train to Shanghai, the store was open for business with merchandise hanging in the window. The growth and development of the city is not just something that you can feel, you can actually see it happening.

This was my first trip to China, and it was an incredible experience to meet with company executives and hear firsthand about their challenges and opportunities. We met with Sina Weibo, a microblogging platform that has taken off in China and is now expanding internationally. Our group visited Microsoft’s Asia-Pacific Research and Development Group in Beijing – the second largest Microsoft campus next to Redmond. Their mission is “Innovation in China, innovation for the world.” Each year Microsoft invests two billion dollars just in Research and Development. Our speaker, Sam Zhong, Group Program Manager of the Strategic Partnership Group, talked with us about how innovative and entrepreneurial the Chinese are. He said Beijing feels like Silicon Valley in its height.

We received a presentation and toured the manufacturing floor of Tektronix. We toured UPS – their Shanghai offices are the largest in China, and they are located right next to DHL. When asked about their competition, our speaker responded that they embrace the competition and hope that this will help to further develop the system of logistics in China. Our group visited Lenovo which represents 36% of the PC market share in China with HP and Dell as their major competitors.

Visit to Hyundai in Shanghai

We watched cars being assembled at Hyundai, and our group crammed into the apartment of the founder of an internet start-up called, where computer programmers sat at the kitchen table on their MacBooks. Between all of our company visits we also found the time to attend a National Chinese Orchestra performance, hike the Great Wall, and eat a lot of delicious noodles and dumplings.

Over and over again, we heard about the culture of innovation, the challenges of growth, the new trends in technology, and the need to respond to consumer demands quickly. I could not help but think that China really is the place to be – things are happening here, fast. The whole country is growing quickly with enthusiasm, a strong work ethic, and a passion for technology and innovation. All of our company visits also made me think about how important it is for our business students to come to China – it is not enough to read about it. China is really something to experience.

Amazing China!

Monday, November 15th, 2010
Mark Peking 2Hello, my name is Mark, and I am a Finance and CISB major currently studying in Beijing at Peking University’s Guanghua School of Management for Fall 2010. The two months has been challenging as well as very fun—getting an apartment settled, deciding on classes, integrating into the culture, and meeting other students from around the world. The classes here are all taught by professors who were educated in Europe or in America, with a lot of the professors being quite young. I’m taking some finance classes, such as difficult Project Finance, as well as an equivalent of OPMGT 301, as well as some interesting classes such as Doing Business in China and Chinese Economy.

Guanghua Main Building -- Peking University

Guanghua Main Building -- Peking University

Beijing is a very vibrant and interesting city with an official population of around 20 million people! However, I just live a bus away from campus near a subway station, so getting around is quite convenient.

These photos are pictures of Beijing, and some from Tibet, where I went for the weeklong National Day Holiday. China is a very spectacular country where you can experience some of the highest mountains in the world, along with 21st century cities. It is also amazing to see how fast it is developing, with buildings appearing almost overnight. Surprising to some people, Beijing becomes very cold in the winter. It already has been dipping as low as 0°C (32°F), which is far cry from the 30°C (87°F) I experience when I first arrived!
Potala Palace -- Lhasa, Tibet

Potala Palace -- Lhasa, Tibet




China’s 60 Year Anniversary

Friday, October 23rd, 2009

Sophia2A month and a half has never flown by so fast in my life, and yet I still feel like I have so much of the city to explore. I would never be bored here. Living in Beijing, I came to realize that even if I went to see ten historical sites a day, I would still not be able to see everything within my semester here in the capital of China. The city is a mixture of the modern and the ancient. Of new-ideals and strong traditions. When talking to the younger generation of China, I noticed that their thinking contrasts so much with that of the older Mao-generation.

Just recently I had the pleasure of witnessing China’s 60 year anniversary. I’ve never been to another country quite like this one. The day before October 1st, the government launched chemicals into the sky so the whole city faced heavy rainfall all day. The next morning I woke up and saw that their plan has worked: Perfect weather. Beautiful blue sky, sunny, cloudless, warm, with a nice breeze. In the month I’ve been in Beijing, I have never seen such nice weather before. This lasted the whole week of the Chinese anniversary. The day of the anniversarySophia (1) the government closed off all of the city center and recommended all families to stay home. My roommate and I tried exploring the city, and it was uncomfortably quite. Not a single car driving past, no street vendors within eye sight, and nobody out on the street. We tried to go to Tiananmen Square where the huge parade was going on, but everywhere security guards stood across the street to block every intersection into city center. Later that day I heard that the Chinese government also canceled all flights in and out of Beijing’s capital airport. That was crazy to imagine. In total, they spent over 60 billion rmb on the parades, which equals to about 9 billion usd. On TV I watched the parades that lasted all day- from when I woke up 9am until midnight. Every public transportation I took, they were playing songs about the “great Motherland” and “I love China”. I couldn’t but help wonder how much of this was just for show.

