Viewing entries in
Social Activities

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

Comment

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.

Comment

Comment

Wangfujing Snack Street

It’s been about a month since I’ve been in China and I can confidently say that China has one of the most diverse food landscapes in the world.

From spicy Sichuan street food to extravagant Beijing duck, the phrase “Chinese food’ doesn’t even begin to cover the vastness of what you can find here. 

Backtrack to three weeks ago, when my roommates and I decided to embrace our inner tourists and go to Wangfujing. I remember once watching Andrew Zimmern’s Bizarre Foods on the Travel Chanel and watching him eat Thousand Year Old Eggs, stinky tofu, and scorpions on a stick. “What an incredibly brave man. I’ll probably never do that in my life!” Little did I know that I would one day find myself in Beijing doing just that. 

Of course, the first thing we see when we enter the incredibly narrow and aromatic snack street was squirming scorpions on a stick, right next to the starfish, silk worms, and deep fried lizards. The scorpions were literally squirming to show how fresh they were. “NO WAY. I’M NOT ANDREW ZIMMERN.” I thought. However, one stick had three scorpions and my two roommates had already taken a scorpion for themselves, leaving the last one for me. After seeing their somehow complacent faces upon finishing their grub, I gave in. “What the heck.” I thought. “I’m in Beijing and it’s now or never.” To my relief, the scorpion tasted like very salty potato chips. I had to close my eyes, though. Would I eat it again?  Probably. Would I willingly order it? Probably not. But at least I have a cool story to tell. 

Although I forgot to take a picture that monumental moment of culinary exploration, I did manage to take a picture of myself happily scarfing down some stinky tofu. Stinky tofu was another must-try food Andrew Zimmern had the pleasure of tasting. Like durian fruit (which is one of very few foods I detest), it smelled of death and old feet but instead tasted quite savory and enjoyable. Topped with cilantro, peppers, and peanuts, the tofu was rather tasty. Immediately afterwards I downed two water bottles and five breath mints. The “stinky” part of stinky tofu is no joke. 

It seems that you can never go hungry here. There is food EVERYWHERE. If you’re hungry, the nearest restaurant is probably less than half a block away.

If you’re not in the mood for a sit-down meal, there are always smaller restaurants peddling their snack-sized wraps and kabobs. And for the truly adventurous you can try out the street food.

3.jpg

Comment

Comment

Weekend's with Wong, Color Run

It has been a month that I've been looking forward to this event, The Color Run. To top it off, this was the weekend right after my last friday as an intern for YMBY. We made good time on the way there and followed the crowd to the registration. 

 

Picture of me and Ann--Before we got into it

Picture of me and Ann--Before we got into it

After we got running, it honestly felt like we were in an oven. It just so happened that this summer was the hottest that Beijing has ever seen. I think my favorite part was that it was ok to throw starch at random people, without them giving you dirty looks.

Picture of me with all the red-- In a sea of red at first checkpoint

Picture of me with all the red-- In a sea of red at first checkpoint

All in all this was a great experience and great to have things to take my mind off the stress built up at work. 

Comment

Comment

Weekend BBQ

Barbecue! One never gets tired of it. The past Saturday may be a little bit too hot for such an occasion, but since everyone was up for it, the summer interns of MCO gathered at Chris and Miranda’s lovely roof garden with steaks, sausages, and other food we bought at Jenny Lou’s. 

Eating is fun; so is cooking

Eating is fun; so is cooking

Chris was in charge of the grilling. Most of us just kind of hung around playing with Fancy (who's a cat that resembles Puss in Boots to such an extent it's actually scary).

Chris is happy with his food! 

Chris is happy with his food! 

It was hot on the roof so we hid in the shade

It was hot on the roof so we hid in the shade

The best part of the BBQ was unarguably the dessert. We stuffed chocolate into bananas and grilled them, before mixing them up with vanilla ice cream. I could eat this and nothing else for the rest of my life, but my superego scolded me of putting so much sugar into my future plans. Anyway, it doesn't hurt to have some sweets for a lazy Saturday afternoon, does it?

- Kaixin Bao

Comment

Comment

Great Wall Camping Trip

greatwall25.jpg

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

 

Comment

Comment

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

Comment

Comment

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

Comment

Day Trip to the Summer Palace with MCO

Comment

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

Comment

Chilling @ Kerry Center

Comment

Chilling @ Kerry Center

Wine on display

Wine on display

Fine wine, delicious drinks, well made snacks. What is more to ask for on a nice Thursday night? The interns from My China Opportunity had a fun night at Beijing Kerry Center this past Thursday.

It was my first time at Kerry Center and I quickly fell in love with the romantic atmosphere there. The crowd wasn’t that big but everyone seemed relaxed and having a good time.

