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Determining to dive headlong into the Chinese culture was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. That old cliché, “You get out what you put in” is true when it comes to moving abroad.

A fun way to immerse yourself is to participate in activities that Chinese people love. While all of these skills are helpful and applicable to life in China, don’t forget that some of them will be useful when you return home, too.

Here are 7 skills you can learn in China.

1. Play a Sport

Before moving to China, I had never played badminton. My school had a gym with badminton nets, and my Chinese coworkers were more than willing to teach me. Even though I was terrible—and I mean terrible—when I began, I had a lot of fun learning and seeing my progress.

Ping pong is another classic sport in China. I was also surprised by how much the Chinese love basketball. At school, your coworkers or students would be thrilled to play with you. Children frequently asked me if I liked playing basketball. There are community courts at many parks, too, if you want to play with friends.

Learning a new sport can be a fun way to stay in shape while living in China.

2. Learn an Instrument

If you’re musically inclined, take lessons to learn to play a new instrument. My favorite traditional Chinese instrument is the guzheng, which is a plucked zither. I also enjoy listening to people play the dizi, or bamboo flute.

If you want to pick up an instrument that is more common back home, seek out violin lessons. I knew numerous Chinese people who played violin proficiently.

3. Study Chinese

Enroll in private Mandarin or Cantonese lessons, depending on what part of China you live in. If you don’t want to spend money on building your language skills, you can simply be intentional about engaging in conversations with Chinese people.

Of course, learning Chinese will improve your quality of life during your time abroad. But don’t forget that the Chinese language is a valuable skill to take back home, too. Mandarin is becoming increasingly beneficial in international business, so speaking or writing the language looks great on an application.

4. Write Calligraphy

Calligraphy is a classic Chinese art and valued pastime. It’s also a fun way to practice and memorize Chinese characters.

Ask your Chinese coworkers where you can buy a reusable sheet, or a scroll you can write on with water that fades as it dries. This way, you can keep polishing your skills without buying a ton of scrolls.

5. Take a Tai Chi Class

Tai chi is a Chinese martial art that is known to have many health benefits. People consider this art a good way to relax, destress, and focus on breathing.

If you live in a city, you’ll see small groups of people practicing tai chi together everywhere—outside your apartment building, on sidewalks, and in parks. My school even offered teachers free lessons after school on Mondays!

6. Cook

If your apartment has a kitchen, experiment with cooking something other than grilled chicken. Or in my case, a peanut butter sandwich. (My using the word “cook” in the same sentence with peanut butter sandwiches should give you some indication as to my level of culinary prowess.)

Look up Chinese recipes or try to recreate your favorite dishes from local restaurants. Markets, and even places like Walmart, should have all the ingredients and spices you need.

Each Chinese province has at least one signature dish. Bonus points if you learn to cook the traditional food of the province you live in!

7. Quilling

Oh, how to explain quilling? When you quill, you roll paper and glue it together to create decorative pictures. Most people use an automatic quilling tool, which makes the activity more fun than tedious. Once you get the hang of it, you can even decorate trinkets with the paper, such as boxes, hair barrettes, and even globes! Yes, I’ve seen it done.

Many Chinese people love quilling, so ask a Chinese friend to show you the ropes.

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SDE International - Shenzhen

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About the Author:

Laura Grace Tarpley
Laura Grace Tarpley is a freelance writer and English teacher in Shenzhen, China. She enjoys tinkering with crossword puzzles, reading Bill Bryson books, and taking naps on her huge couch. Follow her travels on her Instagram and Twitter. Or you can check out her blog, Let’s Go, Tarpley!
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