Kristiina: In China as part of studies in the Netherlands

My name is Kristiina Sau and I am currently a third year Hospitality student at NHL Stenden in the Netherlands. At the beginning of my third school year I attended the pilot minor “Doing Business in China”. I chose to do one minor abroad and then return to the Netherlands for a Rooms Division minor. After returning I was eager to share my experiences because it was truly a unique experience.

The story started when I first heard about the minor in the end of my second year at NHL Stenden and was immediately fascinated by it, but I was not sure if I had the financial means to take part of it. Nevertheless, at the end of the year I decided to give it a try and spent the summer working, arranging my flight tickets, visa, vaccinations and so forth. There were some challenges since it was a new minor and the systems were not completely set up yet. However, at the end with the support from the Chinese team and the Grand Tour office, I was able to sort everything out and on September first I landed in China.

The first days went by quickly and our first classes began. These were held in an international campus, a modern building that was meant only for international students. We were introduced to Mr. Galema, our business teacher who gave us most of the classes alongside with many Chinese guest lecturers and teachers. He began with a basic introduction, giving us the module book and describing the tasks upcoming. We had three units in total, an assignment to write a business plan for the Chinese market, a portfolio containing reflective essays to put all of what we had learned together with theory about intercultural competency and other relevant ideas as well as lessons to learn basic Chinese. These were quite challenging at the beginning, especially because we had some issues with internet for the first found weeks. However, teachers were understanding, and we worked together with Chinese students who were assigned to help us with our business project. Meanwhile we had Chinese lessons, beginning with pronunciation classes and moving to basic phrases.  We usually had 4 days of classes, starting from 8:30 in the morning, then having a long lunch break which the Chinese people would use for sleeping and then continue until about four. Normally we had about two or three lessons per day lasting until 16:30.

Although we were busy with classes, we still had plenty of time to explore the city. Making the best out of free time, we explored Dongguan, the city we were staying at. We visited the malls which were huge and luxurious as well as small local restaurants to which we gave our own nicknames, because we were unable to read the names. For example, one place was called the Koo Koo place because when I ordered chicken the lady was unsure which type of meat I wanted so the just asked if I wanted the Koo Koo kind. At the beginning, much of our communication went through body language and google translate, which was available thanks to a Virtual Private Network (VPN) and a Chinese Sim Card that we were provided with for a small fee at the beginning. Personally, I was very enthusiastic about learning Mandarin so at the end I was able to order the type of dish I wanted in Chinese as well as ask how much it cost. Speaking of which, I regretted not getting a credit card in advance because it would have allowed me to use WeChat pay, which is the Chinese mobile pay they use instead of a bank card. As foreigners we were unable to use it, thus we had to learn to carry cash and also select the right cash registers because not all banks would accept a foreign card.

Besides Dongguan we also went to a lot of other cities, including Guangzhou, Shenzhen and Shanghai. This was partially thanks to the many fields trips we had, one or two times per week, usually on Friday. We explored various companies such as a bag manufacturing company called BSK fashion, a melamine factory, Huawei headquarters as well as Sofitel hotel in Guangzhou. Since I am a hospitality student, I enjoyed visiting the hotel the most as it was rather beneficial for my internship opportunities. For a pilot minor, we were quite positively surprised by the number of field trips organized and the hospitality of the companies. In general, the group, including myself was most impressed by the trip to Shanghai.

It is a huge and beautiful city with magnificent buildings and many chances to enjoy oneself. I and two other groupmates of mine as well as a teacher decided to take a bus trip around the city as well a cruise ship on the Shanghai river. Others decided to take part of events such as the Hotellotop at Shanghai as well stay longer to explore the city even further. Shanghai was even bigger and flashier than Shenzhen, which we visited during some of our free days. Shenzhen was amazing for buying or exploring anything related to technology as there were many huge malls with 4 or five floors full of drones, computer parts, iPhone cases or anything else one could dream of. Meanwhile Guangzhou stood out with the Canon tower, one of the tallest towers in the world, ancient Chinese buildings and busy shopping streets.

While we were not travelling however, we were staying at the campus that was constantly busy with Chinese students going to class, buying food, talking and enjoying themselves. We quickly noticed the abundance of sporting facilities. Just one-minute walk from our dormitory there was a badminton court (where we had some battles against Chinese students as well as a sports field with soccer gates), volleyball court, tennis court, a swimming pool as well as a ping-pong hall. The area was also filled with local food takeaway places and small restaurants that looked very simple but offered delicious food for only 1 euro per meal. I would often grab those or fresh fruits such as cut up grapefruits, mandarins, apples etc or a large smoothie for 1 euro as well. I visited so frequently one of the fruit sellers so frequently that she started saying you are back in Chinese and we even took a selfie together which was quite common because Chinese people like to take a lot of photos and post them on Wechat which the Asian equivalent of WhatsApp.

We didn’t have our own kitchen, but we had a “game room” which was equipped with a fridge and later a coffee machine bought by one of us. Some of our group mates would often play local Chinese board games there and I took it even a step further by learning mahjong which is typical Chinese board game. We made friends with the building manager who was a Chinese student named Lee. Whenever we would have issues with the dormitory he was there very quickly to help fix any issues. Some curious things that we noticed were that it wasn’t possible to have a hot shower before four o’clock because typically the Chinese shower at night. Moreover, Chinese people were not really sensitive towards personal space, they did not mind sharing a small room with four other students and were asking some of us if we felt lonely in our single rooms. Lastly, Asians in general find it very important to show respect to seniors and teachers as they have a clear hierarchy. I quickly learned to not argue with teachers as it would cause them to “lose face” as in losing the respect of their students.

I think the most beautiful thing with the minor in China was the friendship between our group as we explored different cities, overcame challenges, sang karaoke together and had laughs in the bus on the way to the field trip. The experience was something that is difficult to put into words because every day was different and exiting in its own way. Because it was a pilot minor as well as the fact that I had controversial things about China before, I had gone there with rather low expectations, and while there were some challenges, the benefits trumped these by far. I learned basic Mandarin and made friends from China, The Netherlands, Vietnam, South Africa, Bulgaria, South Korea and Brazil. All of them were from different fields of study, some studying logistics, other media and others Chinese. By writing a business plan I also became more confident in my abilities to start a business in the future. Not only was this good to build up experience for my future career but also, I grew as a person thanks to putting myself out of my comfort zone. Therefore, I would definitely recommend this minor to anyone interested in Asia or wishing to challenge themselves.

DO DON’T / Explanation
Get a VPN (E.g ExpressVPN) No VPN – no access to Google or western internet services
Get a credit card for We Pay No Credit card – you can only pay with cash
Download Didi (local taxi app) No Didi – you have no security if you take a taxi
Have dinners with Chinese people No dinners – It will be more difficult to get to know the Chinese people on a more personal level
Explore other Chinese cities (E.g Shenzhen) No exploring – every city in china is known for something, be it tech or fashion, you would miss out
Learn to use other’s strengths (Chinese can be very theory oriented) No open mindedness – working with the Chinese can prove to be difficult
Make use of the abundant sports facilities, sport together with the Chinese No sport – Chinese like to sport so it’s another way to get to know them better
Visit the local museums and parks No exploring – you won’t be able to see the rich history of the city 
Respect teachers and seniors No respect – teachers might be inflexible with you
Expect challenges and trust yourself that you can overcome them No flexibility – you might become frustrated fast

Table above: Do’s and Dont’s in China

PS! Here you can read about my studies at NHL Stenden in the Netherlands:

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