 

Jason, Kaixin, and Nora (From left to right)

Jason, Kaixin, and Nora (From left to right)

Jason, as the only young gentleman there, surrounded by ladies

Jason, as the only young gentleman there, surrounded by ladies

Jason, one of our interns, was definitely the Star of the Night. Ladies in their 30’s came to start conversations with Jason throughout the night, which was quite a scene to the rest of us.

The night just started getting busier when the three of us were about to take off. I will come back for sure to try the fancy drinks with delicious names!

 - Nora Zhou

The romantic atmosphere makes everyone feel relaxed

The romantic atmosphere makes everyone feel relaxed

Comment

Initial Fashion: The Luxury Experience

Comment

Initial Fashion: The Luxury Experience

Women’s selection at Initial Fashion

Women’s selection at Initial Fashion

Last week Beijing welcomed the relaunch of Initial Fashion, a boutiques and specialties store from Hong Kong.

 

The relaunch of Initial Fashion is a call for the rich hipsters in town.

Wandering in the store we can see aesthetic designs with a taste of old-day European style everywhere.

 

Exquisite decor can be seen everywhere in the store with a sense of romance

Exquisite decor can be seen everywhere in the store with a sense of romance

Designers never ignore any details in the store, not even the ceilings

Designers never ignore any details in the store, not even the ceilings

Initial Fashion presents a style that is a perfect combination of Chinese fashion and Western aesthetics.

The relaunch of Initial Fashion at Sanlitun Village attracted a good crowd of Beijingers as well as International fashion lovers.

 

The relaunch of Initial Fashion at Sanlitun Village attracted a good crowd of Beijingers as well as International fashion lovers.

- Nora Zhou

 

The collections at Initial Fashion are luxurious and visually appealing

The collections at Initial Fashion are luxurious and visually appealing

Comment

Go Green with Shangrila Farms

Comment

Go Green with Shangrila Farms

On May 30th a nice summer evening, Shangrila Farms hosted their investor event at 1949 Bar Veloce, who is famous for its fine wine and cozy atmosphere.

Safi and Sahra speak at the event

Safi and Sahra speak at the event

The founders of Shangrila Farms, Saif Malik and Sahra Malik, were at the event presenting their ideas on creating a line of green food in China and supporting local farmers.

 

Products including coffee beans, honey, and beauty products are presented at the event.

Products including coffee beans, honey, and beauty products are presented at the event.

 Free drinks made with Shangrila Farms’ products were served throughout the night to all guests.

Drinks made with organic coffee and honey

Drinks made with organic coffee and honey

Cute decorations from Shangrila Farms

Cute decorations from Shangrila Farms

 - Nora Zhou

Comment

Comment

Moped Excursion to Silver Fox Cave

 - Caitlin Davis

Comment

Comment

Great Wall Camping at Jiankou

greatwall6.jpg

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

Comment

Comment

Sunday Afternoon at Wangfujing 王府井

On Sunday, we ended up at Wangfujing because Tiananmen was closed due to delegation meetings. It was a good adventure because Connie, one of our participants in our China internship program, needed to buy gifts for her friends & family, as she will complete her internship next month and return home. Wangfujing is known for it’s midnight shopping and strange snacks. After shopping around a bit we had lunch at Xiabu Xiabu.

 - Christopher Cheung

wangfujing1.jpg
wangfujing2.jpg

Comment

Beijing Startup Weekend & Korean BBQ

Comment

Beijing Startup Weekend & Korean BBQ

startUP1.jpg

This weekend we decided it would be awesome for our interns in China to see how start-up organizations operate in Beijing. It was also a chance for them to get to know the entrepreneurial scene here in China. China’s rapidly growing economy is encouraging local Chinese and expats to innovate. Since the economy in China is developing there are countless opportunities for young entrepreneurs to grasp.

This year’s Beijing Startup Weekend had about 50% Chinese and 50% foreign entrepreneurs participating in the event. There were a total of six start-ups pitching their start-up concept to the community. This was a chance for entrepreneurs to show off their new ideas and receive feedback from some angel investors in Beijing. It’s an opportunity for entreprenuers to find venture capital and receive feedback from investors about their business.

The 1st company we saw was called Tuan (团)Go, an organization that has similar characteristics to Groupon, but specifically designed for Chinese companies and consumers. Personally, I didn't think it was very unique, but idea of Groupon in China is still new and has tons of potential because of the massively growing consumer base in China.

The 1st company we saw was called Tuan (团)Go, an organization that has similar characteristics to Groupon, but specifically designed for Chinese companies and consumers. Personally, I didn't think it was very unique, but idea of Groupon in China is still new and has tons of potential because of the massively growing consumer base in China.

After start-up weekend, we took the interns to Korean BBQ where we got to roast different types of food.

Startup3.jpg
Startup4.jpg
Startup5.jpg

- Christopher Cheung

Comment