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Cultural Activities

10 ways to connect with the local culture when interning, traveling, or living abroad

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10 ways to connect with the local culture when interning, traveling, or living abroad

To the travelers of the world, rather than the tourists, a cultural experience means something a little different.

Rather than visiting the famous landmarks, museums and renowned historical sights of a region and then moving on, travelers prefer to immerse themselves in a new environment to gain a deeper understanding as to how others live around the world. Here are 10 ways you can go about connecting with a local culture on your next trip abroad;

Volunteer: The popularity of volunteering abroad has sky-rocketed in recent years, and for good reason.

Firstly, you’re doing something genuinely positive for individuals trapped in a situation likely far worse than your own. Secondly, it’s a fantastic way to experience the way of life in a foreign environment. If you’re hotel hopping in the major cities of a nation, you’re missing out on experiencing the way the majority of a population lives. Volunteering can offer that insight while being a rewarding experience in its own right. One that couldn’t be recommended highly enough.

Festivals/Events: Nothing says ‘culture’ like local festivals and displays of the local customs and traditions.

These can be religious, historical or simply localized rituals that truly capture the imagination. These usually allow artistic expression of the cultures presence in a society. Get involved and immerse yourself in the experience. You’ll connect with the local culture in a way you could never do through any other means.

Living/Accommodation: Couchsurfing has seen its popularity grow rapidly as travelers are catching on to the benefits of this amazing system.

It’s often viewed simply as a place to score free accommodation, though there’s so much more to the opportunity. When Couchsurfing, you’re likely to be staying with a local host. What better way to understand how local lives than to actually love with one? Most hosts are open to meeting and interaction with travelers; otherwise, they would never volunteer to host in the first place. You’ll get the opportunity to experience activities and places only a local would know about.

Drinking: What better way to rapidly befriend someone than by sharing a few brews?

Alcohol tends to get the conversation flowing freely and the enjoyment of alcoholic beverages is rather prevalent across the globe. Spend some time in spots that are popular with locals, whether that be local bars or other random watering holes. It’s a great way to shed the initial apprehension and conversational restraints that may inhibit other interactions. Just don’t go overboard!

 

Public Transport /Hitch-hiking: Rather than taking taxis or driving everywhere, try catching a local bus or train (stay in 3rd class rather than isolating yourself in 1st).

Another alternative is to hitch-hike. This can be a little risky and is not necessarily advised everywhere. Ensure you are reasonably comfortable in your surroundings and have some kind of safety measure in place if you choose the latter option.

Language Learning: It can be difficult to truly connect with a local culture if a language barrier exists.

One way to overcome this obstacle and gain a greater understanding is to take language lessons at a local school or with a local tutor. Not only will this improve your language skills, you’ll likely meet like-minded individuals to practice with and perhaps get involved in other activities. On the other side of the coin, perhaps teaching your native tongue abroad could provide similar opportunities.

Stay Put: Immerse yourself

Don’t continuously move around. It can be difficult to truly get a feel for the way of life in a different part of the world if you’re continually jumping around from town to town. Slow it down. You’ll get a greater appreciation and a deeper connection when staying in 1 spot.

Walk Around: You will learn more about a place in 2 hours of walking than you will in 2 days of driving or catching taxis.

Walking slows you down, forcing you to interact on at least the most basic of levels with your surroundings. You’re much more likely to strike up a conversation or stumble across something that catches your eye. It’s a great way to explore new territory and much better for your health!

Be Open to New Possibilities: You can put all the above advice to use, however, if you’re not open to new experiences, none of it will matter.

They say travel broadens the mind. Well, I’d suggest that is only the case for those who are willing to allow their minds to be shaped by their experiences. Embrace the unknown and your cultural experience will be so much the richer for it.

Cuisine: Love of food is a universal trait and a great way to get acquainted with the local culture.

Some travelers even rate culinary experiences as the key reason they travel! If you’re not eating the local produce, you’re simply missing out on a key part of the journey.

Not only do you gain an appreciation for the local way of life (how one eats says a lot about them), sharing food offers a great chance to bond with the locals. Stay away from the large restaurants and food chains. Instead, eat at local markets and hole-in-the-wall joints that offer authenticity and a genuine sampling of what the locals eat. If you stick to places that are busy, with a high turnover rate, you should avoid any food related illnesses that put many travelers off this activity.

