The Stages of Settling In
Food You Can Eat!
Give yourself some time to settle in: if you arrive at your university just as the term is about to begin, you may be overwhelmed by all that is new and strange, and you may be unable to concentrate on your course during the first few weeks.
Give yourself about a week to get to know the locality: the place where you will be staying (whether it’s student accommodation or a rented property), and the whereabouts of the local shops and facilities – such as a bank, a post office, a doctor’s surgery, a Chinese supermarket.
Give yourself about another week to get to know the layout of your university: the places where you can eat, the libraries in which you can study, the student groups that you can join – if you are so minded. A university will usually have a separate orientation week for overseas students, an ideal time to obtain all the relevant information, to meet all the relevant people.
Then when your course begins, you’ll be able to concentrate on it without the presence of multiple distractions.
You may well find that the food eaten by the natives of the country where you are studying to be … well … inedible! Quite apart from the issue of taste, for some individuals the ingestion of unfamiliar food can alter the gut microbiota, which may lead to distressing symptoms – not what you want when you’re starting out on a demanding course in a strange environment.
There is, however, another reason why eating familiar foods can have a beneficial impact on your state of mind: living abroad can prove lonely, especially at first; but indulging in, luxuriating in – nay mollycoddling yourself with – some familiar and much-loved food can temporarily transport you back home – before you have to start in on yet another tedious tract from your reading list.
The good news is that because so many Chinese students study overseas, there are many businesses that are only too willing to provide you with the food items you cherish the most.
Online Chinese Supermarkets
For a start, there are online suppliers that will ship food to any destination within the country where you are studying. Apart from the well-known general-purpose retailers, such as Amazon and eBay, there are many online Chinese supermarkets. Just search using the appropriate keywords:
Chinese supermarket <Country> online
For example, Chinese students studying in the UK would find that a search returns the following suppliers:
Bricks-and-Mortar Chinese Supermarkets
A Home Away from Home
Even better, a city large enough to host a university is large enough to host a number of bricks-and-mortar Chinese supermarkets. Just search using the appropriate keywords:
Chinese supermarket <City>
Either an online or a bricks-and-mortar supermarket may be the best, depending on whether there is somewhere a courier can leave the food if you’re not in, depending on what sort of transport you have access to, depending on how much time you have to go shopping.
One advantage of a bricks-and-mortar supermarket is that it may give you an opportunity to meet people, other than students, who speak your language – helping a little to create that “home away from home”.
As a Chinese student studying abroad, you might find it to be lonely experience – especially at the beginning. So, before you start your course, make an effort to create a “home away from home”.
Bring some favoured personal treasures with you, whether films, or music, or books, or anything else that takes your fancy. You might find the Fresher’s Guide, published by the University of Cambridge Chinese Society, to be of interest (click to download). While most of the material is focused on life at Cambridge, it contains a useful section on packing tips (it also contains other information generally applicable to the UK, information on Biometric Residence Permits and police registration, for example).
Prearrange with family and friends to have the occasional chat on Skype. Once you arrive at your overseas destination, ensure that you will have access to the food you like. An overseas university will have many Chinese students, and so make an effort during orientation week to find fellow Chinese speakers who share your interests and enthusiasms.
Once you’ve created this home away from home, you’ll find it much easier to focus on your coursework. You’ll also have more confidence when it comes to engaging with students from different backgrounds – though absorbing the local culture and interacting with people from other countries is an optional extra.
Existential angst is an awareness, perception, understanding that life is lacking in meaning. It is invariably accompanied by feelings of hopelessness and despair. Existential angst is prevalent among those who are introverted, who are keen observers of life, and who think deeply – and who are thus more readily drawn to the philosophy of existentialism.
As such, existential angst can affect you no matter where in the world you are studying. However, it is much more likely to manifest itself when studying abroad in an unfamiliar country, particularly if you have limited contact with other students who share your background, and especially if by nature you are shy and diffident. Studying in a Western country – with its identity politics and its lack of shared values – cannot but intensify your sense of meaningless and exacerbate your discomfort.
The feelings of depression and the sense of despair at the heart of existential angst can destroy your motivation to study, and so it’s important to find a way to restore some sense of meaning, to re-establish some sense of purpose. Talking to someone who understands your feelings is the best approach – after all, a burden shared is a burden halved. If you can’t find such a person, then the next best option is to keep a journal, to write down your thoughts and feelings: expressing yourself in this concrete manner will assist in alleviating your sense of hopelessness. Keeping busy will also help, even if you don’t feel interested in what it is you are doing. Existential angst can dissipate over time – at least to some extent – so “hang on in there”!