Anyhow, it was a great experience to see this all take place, since it’s so different from what I’m used to seeing in the States.


Shanghai in Construction

Sunday, October 18th, 2009

BAD NEWS: My trip to Tibet was canceled.

GOOD NEWS: I went to Shanghai, Hangzhou, Suzhou and Nanjing for ½ the cost of the Tibet trip.

Shanghai in Construction #2During the Mid-Autumn Festival, the first week of October, I was supposed to go to Tibet. However, for security reasons, the Government decided to have a quota on how many foreigners can enter Tibet during the national holiday. Unfortunately, we did make it in to the list. I was very disappointed because I’ve always wanted to go to Tibet, to walk around the Potala Palace, to see Mt. Everest’s with my bare eyes.

Since there is no other option, I decided to take a trip to Shanghai and the surrounding cities of Suzhou, Hangzhou and Nanjing with couple of friends from the exchange program. We boarded the train from Beijing the day after my last class. After 14 hours of lying down on the hard-sleeper bunk, we arrived in Nanjing. Nanjing used to be theShanghai in Construction #3 Capital city of China, so it is rich with cultural relics. The following days we visited Hangzhou and Suzhou, which are known for their beautiful lake and river.

Finally, we spent the last three days in Shanghai. I really enjoyed Shanghai. There is a very long shopping street called: Nanjing jie, which is filled with designer’s stores but there are still affordable shops. However, with the upcoming World Expo, there is a lot of Construction to be done. You are able to see construction sites throughout the City. Even though I was in the middle of the construction, I really enjoyed Shanghai scenery, shopping, and Shanghai’s world-famous-dumplings.

Shanghai in Construction

Thinking Back, Looking Forward

Monday, September 28th, 2009

Alan (1)Now that we have already returned back home to Seattle, I’ve been able to gather all of my thoughts about our trip in Beijing. I can honestly say that it was one of the best experiences of my life. I was able to connect with my cultural heritage and see the land of my ancestors with my own eyes. We were able to visit all the former palaces and royal buildings which allowed me to bring those images of all the landmarks to life.  Not only were we able to see historical landmarks but we were able to catch a glimpse of China’s rapid modernization by visiting sites such as the Olympic Park. However magnificent the Watercube and Bird’s Nest looked on television, they were magnified by a Alan100 in person. Not only are the Watercube and Bird’s Nest amazing pieces of architecture, but I really believe that the Olympic Park along with the 2008 Olympics were symbolic of China’s progress as a nation. Especially as a business student, it was great being in China and seeing first-hand what type of advancements the Chinese economy is making. China is already quickly playing a bigger part in the global economy, and this experience in Beijing will most definitely benefit me in the future.

The most valuable thing I left Beijing with however, were all the friendships and connections that I made. Throughout my time in Beijing, I was able to build close friendships with a few local Tsinghua students which are something I will always treasure. With my fellow classmates in the program we were all able to create memories that will last a lifetime. So far since we’ve been back home I’ve stayed in touch with those friends in Beijing through Skype and Facebook, and I have become closer with many of my classmates from the trip. Going into this program, I did not know what to expect and to be honest one of my major concerns were Alan (2)how I was going to get along with everyone. China far exceeded any of the expectations I had and provided me with so many great memories and experiences. As I think about my future career goals, I know that my knowledge of Chinese culture and language will help me no matter what I end up doing. My experiences and time in this program reinforced to me that as business continues to become more and more global, it will be imperative to know multiple languages and be comfortable in international surroundings. For every Foster student I would recommend studying abroad and especially exploration seminars because they have such a short time commitment. I personally guarantee that no matter where the location is, it will provide an unforgettable and worthwhile experience. Thanks and see you again soon Beijing!

Pieces of History

Monday, September 21st, 2009

Alan Hon (1)Wow, China really is an amazing place. All the historic sites that we have visited have been nothing short of breath-taking. Being able to connect what I have learned about my heritage to the actual places where it all happened is an amazing experience.  Over this past weekend we visited the Great Wall, Tiananmen Square, and the Forbidden City.

Visiting the Great Wall lived up to all of my expectations that it would be one of the best experiences in my life. Since the Great Wall stretches throughout China, there are only certain sections that can be climbed. We traveled to one site right outside Beijing and it was our first time outside of the city. After receiving a short introduction from our tour guide and teacher, we broke off into groups and proceeded up to the Great Wall. My group consisted of a few good close friends, Jason, Warren, Carsen, and Lauren. The day before Jason and I had played a full day of basketball so we were already dying of soreness before our climb even began. But you only get to climb the Great Wall once soAlan Hon we definitely pushed our physical limits. After many stops for pictures, countless water breaks, and a little bit of socializing, we finally reached the end of our painful hike and climb to the top of the section. Just as we had imagined, the view was amazing and we really felt chills being able to say that we had climbed the Great Wall. However, what really made the experience great was the way down. At one end of the section, there were both gondolas and toboggans that the public could ride to get down from the Great Wall. Of course we chose to toboggan and it was probably the most exhilarating thing we did in Beijing.

