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Antidote to Chinese culture shock: Drink plenty of water

Updated: 2014-05-09 09:45
By Huang YinjiazI and Luo Jun ( China Daily Africa)

 Antidote to Chinese culture shock: Drink plenty of water

Theo Aperkor says one good thing about China is that people go out of their way to help. Xinhua

After receiving admission letters from several graduate schools in Europe, Theo Aperkor, a young man from Ghana, thought carefully before deciding to accept a scholarship in China.

"China is so different from other countries," the young man says. "Because its fast development is still going on, I thought it would be a great opportunity to study the process as it is happening."

Aperkor's connection with China mirrors those of tens of thousands of other Africans who have chosen to explore the world's largest developing country and an old friend of Africa's.

"Everyone knows about the China phenomenon," says Aperkor, who has been studying international journalism and communications at a specialized university in Beijing for three years. "You hear about it all the time. But few people know what the country is really like."

During his time in Beijing, Aperkor has discovered many similarities between his homeland and China, as both are undergoing vast changes amid fast development.

"For example, the transport systems in major cities have been designed in similar fashion to accommodate the outer residential areas," he says.

"And there are heated debates on healthcare systems in Ghana and China. It is exciting for me to see what we can learn from here."

Aperkor had worked as a media and communications researcher in Ghana for five years but he had little knowledge of China before arriving there. Most of it came through Western literature and movies.

"The only footage I'd seen about China back home was from kung fu movies. I have watched a lot of Jet Li movies.

"But they only show China in the 1980s. I remember the small alleys called hutong and old temples. Some even date back to the 40s and 50s. It's nothing like China nowadays."

Recalling his first encounter with China, Aperkor says he did not realize he was underprepared until he arrived at Beijing Capital International Airport and tried to take a taxi. The driver understood no English. The same thing happened when he finally reached the dormitory and tried to deal with the staff members.

"The good thing about China is that people here will go out of their way to help you," he says.

The graduate student says he has experienced Chinese hospitality in different ways. He recalls spending his first Spring Festival, the Lunar New Year, at a home in Linyi city in eastern Shandong province, at the invitation of a classmate.

During the most important festival in China, they ate dumplings, set off firecrackers and stayed up late talking and watching the annual CCTV gala in an apartment overlooking two beautiful rivers.

"The hosts had three generations living under the same roof," Aperkor says. "For me, it was like an adventure. What I had not seen on TV, the family traditions and the atmosphere, I got to experience in real life."

While working on projects with foreign and Chinese classmates, Aperkor sometimes travels to cities around northern China. Occasionally he takes part-time jobs teaching English.

As people-to-people exchanges between China and Africa are increasing, he offers some tips for African students who are considering traveling to China to study.

"Psychologically, you need to be prepared for the culture shock. There are many interesting contradictions in China." Prospective students should find websites where international students have written about China, he says.

"For example, don't be surprised and confused when you have a problem and your Chinese friend seriously tells you to drink more water," Aperkor says, referring to advice often given to someone who does not feel well, due to a common belief among Chinese that water helps purify and detoxify the human body.

"We always joke about that. When someone's computer breaks down, we tell him to drink more water. It is the Chinese way of showing they care for you."

With the number of African students in China reaching 33,000 last year, Aperkor says he expects more younger Africans will follow.

"You will find a country with lots of history," he says. "At the same time, there is a good mixture of traditional and modern things. You can find nightclubs and 1,000-year-old temples side by side and people living in many different ways.

"Whether you enjoy your time in China is up to you."

Aperkor has not visited southern China but says he plans to do his PhD there.

"There is no rush. I will have plenty of time and opportunities to explore the southern part of China. After that, I may find a job there and start a family."

He is open to all the possibilities that China has to offer, he says.


(China Daily Africa Weekly 05/09/2014 page28)

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