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Communication in China

By: Jess Livinghouse, SOC Blogger, Spring 2014

I will never forget the feeling I had when I woke up my first morning at The Beijing Center. I didn’t have a cell phone or internet connection and I was hungry. But I didn’t know where to find food, let alone how to read a menu once I found a restaurant. I felt like a helpless baby in a conscious, adult body.

My girlfriend and I, along with two other students, arrived in Beijing a day before the rest of our classmates. We got to campus around 1 a.m. and didn’t have a chance to get our bearings before passing out from the jet lag.

Waking up the next morning made me realize just how much I took communication for granted. I had traveled to other countries before and never had trouble communicating. I suppose I must’ve relied on foreigners having a basic knowledge of English. China was a different ballgame and I totally underestimated it.

Despite reading that more than 300 million Chinese speak English, my own experiences told me that number is exaggerated or that many Chinese are shy when speaking English with foreigners.

With the help of Beijing Center staff and teachers, other students, tutors, and countless strangers, I gradually built my foundation in Beijing. I practiced the Chinese I learned in class and slowly became more self-sufficient. Every little accomplishment in China became a huge milestone for me: the first time I ordered dumplings or the first time I was able to introduce myself to someone and tell them where I was from.


Over the course of the semester my communication skills grew from those of a baby to those of a four-year-old child. It sounds like a joke but I couldn’t have been happier. I will never forget the time my friend Dan and I were talking with a cab driver on the way to dinner. The driver’s face lit up when I told him I was from Chicago. He said Michael Jordan was his favorite basketball player and that his new wife was very beautiful (Michael Jordan had just been remarried that week in April 2013). It was the highlight of Dan and I’s night.


For many of us, communication is such a natural part of our lives that we forget how powerful it is and how difficult it can be. China taught me that communication skills aren’t just given to us; we have to earn them, one cab driver and dumpling shop at a time.

About me:

My name is Jess Livinghouse and I’m a senior studying advertising and public relations. I currently work at a local non-profit as a communications assistant. I get excited about live music, trying new food and technology that improves lives. Be sure to check back on the School of Communication blog for my weekly updates!

  • By Christine Tibbetts on 3.18.2014 at 9:40 pm

    Earning and expanding communications skills — thank you for guiding appreciation.

  • By Kate on 3.19.2014 at 6:38 am

    So interesting! I can’t wait to hear more. China is fascinating, but seems intimidating.