How To Navigate Cultural Differences During Your Internship Abroad
By Satida Thipasathien on Jan 18, 2023
Following the moon calendar, the Spring Festival or Chinese New Year officially begins with the New Moon and ends when the Full Moon unveils itself in the dark sky. This means that its starting date varies every year. Even so, its purpose: to pray for wealth and prosperity in the coming year, does not wither nor alter with time. Carrying forward its 3,500 years old history, custom, and tradition, Chinese New Year continues to be the number one; most popular festival for native Chinese and their descendants. Each year, the holiday draws more than 1.18 billion Chinese descendants to countries like South Korea, Singapore, and China.
Lasting for 15 days, Chinese New Year is the time of year where families come together to spend quality time together, enjoying food, desserts, and beverages believed to bring good luck. Available only during this time of year, these foods include fish, Chinese dumplings, whole chicken, Chinese New Year cakes, spring rolls, sweet rice balls, longevity noodles, oranges along with many others.
If consuming certain foods can bring you good fortune, carrying out these practices during Chinese New Year could welcome bad omen to your new year. As bizarre as these may sound, they are religiously practiced by those who celebrate. On the first day of Spring Festival, you should never take medicine or pills as it could foreshadow a year of prolonged sickness. Along with that, you should refrain from washing your hair or clothes, sweeping, and taking out the garbage during the Spring Festival! Doing so is equivalent to giving away wealth.
On the topic of money, you should avoid having porridge for breakfast, lunch, dinner, or any other time of day. Yes, even if you are really craving porridge that day, you should not give in to your temptations if you do not want your year to be unfruitful. Sharp pointed objects like needles, scissors, and knives or shards from broken bowls and plates should be avoided at all costs for they have a high tendency to result in high degree accidents. Therefore, they should not be used or given out as New Year gifts.
Murals during Chinese New Year (Source: Jisun Han on Unsplash)
We could stay on the topics of Chinese New Year traditions and taboos for longer but we figure not everyone would find it enjoyable... (If you do, more of that is coming your way!!) So, instead, we thought of discussing some of the more fascinating (and dare we say) topics: like adapting to and navigating these cultural differences! Because, you must at least once have gone to another country— for study, internship, or leisure purposes; or met and interacted with people from another culture.
Let’s face it, if you are not a Chinese descendant yourself, are friends with those who are, or have read books on Chinese New Year, this may be your first time hearing about these Chinese superstitions, taboos, and practices. That, however, is only natural. Your lives revolve around your reality, your truth— that stems from what goes on in the home that you were born into; and what your parents’ and grandparents’ religions and beliefs were (which after some world-seeing’s later, you soon realize that they are your safe place; they are the place you call “home”)
To strip you away from where you belong is not to rid you of the familiar; but to open your eyes to new cultures; other ways of viewing and making sense of the world around you; and make appropriate and positive personal transformations with options presented before you. If it suits your lifestyle, you can always learn to appreciate and embrace them all.
While we understand that breaking out of your comfort zone is not always pleasant; it can be overwhelming! But you should not let that prevent you from taking the first step in starting to learn Chinese cultural etiquette. Don’t be afraid of making mistakes. Not making any mistakes is ideal but if you do, there is no use in beating yourself up. Remember that all of this is new to you! That’s the whole point of putting yourself in the world and experiencing something new and unfamiliar like undertaking an internship abroad this festive season.
If you are considering interning abroad during the Chinese New Year festival, you should try your best to be respectful towards the local customs and traditions. Most importantly, you should be mindful of what you say and do during this time of year as you may risk disrespecting the locals and their traditions. If red is the dress code, it is best to not step out of the line and show up in white or black color shirts which refer to mourning of the cease.
While employees do get seven consecutive days off during Chinese New Year, in 2023, this year's is from 21st - 27th January, work continues the following week. In the professional working environment, it is appropriate to give scarves, hats, gloves, tea sets, and all sorts of electronic appliances if you wish to convey your gratitude and extend well wishes to your fellow seniors during this jolly occasion. Be sure to remove any price tags before handing them to your coworkers and managers! They would appreciate that even if you can’t see it on their faces..!
Unfortunately, cultural barriers are not the only obstacle preventing you from making memorable moments during the Chinese New Year, language barriers could pose an issue as well! With limited knowledge of the local Chinese language, this time of year can be quite difficult and challenging. It is therefore always a good idea to have a translator near you in case of emergency. A friend who is knowledgeable in both languages would do too!
To make the most out of your time abroad, it is vital that you are prepared for cultural differences that you may encounter. Forming a basic understanding of the Chinese customs, traditions, and languages can enrich your experiences during your travel; study; internship abroad. This does not only lay down the foundation of what will grow to become deep-rooted love and appreciation towards Chinese culture but it enables you to see the world around you in a non-judgmental way.
Are you looking to expand your cultural horizons and enhance your personal and professional skills? Apply to AIP for first-hand international internship experiences in China and further!