We have Starbucks and Tesco, but no kosher meat

Exchange years can be a fascinating part of student life. Here, Hope Allsuch, 19, describes her time in China

By Marcus Dysch, December 22, 2011
Checking out the Great Wall of China

Checking out the Great Wall of China

When I began my business course at the University of Nottingham I never in my wildest dreams thought I'd be moving all the way to the other side of the world to a city called Ningbo, in China, as part of my degree.

Arriving for my exchange year I asked myself what I was doing. China is completely different to home, and Ningbo especially so. It was hot and sticky. I had mosquito bites all over me. The toilets were "squatters" and it is normal to see children do their messy business on the pavement or in the local shopping centres. It was not the best first impression.

Added to this, I was the only non-Chinese student in my French class. It's quite hard translating from Mandarin to English, let alone to French. There are only eight Jews studying here.

Food is a big issue. Having no kosher chicken or meat is a challenge. It has been almost impossible to keep kosher here. There are Western stores such as Walmart and Tesco, but they are only Western to an extent. They sell live bullfrogs and crabs but do have an imported foods section, which usually includes pasta, olive oil, raisins and Heinz ketchup.

Starbucks is increasingly popular here - it's like heaven to me. Most students in Ningbo eat street food from stalls where you can get almost anything. Prices range from 4p to the most expensive items at just 90p. You can buy naan bread and obviously noodles and rice. However, I don't trust the street food - it's known to be extremely unhygienic.

Visiting Beijing's Forbidden City

Visiting Beijing's Forbidden City

Unfortunately in Ningbo there is no Chabad centre, so for Rosh Hashanah we trekked to Shanghai. The experience was amazing. But Shanghai is quite a distance away (some 140 miles).

Thankfully my mother sent me to China with a mini bottle of grape juice and packets of chicken soup. So one Friday night in the kitchen of my accommodation we made kiddush. We had plenty of intrigued onlookers.

We even held a Yom Kippur service here. We managed to download the prayers on the internet and turned one boy's room into a synagogue.

My favourite thing here is all the random Chinese people who take photos of you just because you're Western. You feel a bit like a celebrity.

Living in international halls is a blessing; there are people from all over the world, from Russia, Australia, Panama. I've learnt so much being here. My Mandarin has improved but it's also been a personal experience which has made me more independent.

China has opened my eyes and made me realise how lucky and blessed I am.

Last updated: 11:38am, December 22 2011