An online magazine of news and opinions from the Asia New Zealand Foundation

Consulate General intern discovers there's a lot to 'figure out' about China

Caitlyn Poole says she went to China on a Foundation residency wanting to 'figure out' the country but quickly realised the scale of the task. However, during her three-month residency at the New Zealand Consulate General in Chengdu, Caitlyn learnt a lot about Chinese culture, business and society, and gained insights into her own culture in the process.

Caitlyn describes her experiences as a New Zealander living and working in China. (continue reading below)

Caitlyn standing beside a horse with a snowy mountain behind her

I decided to come to China to figure out for myself, what life is really like here.

As New Zealand’s most important export market, China is a country that graces the headlines of our newspapers daily. In conversations, most people seem to have extreme opinions on China; either very positive or negative.

As someone who studied agricultural science, and who grew up in the dairy industry, my exposure to China-focused conversations was perhaps greater than the average New Zealander.

It has always been a place that I have recognised as important, and I wanted to form my own opinion; when I saw the Foundation's internship at the New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade in Chengdu, China, I saw the perfect opportunity to do this.  

A group of friends playing up for the camera in a restaurant

Day-to-day work life varied massively. On any day I might be conducting research for a report about how local governments in China finance themselves, organising a New Zealand cultural event, sitting in a round-table meeting or attending universities with New Zealand visitors. I attended seminars where businesses and other foreign consulates shared insights on overcoming the challenges that entrepreneurs and start-ups face in China, and I attend meetings with NZTE (New Zealand Trade and Enterprise), as they worked behind the scenes to help Kiwis to become future exporters to China.

I had an amazing time, but I can’t say I 'figured out' China. The ‘small’ city of Chengdu (with a measly population of 14 million- hah!) is a great place to transition into China.

The way of life, so I’ve heard, is slower here than in the tier one cities - such as Beijing and Shanghai - that we constantly hear about and the people are quite laidback.

Getting around the city is extremely easy with a very modern subway system and free bikes on every street. The food in this region is spicy, and rabbit heads are a favourite of the locals - it’s not uncommon to see brains served.

I have been lucky enough to experience living in both a Chinese family and an apartment with people my age.

Living in the family for my first month allowed me to experience first-hand some massive cultural differences.

They were an amazing family that always made me feel really welcome, but I gained a new appreciation for the freedom we have in New Zealand. To be independent and able to make your own decisions from quite an early age is something we take for granted.

Photo of Chinese intern host family

Chengdu is really well known for being the home of the Panda. But it certainly has a lot more to offer. My favourite trip so far was to Qingcheng mountain, just 40 minutes away by bullet train. It is considered one of the birthplaces of Taoism and one of the most important Taoist centres in China.

We hiked the three hours to the top of the back mountain and explored the temples and caves on the way. The best way to escape the city.

China is vast, multi-faceted and complex. As the saying goes: if you've been in China a week you could write a book; a month, you might feel you can write an article; a year, you can't write anything at all.

I would encourage anyone who has the interest to also take the leap and check out this interesting country for themselves.

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1 August 2018