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3 posts from November 2012

11/20/2012

On Living Abroad

La version française de ce blog se trouve plus bas, si vous préférez lire en VO.

I wrote this blog both in French and English, so that my friends and family back home can read it as well as all my English-speaking my classmates.

                On my first day in China, my plane landed in Shanghai. I then took the train from Shanghai to Nanjing. I took a cab from the Pudong airport in order to get to the train station, and hence had the first of the many culture shocks I would experience in the ninety days leading up to today. The cab was constantly changing lanes on the highway and speeding past every other car, ranking up there with the New York taxis in the rating of most frightening car experiences I have ever had. I have since learnt that my driver was in all likeliness not actually out of his mind, but that it is rather customary for cabs in China and drivers in general to somewhat ignore traffic laws and what Westerners would consider common driving courtesy.

When I left France for the US two years ago, I was prepared to live a completely different life, and was warned about culture shock from many of Penn’s faculty worried about their international freshmen. It was, however, nothing compared to what I have experienced in China. Living abroad in the US has been different from France mostly because of the way people consider me, much more than because cultural differences between me and American students led to incomprehension or conflict. We are all Westerners, and I have rapidly learnt about how to bridge the few differences that existed between American people and me. Paradoxically, living in the US has mostly changed me by making me more aware of my French heritage than I ever was. People in the US see the French person in me before they see Rodolphe. For instance, all you American readers out there probably just thought something along the lines of “What a strange name. Silly French people.” I have hence started playing on that, acting foreign enough that American people see something different and somewhat exotic in me, but not too different that they would not treat me like they would fellow Americans.  That is to say, I can understand American culture and behavior and never have any problem interacting with Americans and making friends in the US, but anything I do that might seem weird if I actually was American is dismissed with a simple “French people !”

This is quite different in China. I have been here almost three months now, and have travelled to several places in China – Shanghai, Beijing, Nanjing of course, and the Silk Road – and yet am still in the process of understanding China. The first and foremost thing to remember is that of course, anything I say about Chinese people in general is only a generalization and is different on an individual level. I am only pointing out general trends one would not find in Western countries.  There are many of those. Most of you probably already know about the surprising aspects of China. For instance, people might push you in the street or bump into and have absolutely no regard for you, not even turning around to apologize. Or going into a shop, the vendor will likely say neither hello nor thank you. And, contrary to something many Westerners think, Chinese people do not apologize all the time. I realized that I apologize much more in English than I ever do in Chinese. These differences used to bother me a lot, as I could not understand them and did not know how to relate to them. Then a few days ago, I realized that it seemed that most Chinese people act as if everyone was one big family. Paradoxically, one is not as polite with people he loves as with people he does not care about. I swear at my friends – admittedly jokingly – much more than I ever would strangers. If I cut in line in front of my family members they will most likely not care. Chinese people, especially older people, love to give advice to younger people, much like grandparents would with their grandchildren. I used to find it annoying that complete strangers would tell me what I should do, but since I started to think that they probably kind of considered me as family, I appreciate their advice much more. It also explains why people I just met feel comfortable telling me that I am handsome, in the same way a cousin or an aunt would, without any flirting connotations to it. Habits that used to seem rude to me now remind me that Chinese culture seems to simply see less barriers between people than Westerners do.

Living abroad in China and in the US have been completely different experiences. China took longer to get accustomed to, and still sometimes requires effort to understand, probably because of how different it is from France. On the other hand, French and US culture are close enough and I have spent enough time in the US that I have now internalized American culture and do not need to think about it to react to American customs. I hope that I might one day do the same with China.

 

 

Lors de mon arrivée en Chine, mon avion atterrit à Shanghai, d’où je devais prendre un train jusqu’à Nanjing. Je pris un taxi pour aller de Pudong jusqu’à la gare, et c’est ainsi que j’eus mon premier choc culturel. Il s’ensuivit bien d’autres dans les quatre-vingt dix jours suivants, jusqu’aujourd’hui. Le taxi ce jour-là changeait constamment de file sur l’autoroute et dépassait les autres voitures à toute vitesse. A part peut-être dans les taxis new yorkais, je n’ais jamais été aussi effrayé en voiture. Depuis, j’ai appris que le conducteur ce jour-là n’était pas ivre ou complètement dingue, mais qu’il est normal en Chine pour les conducteurs en général et les chauffeurs de taxis en particulier d’ignorer la plupart des lois de la route et ce que la plupart des Occidentaux considèrerait comme étant la moindre des politesses lorsqu’ils conduisent.