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Exploration and pushing your limits

Although our days are filled with work and learning new skills that we may apply to our careers or future businesses, the learning does not only take place at work. What I enjoy most about my internship abroad is the fact that every day and everything we do is a new learning experience.

This weekend, John, Ann, and I went to explore one of the markets called Wanfujing. Our mission was to eat scorpions and whatever else we could get our hands on! Walking up through a more modern style outdoor mall and eating area, we turn the corner and its like time traveling. I really enjoy the sensory experiences of traveling because it most definitely opens up your mind by forcing the brain into uncomfortable and unfamiliar experiences: sights, sounds, smells, and tastes. When we arrived at the market we began a feeding frenzy! I purposely didn't eat lunch so that I could make the most of the experience.

First thing I found was the Chinese version of a burrito! Definitely not the same but it made me feel good haha. Man I miss burritos! Next we found an egg French fry masterpiece that I really can't describe but I can tell you that you could make a small fortune in America selling them. Finally we found the scorpions, but for some reason what caught my eye was the tarantula's. After a battle for the price, 80 Kuai, which is way too much for any food I simply walked away after giving him 60. It's quite funny how as westerners we all gather around to watch someone eat a food but of course everyone was taking video of me eating it. Even a couple random guys from the Middle East had to join in the fun haha. Before anyone saw I was already nibbling on the crispy legs and then when they were ready I bit in. To be honest, it was not bad, I was quite disappointed though because it was deep-fried I don't feel like I got much nutrition from it. I finished my crispy critter and moved on to some other dishes. Ann and John ate scorpion and then we called it a night.

Remember, pushing your limits mentally and physically is the only way to grow.  I know you can learn a tremendous amount at any internship but going abroad provides a constant learning environment. Push it to the limit! And then break the limit!

By Justin Ancheta

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Zoo Market for Shopping

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Zoo Market for Shopping

Jonathan's Favorite Stickers  

Jonathan's Favorite Stickers  

One of the Busy Aisles

One of the Busy Aisles

If Gucci, Chanel, LV is beyond your reach; Zara, H&M, Mango has bored you out, where else can you go if you wanna do some shopping and have some fun on the weekend? Wholesale market! There are many wholesale markets in Beijing featuring costumes and shoes, commodities, or electronic & digital products. Wholesale market is one of the most popular shopping places in Beijing among locals. The market is huge in size and it offers you commodities with decent quality and very cheap price. 

Store of Belts

Store of Belts

  If you ask me what is the most popular wholesale market for costumes and shoes, I will tell you for sure that it's the Zoo Market. To be honest, I had never been to the Zoo Market until this past weekend! I was always freaked out by the idea or the misunderstanding of shopping in wholesale market. I used to think shopping there is just like fighting the store owners over a few bucks and getting yelled at if you bargain too much, but not anymore.

 

Cute Contact Lenses Cases

Cute Contact Lenses Cases

It's called Zoo Market because the market is near the Beijing Zoo. The market is massive with many tall buildings lined up on streets and underground stores for you to explore. We went to the underground market where there are clothes with better qualities and more reasonable prices.

Shoes Shoes Shoes

Shoes Shoes Shoes

Jonathan, the only boy in the group, was definitely the biggest winner of the day! Although there are way more girlie stuff than things for guys he still picked a good number of items from his favorite brand Supreme such as stickers, Iphone case, and some baseball cups.

It was a bummer that we got there when they were almost closing so we didn't get to spend as much time as we wanted. But since now I know shopping there is far from bargaining on top of my voice and getting yelled at by greedy store owners I will definitely go back again.

 

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Great Wall Camping Trip

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So two weeks ago we went camping on the Great Wall. We just, you know, slept on top of the world's longest wall in one of the towers. No big deal. (Yes, I know you are jealous.)

We went to this part of the Great Wall in the Jiankou area known as the Wild Wall, in that it is kept in its original condition, unlike Badaling, the section that most sensible tourists choose to visit.

We booked a van to get to the Xizhazi Village, where we could hike up to the top of the Wall. The driver was a little grumpy when he’s told he was to spend the night in his van, so we found him a nice little family inn. We also had lunch there.

The hike took us about two hours. It was a nice sunny day, but most of the time we walked in shades, so the sun was not too unbearable. Everyone was nevertheless drenched in sweat when we reached the top (no regrets).

