Serendipity in China: Discovering a new world

Updated : 2023-06-07


Editor's note: We have asked expats living in China to share their own stories about the cities they work and live in. Maxwell Ahiafor is from Ghana and he now works as a medical intern at Yantai Affiliated Hospital of Binzhou Medical University.

I don't have much experience with the concept of "love at first sight" but I suppose my story in China fits the bill. On a chilly spring evening of 2018, though it seemed like winter at that time as the temperature was almost close to zero degrees Celsius, I landed at Beijing International Airport wearing what looked like summer clothes. I was excited about what the future held but this excitement quickly turned into anxiety when I realized I didn't know a word of Mandarin, not even the basic "ni hao". However, the hospitality and niceness of the people I interacted with almost immediately alleviated my worries. And thus began my wonderful journey in China.

Over the past few years, my proficiency in Chinese has steadily improved. I think the turning point was when I realized that I could use music as a medium to learn Chinese. This happened in my first year at Binzhou Medical University where I was asked to sign up for a singing contest on campus. Even though I knew only a few words that were enough to help me get by in life, I took on the challenge and picked a few songs to rehearse. I focused on learning the lyrics, meaning and grammar of these songs, and my vocabulary had improved quite remarkably by the time of the competition. Eighty percent of my playlist now is made up of Chinese songs.


Maxwell Ahiafor (middle) reenacts a scene from the Confucius classics with friends. [Photo provided to]

As a person who loves travelling, I have always been fascinated by richness of Chinese culture. Shandong, a coastal province in eastern China where I currently reside, has some of the most famous tourist sites in the country. During my stay here, I've explored attractions like Mount Tai, the Confucius Temple, and the ancient city of Qufu. These sites are not only visually stunning but also rich in history and culture. I was amazed by the intricate architecture, beautiful scenery, and the stories at each location.

One of my most memorable experiences during these travels was when my ability to communicate in basic Chinese language got me out of an embarrassing situation. While out for dinner, I mistakenly ordered a dish that contained a particularly spicy ingredient that I couldn't handle. As I sat there sweating and struggling to finish the dish, the locals at the next table began to laugh when their kid pointed at me and said "mama zhege waiguoren zai ku", which translates to "Mom, this foreigner is crying".


Maxwell Ahiafor delivers a speech at a graduation ceremony at Binzhou Medical University. [Photo provided to]

Thanks to my language skills, I was able to turn the situation around by joking about the spiciness of the dish and how it was a test of my endurance. They found my response amusing, and we ended up having a great conversation about the local cuisine. It was a small moment, but it reminded me of the power of language and how it can connect people from different cultures.

Through language exchange events, cultural competitions and other social activities, I have had the pleasure of meeting people from all corners of the globe. Confucius, one of the most famous Chinese philosophers, believed that friendship was one of the most important virtues in life. He once said, "Isn't it delightful to have friends come from afar?" I couldn't agree more. Having friends in China from different backgrounds has enriched my experiences and given me a deeper understanding of the culture. We've had wonderful times exploring new places, trying new foods, and sharing our stories and experiences. From hiking Mount Tai together to enjoying hotpot dinners, some of my fondest memories in China involve spending time with friends. Through these friendships, I have not only learned about China but also gained a greater appreciation for the diversity and richness of the human experience.


Maxwell Ahiafor (right) poses for a photo with his friends at the Yellow River estuary in Dongying, Shandong province. [Photo provided to]

As an art enthusiast, my love for Chinese art is truly second to none. I am constantly fascinated by the intricate details and exquisite craftsmanship that these works of art feature. Each piece tells a story and carries a rich cultural history that has endured for centuries. From ancient pottery and jade sculptures to modern paintings and calligraphy, Chinese art has a unique way of capturing the imagination and transporting the viewer to a different time and place. I love how the symbolism behind each color and pattern is deeply rooted in Chinese culture and history.

I'm currently in my internship year at the Yantai Affiliated Hospital of Binzhou Medical University, and I've been constantly amazed by the strong work ethics of the doctors and nurses here that have resulted in the rapid development of the medical field in China. These amazing traits are what I seek to emulate.


Maxwell Ahiafor (fifth from right) tours a history museum. [Photo provided to]