                Quand je suis parti de France pour aller étudier aux Etats-Unis il y a deux ans, je m’étais préparé à vivre une vie complètement différente, et j’avais été averti par de nombreux membres de l’Université de Pennsylvanie –  inquiets  pour leurs étudiants de première année – que je pouvais m’attendre à être surpris par certaines facettes de la culture américaine. Cependant, ce n’était rien en comparaison à ce que j’ai vécu en Chine. Au fond, il y a peu de différences culturelles entre Américains et Français : nous sommes tous occidentaux, et les quelques différences qui m’ont étonnées au début de mes études aux Etats-Unis ont rapidement été comblés. Ce qui me pousse à agir différemment aux Etats-Unis qu’en France c’est plus la façon dont les gens me considèrent, me perçoive. Paradoxalement, vivre aux Etats-Unis me fait plus penser à ce que « être Français » signifie que vivre en France n’aurait pu le faire. Les Américains voient plus en moi l’ambassadeur de la culture Française que Rodolphe. J’ai donc commencé à jouer là-dessus, agissant de façon exagérément étrange pour paraître légèrement exotique aux yeux des Américains. C’est ce que je fais par exemple en écrivant ce blog à la fois en Anglais et en Français. De cette façon, je n’ai que très rarement de conflit due à des différences de culture avec les Américains, mais cela me permet aussi d’agir de façon que je ne permettrais pas en France, puisque si cela est trop inapproprié les Américains le considèreront simplement comme une habitude de Français et ne m’en voudront d’agir de façon inhabituelle.

                Ce n’est pas le cas en China. Cela fait trois mois que je suis ici,  j’ai été dans diverses parties de la Chine – Shanghai, Beijing, Nanjing bien sûr, et la Route de la Soir – et pourtant il y a encore des jours où j’ai du mal à comprendre la Chine. Avant tout, je voudrais simplement rappeler que tout ce dont je parle ici ne sont que des généralisations et ne s »applique pas toujours au niveau individuel. Je ne fais que rapporter ici des habitudes que de nombreux Chinois avaient et qui m’ont surpris. Par exemple, pour ceux qui ne sont pas familier avec la Chine, on est souvent bousculé dans la rue par quelqu’un de pressé qui ne voit pas l’intérêt de s’excuser. De la même façon lorsque je vais dans un magasin il est généralement inutile de dire bonjour ou merci, le vendeur lui-même ne s’encombrant que rarement de ces politesses. Contrairement à ce que la plupart des Occidentaux pensent, les Chinois ne s’excusent que rarement. Je m’excuse bien plus souvent lorsque je parle Français ou Anglais que lorsque je parle Chinois. Ces différences culturelles me dérangeaient beaucoup car je ne pouvais pas les comprendre et ne savais pas comment y réagir. Mais il y a quelques jours, je me suis aperçu que la façon dont les Chinois agissent semble indiquer qu’ils considèrent que nous faisons tous partie d’une grande famille. Paradoxalement, on est bien moins poli avec sa famille et ses amis qu’avec  des étrangers. Je jure bien plus avec des amis – en plaisantant ça va de soi – qu’en présence d’étrangers. Il importe peu à ma famille que je les double dans une file d’attente. Les Chinois, particulièrement d’un certain âge, adorent donner des conseils aux plus jeunes, de la même façon que des parents ou des grands-parents pourraient donner des conseils à leurs enfants. Cela m’énervait, mais maintenant que je pense qu’ils me considèrent probablement plus ou moins comme un membre de leur famille, j’apprécie leurs conseils. Cela explique aussi pourquoi des Chinois que je connaissais à peine n’avaient pas de problèmes à me dire qu’ils me trouvaient beau même s’ils avaient la double de mon âge : c’est ce qu’un cousin ou une tante ferait, ils n’avaient aucune arrière-pensées. Des habitudes culturelles qui me troublaient au début du semestre me semblent maintenant simplement être le témoignage du fait que les Chinois voient beaucoup moins de barrières entre les gens que les Occidentaux.