We started a fire and cooked foil dinner. I’ve never had so many kabobs in one go.

Each of us brought yoga mats and blankets, and set up our sleeping place inside a tower. The corridors were small and we had to squeeze ourselves a bit, which turned out to be a good thing because the night was colder than I expected. It also rained, but mercifully stopped in an hour or so, to save us from a night in puddles.

Anyway, I slept pretty well, cuddling up with my roommates. Everyone woke up earlier than usual in the morning. Some of us went on small adventures, exploring routes and towers nearby.

Hiking down took much less effort, although we had to be careful with our steps. The van was in perfect silence on the way back with everybody sound asleep. I do welcome more of this satisfied exhaustion.

- Kaixin Bao

 

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Summer Palace & A new website

I was going to make a really cool Summer Palace blog post but one of my lovely cohorts beat me to it. So I’ll just give my 5 cents.

It’s not really much of a palace, more of a large hill and a big lake.

The best part was the group trying to get a boat with a motor and a boat where you bike to go the same way at the same speed. We mostly just gave up and had a picnic in the middle of the lake consisting of bread, Nutella, peanut butter, and jelly.

Boats on the Summer Palace Lake

Boats on the Summer Palace Lake

Blond people actually do get asked for pictures apparently.

Heidi Klum is getting a little sick of the paparazzi

Heidi Klum is getting a little sick of the paparazzi

Religious studies can actually be useful in real life.

 

Justin showing us the correct way to meditate

Justin showing us the correct way to meditate

So this week @ WUHAO I’m helping the big boss finally create an actual website where things can be bought and products explored and all that good stuff that we take for granted in this age of technology.

Just because we work in a 16th century Chinese garden doesn’t mean we should adhere to 16th century Chinese practices. Anyway, building a fancy website takes fancy technology and a whole lot of pictures and information to put together, so I’m gonna go get started.

Here is a picture of the cats that live at WUHAO.

 

Only WUHAO cats take naps on Innovo chairs

Only WUHAO cats take naps on Innovo chairs

- Percia Verlin

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A Warm Welcome…Or a Hot One, Really

So the urban legend goes like this: if your Chinese friends have hot pot gatherings without you, you probably need to reconsider your friendship…

Okay, I may have exaggerated a bit. But what’s a better way to welcome MCO’s new summer interns to China than a cozy night with hot pot?

This past Saturday we had a welcome dinner for the new interns at Hai Di Lao, a wildly popular hot pot chain famous for its five star service, unlimited free snacks, and Kung-Fu-style “noodle dance”.

Chris asked a waitress to show us around the kitchen. Apparently this was something you could just ask for here at Hai Di Lao.

Isn’t it reassuring to know what your dishes look like when you are ordering?

Isn’t it reassuring to know what your dishes look like when you are ordering?

It was a great challenge for the new arrivals to put meat and vegetables that they couldn’t even name into their bowls; luckily, our interns are an adventurous group.

Everyone is excited to cook for themselves…except for Percia who’s probably wondering what kind of food she’s been tricked into eating

Everyone is excited to cook for themselves…except for Percia who’s probably wondering what kind of food she’s been tricked into eating

Meatballs and mushrooms in tomato soup

Meatballs and mushrooms in tomato soup

Happy faces!

Happy faces!

- Kaixin Bao

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Day Trip to the Summer Palace with MCO

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Day Trip to the Summer Palace with MCO

If you ask me what excites me more than fancy parties and shopping for new shoes, the answer is—day trip with besties! This past Sunday My China Opportunity took our interns and their friends out on a day trip to the Summer Palace.

Jonathan (left) and Justin (right) outside the gate at the Summer Palace

Jonathan (left) and Justin (right) outside the gate at the Summer Palace

Finally got into the park. Journey starts here!

Finally got into the park. Journey starts here!

To three of our interns, Justin, Jonathan, and Ann, this is their very first outing in China since they just arrived last Friday. Immersing themselves in Chinese culture and experiencing as much as they can is the purpose of this trip.

Houses from the old days

Houses from the old days

First group photo. Everyone is happy and pumped

First group photo. Everyone is happy and pumped

Long before the trip started Jonathan and Ann got themselves “in trouble.” As two newbies in town, not knowing much about the city, Jonathan and Ann hopped on the wrong train coming from their place to the park! Instead of taking the short path on the subway line, which is a circle, they went all the way to the other direction and stayed on the train for almost 30 stops. Hands up if you need to learn Chinese, Jonathan & Ann!

