Senior reflects on a year at Wenzhou-Kean in China

View of the Wenzhou campus Photo Credit: Christian Candelo

View of the Wenzhou campus
Photo Credit: Christian Candelo

By: Andrea Parr

When Kean senior Christian Candelo wore a full gorilla suit out last Halloween he was guaranteed to receive more than a few stares. However, as a foreigner in Wenzhou, China, he was used to attracting attention.

“I felt like an outsider everywhere,” Candelo, Kean senior and finance major, said. “People would stare. Conversations would stop.”

Candelo is one of the 11 students that went last fall on the first of Kean’s exclusive study abroad program with Wenzhou University. Candelo always wanted to study abroad and was planning to go to Japan, when Kean offered a hard-to-pass deal. The university paid for the flights of the first group, meaning students had only tuition and room fees.

Before he left, Candelo was not sure what to expect or how people would perceive him. China, he explained, can have strong stereotypes of foreigners, and he doesn’t fit the typical one of Americans.

“I was labeled as Indian,” he said, laughing. In his experience, being white meant you were American or European and being “brown” meant you were from India. Nonetheless, Candelo had only positive recollections of interactions with the local people.

He returned to NJ this past August after extending his trip past the initial semester to a full year. He didn’t want to come back and, with a job offer in Shanghai, might not have if it weren’t for his family and graduation in December.

“Every single day I would go out,” said Candelo. “Here, I am bored. There’s no adventure, I feel like I don’t see the mystery.”

In his free time he enjoyed working out at the gym, going to clubs or karaoke with friends. Candelo describes nightlife in China as impeccable; clubs will even have themed floors that make them show-like. Movies were risky because they were expensive and had no guarantee of subtitles, a necessity since he arrived in China not knowing any Chinese, not even how to say hello. More than his required lessons, it was everyday life that taught him Chinese. He jokes that he still doesn’t know how to ask where the bathroom is, since most people understand “WC?”

“Be careful with Google translate,” said Candelo on using the app. “It might ruin you.” Although the phone app can be helpful, there were times when his meaning was changed became inappropriate.

To get around the city, Candelo recommends purchasing a bicycle. He noted that bikes were everywhere and a popular choice of transportation. There are, of course, buses and taxis available as well.

“Wenzhou driving is the craziest I’ve experienced in my life,” he said. “Like ‘Fast and Furious,’ drifting and all.”

Wenzhou is known in China as a wealthy business city. Candelo described the city’s own TV drama as one about multi-millionaires. With shoes as one of its biggest exports, the city is sometimes referred to as the shoe capital of China.

“Shoes, valves and pipes, sunglasses and sex toys, that’s Wenzhou and that’s where Kean’s building its campus,” said Candelo. He and the other students visited the future Wenzhou-Kean campus once, when there was only one building standing for the workers.

The study abroad program was not without faults. Candelo described it as disorganized, leaving students confused and making it hard to take serious at times. They had tried to build it to go with Kean’s schedule, but Candelo felt it would have been easier to take courses offered to Wenzhou University study abroad students instead.

Candelo recalled Wenzhou University as very lenient on foreign students. The school had a 10 p.m. curfew, but the security guard in the international building ignored all infractions. The international students lived in a former hotel, with two people to a room. A perk given that six Chinese students shared the same size room in the regular dorms. International students also did not have to worry about the electricity being turned off at 11 p.m.

Candelo never ate in the crowded campus cafeteria, choosing to eat out every day instead, which might sound impossible in America. But, in China the cost of food is significantly lower. His favourites were dishes of fried noodles, or rice, with green pepper and onions. Sometimes with chicken or egg thrown in.

As a self-labeled picky eater, he admits he didn’t try everything.

It was on his birthday while volunteering in Quzhou, a city about two hours by bus from Wenzhou, that he had one of his most memorable food encounters.

“It looks like a snake, comes from a river,” said Candelo. “I stood my ground. I still don’t know what it was.”

Candelo traveled extensively during his trip, visiting more than 20 cities in China, including Shanghai around 10 times. He even ventured to Japan via boat this summer.

His favourite destination was Chengdu, the city of “pandas and spicy food” located in the Sichuan province of China. Candelo describes Chengdu as super-cheap, with taxi fare starting at $1, and as a big city with a small feel. It is one of the cleanest and fastest growing cities in China.

“Everyone was nice there. Even the foreigners,” said Candelo, who admits that rather than the Chinese, other foreigners tend to be harder to deal with. “Plus the moment you arrive, you see pandas [logos] everywhere.”

Candelo plans to return to China after graduating, with Chengdu as his top choice on where to live. His initial plan is to teach English, but his eventual goal is to start his own business.

“I’m very entrepreneur minded,” Candelo said. “I want to start my own brand of something.” He plans to tour factories and gather ideas on what he wants to market. In the meantime, he has applied to teach at Wenzhou-Kean University.

“It was a really cool experience, it was really bumpy,” said Candelo. “Sometimes it felt like my whole trip was a dream. And I woke back up to reality.”


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