Hey! What’s your name? Where are you from?

I must have asked that question about 100 times since I arrived in Beijing… The resulting answers? Léa, Sung Hyun, Junting, Zach, Lili, Evan, Juan, Robert, Liya, Shingo, Xenia, Jason, Hauke… France, South Korea, Finland, New-Zealand, Austria, United-States, Spain, Hong Kong, Sweden, Japan, Singapore, Germany… And so many more!!!

HEC’s winter semester is now over, which means that a lot of you guys are headed for your exchange destination in just a couple of months from now, probably all around August and September! If you are anything like I was, you’re probably not 100% confident about the project you are undertaking. Heading for Asia, my greatest fear was to spend the next 5 months of my life all by myself, leaving all of my friends back home to forget me. How would I be able to meet and bond with people fast enough not to stay lonely in a 20 million people city? I really did not have a clue. As it turns out, I could never have imagined how easy and pleasing it is to make true friends abroad.

I will not lie to you. Meeting new people did require substantial efforts and in the end nobody can like everybody… But I haven’t heard of a single story from someone who wasn’t able to make good friends in China. Here are, as I see it, some of the myths and realities about abroad friendships

Myth #1: When you arrive in a new city, it is complicated and it takes a long time to meet people and make friends. FALSE. When I arrived in Beijing, I was completely alone for about 5 hours (time to unpack my luggage and install myself in my residence). I then walked on campus and talked to the first people I saw. Turns out I am still friends with the first people I met!

Reality #1: Being a student abroad makes you want to meet as many people as you can. TRUE. We all arrive at destination knowing only about 1 or 2 people… Our family and best friends are now 10000 km away and we won’t see them for a while. It’s time to say hi to new people.

Myth #2: Cultural differences make friendships harder to establish. FALSE. The richness that one can find in making friends abroad is unparalleled. Since my arrival in Beijing, I got to practice my Spanish and my Chinese, I got a better understanding of the European and Asian lifestyles and got to appreciate international humor and party customs. (By the way, a lot of countries are contenders to having the reputation of being the heaviest drinkers… It is always interesting to start this debate between friends!)

Reality #2: Although we come from different backgrounds, when we are students abroad, we are all the same. TRUE. We want to have fun, go out, travel everywhere, go shopping for cheap… We all run out of money at the same time and start cutting down our budget, we come back home very late, often very early in the morning… We arrive late to class, procrastinate for homework… And although we have different tastes for music, we ALL go mad when the DJ plays Poker Face in our favorite club in Beijing.

I hope those quick and simple myths and realities will reassure those of you guys that are starting to get their visas and luggage prepared for the big leap forward. Let me tell you once more. Making friends in China was my greatest pleasure and pride, and it is them, not the Great Wall, the Terracotta Soldiers, the Tibetan mountains or Tsinghua University that I will remember for the longest of times once I go back home.

Now, Romain asked me in my latest post to come up with a list of 10 rules a western person should follow in order to survive in China. If you don’t mind, Romain, I will hold that topic for my next post… I’m already working on it though 😉

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