Beautiful scene at the park

Beautiful scene at the park

Interns hiking in the park   

Interns hiking in the park

 

The Summer Palace is always packed, especially Sundays; even the ticket box was surrounded by hundreds of people trying to get the tickets! However, Chris, our group leader who has been living in Beijing for almost four years, “strategically“ got the tickets for all of us with no waiting in lin. How so? He cut the line, just like any other tourist there, of course.

 

Greens that you don’t see in the city

Greens that you don’t see in the city

A cute corner we found in the park

A cute corner we found in the park

Even as a so-called Beijinger my memory about the Summer Palace is so vague and blurry. I’m so glad that after so many years away from home I got a chance to revisit this beautiful park once again.

Fun group photo along the bridge

Fun group photo along the bridge

Waiting to get on the boat!

Waiting to get on the boat!

Everything is fun when you do it with the right people. Our lovely interns made the hiking in the park a fun thing to do although the sun was not so friendly to us. It was interesting to see how our interns were amazed by little things happened around them. 90-year-old man training Kongfu in the park, the Buddha in the temple, trying the Chinese corn dog, “kidnaped “by Chinese tourists to take pictures with them, all of these things made the trip a memorable one to all of us, but the best part of the day has not come yet.

Interns on the boat

Interns on the boat

Good view of the park from the center of the lake

Good view of the park from the center of the lake

I bet you will never guess out the answer that where we spent the last hour in the park—on the boat! Yes, we rented two boats and got everyone on board to have a unique experience on one of the most famous lakes in China. As the captain of my boat, yea I was the driver of a boat though I don’t even hold a driver’s license, I was having lots of fun navigating with my “crew.”

 

Nora the Captain

Nora the Captain

Feet in the water

Feet in the water

The sun was still high when we left the park. Besides all the excitements and laughter we had on this trip everybody got a nice tan that was from the beautiful summer sunshine.

- Nora Zhou

The bridge

The bridge

Buddha

Buddha

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Moped Excursion to Silver Fox Cave

 - Caitlin Davis

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Great Wall Camping at Jiankou

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Last weekend’s adventure took us to a place called the Wild Wall. It was located in the Jiankou area. This part of the Great Wall is special because it has never been restored and is in it’s natural condition. On some parts of the wall you can see trees and various shrubs coming out of the towers, which makes for an awesome view.

To get to this amazing location, we booked a private van from some guy that we meet on the internet. We left from the Dongzhimen area and it took around three hours to arrive to this scenic location.

The hike from the Xizhazi village to the top of the wall took around two hours to reach the top. Since the weather was not so good, we got a little dirty on the way up. I have to say it was a pretty slippy going up and down the mountain. When we arrived to the top of the wall, we decided to camp inside one of the towers. Each of us brought yoga mats, and tarps to sleep on. We also brought foil dinners with us, which we prepared beforehand and tasted awesome after they had been sitting on coals for quite sometime. For anyone camping on the Great Wall, I recommend checking out the Jiankou Area. For hikers that are looking for a shorter trail make sure to go to the Xizhazi village, which is much shorter then actually starting from Jiankou.

 - Ryan Huerter

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Making Dumplings- Jiaozi (饺子) with MCO Interns

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Many of the interns that come to China always ask how to make simple Chinese dishes that they can easily make at home. This Saturday Miranda and I decided to teach the participants in our winter intake how to make Chinese dumplings.

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Making Chinese dumplings is extremely easy, but very time consuming because the dough takes time to kneed. After the dough has risen you need to cut out little circle pieces to put the filling inside of. The dumplings we made this time had part spinach and pork inside of them. They actually quite taste when the final product is finished.

 

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After the dumplings were complete, we decided to boil them for a few minutes and then pan fried them. Dumplings taste really good when they are actually slightly fried. When you eat them we put a little bit of dumpling vinegar and spicy peppers.

It was a lot of work but a great learning experience for our China interns. I hope our interns in China return home and teach their friends/family how to make jiaozi!

If you are interested in learning how to make dumplings, you may visit Our Chinafied World: How to make Jiaozi? blog post.

- Christopher Cheung

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