This is my first foray into living in a foreign country. Back in college, I never had a chance to study abroad, which left me with the curiosity of what it would be like living in another country. I felt that China would really give me a chance to get out of my comfort zone and meet new people outside of my usual network of friends, so I decided to pack my bags and begin a job search overseas. When I first arrived in China, I realized that it was very difficult to meet new people without strong Chinese language skills, so I didn’t know where to turn to. However, after starting work, I quickly noticed that lunchtime in China is an excellent time to build camaraderie with foreign coworkers and make new friends once you put in the effort.
My first day at work proved to be interesting. There were so many different choices for lunch that I couldn’t decide what to eat. I decided to settle for a black bean noodle dish called Zha Jiang Mian. As a Korean American, I had been so accustomed to eating the Korean version called Jjajangmyun, but I was eager to test out the original version of the dish. I gave my 10 Yuan to the restaurant owner and quickly snagged a seat next to my coworkers in the outdoor eating area. At first, I was a little hesitant to bust out my Chinese language skills as I am still a little self-conscious on my pronunciation skills. I silently started to dig into my Zha Jiang Mian when I heard someone next to me ask, “Ni Jiao Shenme Mingzi? (What is your name?)” I softly replied, “Joey” and went about my business and finished my meal.
That night, I decided the only way I will ever truly immerse myself in Chinese language and culture and ultimately build new relationships is to at least put in an effort in talking with my coworkers in Chinese. The next day, the team went out again to eat lunch together. This time, I equipped myself with a few questions that I wanted to ask everybody. I asked the typical questions, such as “What is your name”, “Where are you from”, “Can you speak English”, etc. I waited nervously for a response and it turns out everyone was extremely nice and receptive to my attempts at improving my Chinese language skills. We then began making small talk about what areas they were from and even discussed their favorite Korean TV dramas and singers!
Everyone seems to be extremely helpful and open to the fact that a foreigner is here trying their best at learning a new and difficult language. Based on my limited experience here so far, I can see that meal time in China seems to be a very sacred social event. Whether its lunch or dinner, people just seem to enjoy taking time out of their day to gather with friends and coworkers to share a nice meal. Lunchtime here in Beijing gives coworkers a chance to get away from the office and simply interact with each other on a purely social level. I truly feel that this helps build great camaraderie with coworkers (either new or current), which can make the working environment that much more fluid and successful.
Obviously, plenty of people back in the States often enjoy these types of interactions on a daily basis with their office mates (based on the size and availability of time in their office). However, working in Beijing has really given me a chance to connect with some extremely interesting people that I would have never had a chance of meeting before as long as I put in the effort. Hopefully, I can continue my journey here in Beijing and build on the relationships that I have started to make!