                Vivre en Chine et aux Etats-Unis, bien que tout les deux à l’étranger, à été complètement différent. J’ai mis longtemps à comprendre et à accepter les habitudes Chinoises, peut-être parce qu’elles étaient si différentes des habitudes françaises. Quant aux Etats-Unis, j’y ai passé suffisamment de temps et leur culture était suffisamment proche de la culture française pour avoir ne même plus avoir à penser à comment réagir à des situations typiquement américaines qui auraient pu me surprendre il y a deux ans. J’espère pouvoir un jour faire la même chose avec la Chine.

 

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The camera isn't tilted, the wall is. C'est la muraille qui est penchée, pas la caméra.

 


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Brian, Kris and I at Kunlung Monastery. Brian, Kris et moi au monastère de Kunlung.

11/16/2012

Picture in 1000 Words

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        After being in China for over two months I have noticed many different styles of restaurant and side food markets, some of which were very well kept and clean, but many were very dirty and seemed to be rather unsanitary.  Because of these vast differences I decided to look further into the laws which regulate the cleanliness of these businesses.  The photo I chose is from a small street-side restaurant.  The picture shows one chef preparing a dish.  What the picture doesn’t show is how this is the only station for cooking food, and the pan is not always washed in between cooking each dish.  It also depicts how dirty and unsanitary the surrounds of the restaurant are.  After observing the quality of the restaurant and how sanitary it seemed, I wanted to look deeper into the laws that regulate and keep the food quality safe for the consumers and how they have changed and improved over the past years.

            Up until the Cultural Revolution there were not many laws regulating the safety and quality of food.  On November 21, 1949 the Ministry of Health was established in the People’s Republic of China.  This contained sixteen different departments and did not only focus on the safety and quality of the food to protect the people of illness caused by bad nutrition.  The Ministry of Health consists of mandates that drafts laws and propose health programs.  They educate the public on health prevention and make sure health-care in safe.  Along with the health-care regulations, they also create food quality protocols.  The Ministry of Health was the start of China’s food quality control (Zhu, Chen. "Ministry of Health").[1]

            The first real push towards a food safety law was conducted in 1965, just prior the Cultural Revolution.  It was called the Regulations on Administration of Food Hygiene.  These laws mainly focused on the food supply, and not on the safety and quality of the food being produced.  Being formulated in the year prior to the Cultural Revolution, these laws didn’t last.  Due to the fall of the legal system during the Cultural Revolution, the Regulations on Administration of Food Hygiene failed (Bian Yongmin, “The Challenges for Food Safety in China”).[2]

            During the Cultural Revolution all of the food production and distribution companies were controlled and run by the state, so there were few problems with the quality of the food.  The food was produced traditionally, which reduced the chances of a safety problem.  Following the end of the Cultural Revolution and the rise new legal systems and economic reforms, China was able to further themselves in the world of hygienic foods.  In 1979 China formulated the Regulations on the Administration of Food Hygiene (Bian Yongmin, “The Challenges for Food Safety in China”).[3] The Food Hygiene Law of the People’s Republic of China was first drafted in 1979.  Over the next decade it was edited and revised multiple times.  The first time was three years after the founding in 1982, and then on October 30, 1995 the final revisions were added to the law to make it what it is today.  The law consists of nine chapters; General Provisions, The Safety of Food, The Safety of Food Additives, The Sanitation and Safety of Food Containers, Packaging Materials, Utensils and Equipment, The Formulation of Food Hygienic Standards and Regulations, Food Safety Control, Food Safety Inspection and Supervision, Legal Liability, and Supplementary Provisions.  The main point of this law is to “ensure food safety, prevent food contamination and hazardous factors from doing harm to humans, and to guarantee people's health and improve people's physique” "Food Hygiene Law of the People’s Republic of China").[4] Other factors of this law consist of random government inspections to ensure that everyone is abiding by these laws.  Also, the quality of food must be safe and the environment in which the food is produced and distributed must follow a strict hygienic law ("Food Hygiene Law of the People’s Republic of China").[5]

            With the Food Hygiene Law in effect, China’s food quality rose greatly and there were far fewer food problems occurring among the population.  It was looking very successful until a major food safety scandal arose.  In September of 2008, a toxic chemical called Melamine was discovered in a company’s powdered milk products.  After much investigation, it was found that people in the Sanlu Group, the company’s name, were guilty of contaminating the powder and many were imprisoned and a few were executed ("Timeline: China Milk Scandal").[6]  Because of this scandal China decided to improve the Food Hygiene Law.

