I have never taken a class on China, nor have I ever studied Mandarin. Although this is true, I have been very excited about the idea of traveling to China and studying Mandarin at Beijing’s Language and Culture University (BLCU) this summer. It is something that I take pride in as a first-generation college student as I have never gone outside of the United States before. I was not familiar with the process of how to leave the country until I tried to do it myself.
Initially, I thought it would be an effortless process where I would buy a plane ticket and go. In actuality, it involved purchasing a passport, purchasing visas, and getting several affairs in order before leaving the country. My travel itinerary consisted of traveling from Atlanta, Georgia, where I would take a five-hour flight to Los Angeles, California. Once in California, I then took a forty-five-minute plane to Las Vegas, Nevada from Las Vegas, I took a twelve-hour flight to Beijing, China. I enjoyed the process of traveling; it allowed me to see parts of my country that I would never have been able to see without the Fund for Education Abroad Scholarship.
The most challenging part of my journey was when I was first adjusting to life in China. I did not study much Mandarin before I arrived in China, so I had difficulty communicating with those around me. I live in a big city, so many signs and menus have English subtext, but that does not mean that those around me also spoke English.
Based off my experience abroad, I think that people see that you are from a foreign country and they have preconceived ideas about you based on the country that you came from. For example, while in the PEK airport, there were signs around me that warned against using “illegal taxis.” These were taxis that were not government approved and charged rates that were not based on what was approved by the government. Before coming to Beijing, I had done my research on this topic, and I wanted to try my best at not being scammed by my taxi driver.
I knew that I should have been charged approximately one-hundred Yuan, about fifteen dollars, to be taken from the airport to my school, I also knew that I should only enter a taxi with a meter so that I would be charged off the distance traveled and not based off the driver’s greed. Although I had done all of that preparation, I still ended up being tricked.
When I exited the airport, I was greeted by a man who asked if I needed a taxi. This was the first red flag because I had researched that most taxi drivers in Beijing did not speak English and that if I found one that did it would most likely be a scammer. I knew this, but I was in an unfamiliar country, and I took solace in knowing that I was near someone who spoke my language and could help me get to my destination.
Just the Beginning
I was relieved when I finally took a seat in the back of the driver’s taxi. This did not last long because he soon started asking me about payment and how I was planning to pay. I told him that I still needed to exchange my currency. Money was his priority, so he drove me to a close by ATM and told me to take out cash. He was very nice about it, but this was laden with very pushy undertones.
Before going to the ATM we discussed rates, he told me that it would be four hundred to six hundred Yuan – about fifty-eight to eighty-seven dollars. I told him that this was too much and he said it was based on a metered rate, and he then showed me his taxi meter. I felt cornered, and I agreed to pay this price. I knew that this price was about five times what I should have been paying, but my luggage was already in his trunk, and I didn’t want to start any arguments.
While riding to BLCU, I reflected on the shame that I felt. I knew that I was being treated this way due to my foreigner status and inexperience traveling abroad. This was the first time I had been treated this way, and I thought that I was being taken advantage of. I concluded that I should avoid taxis until I had a better grasp of the language.
I am happy that my taxi driver was able to bring me to BLCU unharmed. He was a nice man; he even helped point me in the direction of the foreign student administration building. Little did know; this was just the beginning of a long, long process.
Before completing the process myself, I had a very romanticized view of what it was like to travel abroad. I viewed it as a luxurious process, but it is actually very stressful. Things go wrong, and people become frustrated. Although this is true, I wouldn’t have changed my experience for anything. It taught me the ups and downs of traveling, and I think it’s important to know about both.