Initial Struggles and Resolutions

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大家好 (dàjiāhǎo) Hello everyone!

I am two weeks into my study abroad journey at Beijing, China and I have loads to tell.  The first thing I wish I knew when I arrived was to keep my American phone line. I had it cut as soon as I arrived which caused me many problems.

Difficulty #1

The first problem I ran into was paying my rent. My bank was already notified of my travel plans yet they still froze my account. In order to unfreeze my account, I had to call them – kinda hard to do this with no data.  I called my mom using my laptop’s facetime feature since my phone was useless. She then had to use another phone to call my bank. It took three separate calls to the bank to finally resolve the issues. After each call, I was told the problem was fixed (they lied!) The receptionist said my cards still didn’t work. I think the receptionist pitied me and gave me my room key on the second attempt. I was told to come and pay the next day but I figured third time was a charm – and it finally worked!

Difficulty #2

The second problem was not yet having a Chinese SIM card. It seems as if everything revolves around your phone and apps. One store I went into didn’t accept cash and all payments were made with online wallets such as Alipay and WeChat. In order to use these APPs, you need to have a Chinese phone number/bank account as human verification. Luckily, my study abroad program notified me of an unlimited data deal for foreign students which costs 200rmb/year (roughly $30). After a couple of days bumbling around without data, I got my SIM card which made shopping and communication a lot less burdensome.

One of the most popular APPs in China is WeChat. It is an APP that allows you to chat with your friends separately or in groups, post moments (similar to facebook updates/photos), and pay/receive/send money (wallet feature that hooks up directly to your bank). It is how I keep in contact with my family and friends in America as it doesn’t charge international fees to make voice/video calls.

Difficulty #3

After resolving my phone accessibility issue, my next obstacle was applying for a bank account. The banks require a lot of documentation such as a passport, a letter from my school stating why I need an account, student ID, residency permit, and all their own forms. The first time I tried to apply for the bank account was too late in the day. A banker informed me students have been queuing an hour prior to opening. The next day, I went with a few friends from my program an hour early to queue up. In a couple of minutes, other students were lining up too.

Thankfully, we decided to come early as over 40+ people were waiting! It took a little over an hour to open up an account, exchange some American cash into RMB, and download their APP. As we were leaving, I overheard a student was number #37 in the queue and the manager was calling for number #11 to go forward. I can only imagine if we decided to arrive at the bank 15 or 30 minutes later we would’ve been at that bank all day.

Final thoughts

My first piece of advice for someone studying abroad in a country like China is to keep your American phone until you are certain you can get a SIM card. Don’t be overly stingy with your budget like I was as it can be a whole lot less of a headache. The second piece of advice, wake up early to be the first! The early bird does get the worm. It was a whole lot more worth it to wake up early and be the first in line. This is especially true when it takes approximately 45 minutes to set up each account with only 4 people working.