            On June 1, 2009 the Food Safety Law was drafted and it took the place of the previous Food Hygiene Law that was being used in the past. The Law contained everything the Hygiene Law contained, but broadened its scope to cover more areas to prevent another food safety scandal from arising. The law made stricter laws regarding food additives, and now requires every company to keep a personal record of inspections done internally.  Also, this law got rid of the inspection exemption policy; no company is exempted from a government inspection.  If there is another scandal and a product is found unsafe, the government is now able to recall the entire product and remove it from the shelves to prevent further illness.  As of now, the Food Safety Law is the most up to date (Ho, Bing. "New Food Safety Law Brings Sweeping Changes to the PRC Food Industry").[7]

            It is very evident how China’s food quality and safety measures have increased through the back few decades.  China started out very unhygienic and through reforms and laws brought it self to be a cleaner country.  Although China has made giant steps in the right direction, I believe, from what I have observed while being here, China still has room for improvement.



[1] Zhu, Chen. "Ministry of Health." 

[2] Bian Yongmin, “The Challenges for Food Safety in China”,

[3] Bian Yongmin, “The Challenges for Food Safety in China”.

[4] "Food Hygiene Law of the People’s Republic of China." 

[5] "Food Hygiene Law of the People’s Republic of China." 

[6] "Timeline: China Milk Scandal."

[7] Ho, Bing. "New Food Safety Law Brings Sweeping Changes to the PRC Food Industry." 



Bibliography

Bian Yongmin, “The Challenges for Food Safety in China”, China perspectives, May- June 2004, Accessed Web. 4 Nov. 2012. <https://chinaperspectives.revues.org/819>.

Ho, Bing. "New Food Safety Law Brings Sweeping Changes to the PRC Food Industry." Bakermckenzie. N.p., Apr.-Jun. 2009. Accessed Web. 4 Nov. 2012. <https://www.bakermckenzie.com/RROperatingFoodSafetyLawJun09/>.

"Food Hygiene Law of the People’s Republic of China." Food Hygiene Law of the People's Republic of China. N.p., 30 Oct. 1995. Accessed Web. 03 Nov. 2012. <https://caexpo.gxciq.gov.cn/html/2011-04/475.htm>.

"Timeline: China Milk Scandal." BBC News. N.p., 25 Jan. 2010. Accessed Web. 4 Nov. 2012. <https://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/7720404.stm>.

Zhu, Chen. "Ministry of Health." Ministry of Health. N.p., 22 Dec. 2009. Accessed Web. 03 Nov. 2012. <https://www.gov.cn/english/2005-10/09/content_75326.htm>.

 

11/11/2012

No, Really, I'm American.

Before I begin, I’d like to clarify that I’m greatly enjoying my time in China, and that the part of my experience I’m going to describe is just that: a part of a much larger and more significant experience.

When I came to China, I had expected to be noticed as a foreigner, an outsider, and an American. I’d heard rumors and firsthand experiences of how Americans were treated in China, ranging from “the celebrity treatment” of photos and autographs from native Chinese around every corner to a shutting-out sort of feeling accompanied by the sentiment of “you’re American...why are you here?” What I had prepared myself for, though, was completely unlike what I received. I will have been in China one month tomorrow, and I have still yet to be asked if I am (or assumed to be) American. I’ve been asked if I’m Russian, Italian, and (in a case of which we still haven’t made sense) Japanese. I’ve been asked how many months or years I’ve been here (though only before I start to speak in my broken Mandarin), and people occasionally can’t place me at all and go for the nice, safe, general “ 你是从哪一个国家来的?" (Which country are you from?) but never whether I'm American. Several people I've directly told that I was American have refused to believe me, one of them even beginning to laugh and telling me that he met another Russian once, too, and I share her sense of humor.

At first, I felt almost cheated by this...part of the reason Americans go abroad is to find out more about the experience of being an American abroad, and I was watching my friends have that experience, which I felt I was being denied. Eventually, almost three and a half weeks in, it hit me. The experience of being an American studying abroad isn’t just the experience of being recognized as an American abroad. The experience of being an American in China also includes my experience, of total and alienating expatriation, whereby a nationality is ascribed to you according to the media stereotype you most closely reflect and that’s how you’re expected to act and who you’re expected to be. My American (and one French) classmates, and even a friend from Sweden, will always be asked if they’re American more often than I will, but the sudden loss of the apparency of my national identity doesn’t alienate me from the Americans-abroad experience, it just gives me insight into a different facet of it.