Everything else girls need to know about studying abroad in the Eastern hemisphere. Period.
This is the second post covering everything girl’s need to know about studying abroad in Asia. (In this particular case, it happens to be just about everything China related, but we’re hoping to expand it in the future.) Like I said last time, girl issues are really the only major aspect of study abroad that I have no experience in, but the reality is that it’s something girls need to take into consideration well in advance. So again with the help of The Study Abroad Blog’s first official guest blogger, we present to you “The Girl’s Guide To Studying Abroad In Asia – Part 2”.
This guest post is by Alexis Cobau.
In “The Girl’s Guide To Studying Abroad In Asia – Part 1“, we covered topics related to female hygiene, health, and daily habits abroad. In this section, we’ll get into something almost as important – clothing and cosmetics.
Clothing – What To Expect And What To Pack:
When it comes to clothing, I would suggest bringing things that can be easily washed, and that you don’t necessarily care a lot about. You can always buy more fashionable clothes in your country (and there’s a good chance you’ll want to, because you’ll probably stick out like a sore thumb in your American-style jeans and t-shirt) but it’ll be hard to replace your favorite outfit from back home. From what I’ve noticed, the average Chinese woman tends to be more put-together and dressed-up than the average American woman (e.g. our teachers often wore beautiful dresses and heels), so you’ll probably feel a bit under-dressed and will want to go shopping sooner rather than later.
– A Note From Nate: Another thing you’ll realize is that people, especially women, will wear the same outfit multiple days in a row. It’s considered totally acceptable for both locals and foreigners and is one of the many reasons you don’t need to pack a large amount of clothing.
Keep in mind the standards of modesty in the country that you’re studying abroad in, and do a bit of research beforehand if you can. Even though it was summer when I went to China, shorts that were shorter than your basic bermuda-length were almost scandalous. (Of course, this isn’t always the case, since I saw some Chinese teenagers wearing shorter shorts without a problem.) It’s best, though, to just err on the side of caution. If you’re serious about learning a culture and a language, you want to blend in rather than make yourself a spectacle.
Different Country Means Different Sizes:
If you’re one of the unlucky girls with a size 7 1/2 foot or above, chances are you aren’t going to be able to find women’s shoes in your size. Therefore, it’s imperative that you bring with you every kind and style of shoe that you would need. I would suggest bringing one pair of formal shoes, walking shoes, flip flops and tennis shoes at the very least.
There is one exception to this, and it’s things like slippers, sandals, and/or flats that you wear around the house. Buying these types of shoes should be easier, since for the most part, they seem to be unisex and sized small, medium, and large. For example, my host parents bought me a pair of flip-flops to wear around the apartment (in fact, they bought them beforehand, without even knowing my shoe size, which is 8 1/2 to 9), and they fit me perfectly.
– Note: Finding a suitable bra in China is no easy task. There’s a whole different sizing system and they’re very expensive. You’re better off just bringing a good amount of bras that fit you from home.
Washing And Drying Your Clothes:
For many families in MANY MANY countries around the world, washing machines in homes just plain DO NOT exist. You’ll be hand washing your clothes or carting them to a laundromat (which is why I suggested bringing things you wouldn’t be absolutely devastated over if they got ruined). In China, washing machines are generally a lot smaller than in America, they don’t use an agitator, and some don’t even have a rinse cycle.
In the case of a washing machine without a rinse cycle, you’ll have to pour out the water and do the rinsing and wringing-out by hand, which takes a lot of effort. In my host family’s home, this involved squatting on the floor and cleaning the clothes in three basins of water that had to be emptied and refilled several times. While dryers are less common than washers, there’s usually a large,enclosed balcony where you can hang your clothes to dry.
Some Notes On Packing:
I strongly advise against bringing more than a travel size bottle of shampoo, conditioner, etc. in your suitcase. It’s a ton of weight and space in your luggage, and there’s really no point in taking it, as you can find something comparable overseas that’s probably cheaper anyway (they even have Herbal Essence, Dove, Pantene, etc. in China).
Even if they are a little more expensive, you’ll thank yourself when you can pack an extra pair of shoes (much more important), your luggage is lighter, and you’ve ensured you won’t have anything exploding in your bag. A travel size will at minimum last you the time it takes for you to pop into a drug store or grocery store and grab whatever it is you need.
I also strongly suggest keeping some clothes in your carry-on. When I studied abroad, we spent a few days in orientation before going to our host families houses in our respective cities. It’s nice not to have to “break into” your jam-packed suitcase when you’re just staying in a hotel overnight. Also, if your luggage is held back or, worst case scenario – lost, you won’t be walking around in China in the same pair of underwear for multiple days.
Finally, Americans are also notorious, especially in China, for over-packing. When it comes to traveling in or around China, keep your luggage on the light side, especially if you know you’re going to be on a train. Bring a medium sized rolling suitcase, a backpack, and a purse at the most. A large suitcase will earn you a lot of dirty looks on a train, and you’ll probably have to lug it up a bunch of stairs to get to where you’re staying (which will not be fun). Only bring what’s absolutely necessary – you’ll be surprised at the small amount of things that you REALLY need to bring. Chinese stores will have everything else.
And a few words before you go:
You’re about to have one of the best experiences of your life (whether or not you actually realize it while you’re on the trip). I’m not going to say much else, other than if you approach things with an open mind, you’ll surprise yourself with how much you learn and grow as an individual. Be safe and have fun!
As a rising high school senior, Alexis studied abroad in Harbin, China in the summer of 2010 on an NSLI-Y scholarship from the State Department.
If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to leave them below!
NOTE: If you are a girl who has in the past or is currently studying abroad in an Asian country other than China, we’d love to have you contribute your knowledge to “The Girls Guide To Studying Abroad In Asia”!
This post was written by a guest contributor. Please see their details in the post above. If you’d like to guest post for The Study Abroad Blog, check out the Guest Posting Guidelines page for details about how you can share your tips with the study abroad community.