I was aware of China’s “Great Firewall” before entering the country, but it took me experiencing is actually to understand the magnitude of it. By China’s “Great Firewall,” I am referring to China’s online censorship system that blocks the use of websites such as Facebook, Twitter, Google, Instagram, and Snapchat to name a few. Back home, I have a daily regiment of using all of those websites; I boldly assumed that I would be able to quit cold turkey once entering the country. I was wrong. Within an hour of landing at Beijing’s International Airport, I was already trying to access my Instagram feed, but this time, everything was blocked. No matter how long I kept, my browser opens the website would load with no end. Luckily, I made sure to download a VPN before entering the country.
A VPN (Virtual Private Network) is a way of connecting your computer or smartphone to a server through the internet. That server then allows you to browse the internet using the internet connection of the server in that location. If your device is connected to a server in a different country, then you will be able to access information as if you were in that country. As of now, I am in china, and it’s firewall prevents me from accessing many websites, but with the use of a VPN, I can connect to servers in the United States and use sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Google, Instagram, and Snapchat. Although this is true, I am a student at Beijing’s Language and Culture University (BLCU) which has a large population of international students.
A Difficult Situation
Many students at BLCU come from countries that have unblocked internet access. Because of this, many students use VPNs on my campus. As I mentioned before, VPNs utilize servers to provide internet access to users. One predicament that is faced on the BLCU campus is that many students use the same VPN providers and servers, and this often overloads the servers. This leads to VPNs that take a long time to connect or may not connect at all. I have spent hours waiting for my VPN to load to get connection errors after waiting for such a long time. It is very disheartening. VPNs are such an essential part of life here that asking a person what VPN provider they use or what server they’re on has become an icebreaker.
A Home Away from Home
Although being in China has severely restricted my access to outside media, I am beginning to adjust to this new life. When I first arrived in Beijing, I would spend hours trying to access the internet. Now I choose to go on walks or study with friends when I can’t access anything. This has been a positive change in my life, and it is a habit that I would like to maintain once I return home.
I have grown to appreciate how easily I was able to access online information when I was back home. I am lucky to live in a country that allows people to speak and post information freely. Although this is true, China and many Chinese people seem to share a sense of unity that I do not often see in the United States. I have been wondering if this is due to the high level of censorship in this country. Many opinions today are affected by the type of media that a person is exposed to. I see China as an example of what happens when there is very little media or when that media is heavily controlled. It can be a positive change, but I am sure that there are many downfalls as well.