To continue our jam packed weekend, Sunday we checked out Tiananmen Square as well as the Forbidden City. The moment that we arrived to Tiananmen Square we were all shocked as to how big it was. One cool thing about Chinese architecture is that each piece always represents or symbolizes something. For example one of the buildings in Tiananmen Square was supposed to resemble a chair which symbolizes the people sitting back in power. The first thing we visited was Mao Zedong’s memorial. The memorial Alan Hon (2)has his actual body inside, and I think I can speak for everyone when I say that you definitely feel chills walking through. It was crazy walking through the memorial of such a prominent figure that made such an impact on history, and it’s a feeling that I’ll never forget. After some pictures in the actual square, we moved on to the Forbidden City. After hearing so much about it and seeing parts of it in the media, the Forbidden City still exceeded my expectations for how beautiful it would be. Although many royal structures were designed similarly, the size and history of the Forbidden City awed all of us.

To round out our fun filled weekend we went to one of Beijing’s most famous restaurants to eat Peking duck. Many past U.S presidents and other important figures had dined there, and it was no wonder why they enjoyed it so much. We all stuffed ourselves to the neck, and it was finally time to head back to our dorms to wind down and get ready for the week ahead.

Beijing! Beijing!

Tuesday, September 15th, 2009


So… after 5 hour of a plane ride, 1.5 hour of bus ride and 15 minutes of taxi ride, I finally arrived at my apartment in Beijing. This is actually my third time in Beijing, so I am quite familiar with the city, how to get around, what to eat, and what to NOT eat. Even though this is not my first time here, I am still very excited to be a student at Peking University, the best university in CHINA! The smartest of the smartest of 1.3 billion people attend this school, so I am, at the same time, excited and nervous to be around these brains.

Yesterday (Sept. 14, 09) was the first day of class. I had information economics in the morning and operation management at night—from 7-10pm. The professors here are very young. I was expecting some 50-year-old Chinese in a traditional button up shirt, but instead I got some 20-year-old looking guy in a H&M’s style jacket for my information economics class.

Many of my classmates are exchange students from all around the world, but surprisingly about 80% of them are from Europe. I was expecting more exchange students to be from the US, but there is only a handful. I also made friends with local Chinese students.

During the break in the evening’s Operation Management class, I had a conversation with a local student who sat behind me. I asked him about the typical life of a typical Peking University student. I learned that they study a lot. Some of the students can study 14 hours straight per day! To deal with this studymania, the school completely turns off the electricity in the dormitory at 11pm. But this doesn’t prevent these studious students from over studying; many of them go to the nearest McDonalds to study—most McDonalds are 24hour in China.

I used to think that I am a hard-working student, but after hearing this, I felt very lazy.

However, there is more stuff to do other than study in Beijing. I went to the Great Wall, Summer Palace, and the Temple of Heaven last week with my new German, Korean, Australian, Romanian, Italian, Spanish, and French friends. And I will be going to Tibet by train in 2 weeks!

First Impressions

Tuesday, September 1st, 2009

alan-hon-1.JPGHi my name is Alan, and I’m currently an accounting student on an exploration seminar at Tsinghua University in Beijing. I studied Chinese at UW for the past year, so this program seemed perfect for me to connect the language skills I learned in the classroom to the culture of China. After a long flight from Seattle to Seoul, South Korea and a transfer from Seoul to Beijing, we finally arrived. My first impression when our group got outside the airport was that Beijing was very hot and very humid. The bus ride to Tsinghua University provided a view of many landmarks such as the Water Cube and the Bird’s Nest. Since we got in quite late to our dorms, our teacher already had food waiting for us. Ironically our first meal in Beijing was McDonald’s. So after a full day of traveling and a stomach full of McDonald’s we all headed to bed to rest up for our first day in Beijing.

Surprisingly I wasn’t jet lagged at all and had no trouble waking up in the morning. Following breakfast we went to culture class on Chinese government, Chinese culture, and Chinese history. Wealan-hon-2.JPG learned a lot of basic information such as how the Chinese government works and some background on Chinese culture and customs. After class we had lunch and then went on a tour of the Tsinghua campus with a few current students. The campus is so big that it seems like its own village. Unlike the schools in the States, Tsinghua isn’t just inhabited by students, but there are many ordinary citizens that set up shops, use the facilities, and work at the university. The rest of the week is packed with exciting activities such as visiting the Temple of Heaven, Great Wall, and the Forbidden City. I look forward to visiting these landmarks and being able to share these experiences with you guys.