From Beijing To Boston: A Conversation With Han Qiu

Han, pictured here at the Shanghai Coffee Festival. In her free time, she loves exploring new coffee shops in Boston.

Han Qiu is a first-year graduate student in COM’s advertising program, and going by how comfortable she seems in her new surroundings, one would think she’s lived in Boston for years.

“Actually, I arrived for the orientation on August 31 with my airport luggage,” she says.

Originally from Fujian, a province along the southeast border of China, Han (or Autumn, which is her adopted English name) has now been in the States for a little over a month, but she hasn’t had much trouble settling in. She’s used to big cities (it may be generous enough to call Boston that) after spending four years in Beijing studying advertising for her undergraduate degree.

“Beijing, Shanghai, Boston, New York seem pretty similar to me in a lot of ways,” she says. “How I live my life here is pretty much the same as how it was back in Fujian. I’d go shopping at Zara there, and that’s what I love to do here.”

While her lifestyle in both countries might be similar (she’s a self-admitted “coffeeholic”), the way she has to go about pursuing her interests is different. For example, as much as she’d love to go to the Ikea here, she just isn’t sure how to get there. The one Massachusetts location is in Stoughton, more than 40 minutes drive south of the city.

Public transport is markedly different in the two countries, in her experience. “Here, I’d probably have to drive there. In China, I could use the bus and the metro to go pretty much wherever I wanted.”

Even the people seem to be very different in both cultures, according to Autumn. “I think people are a lot more open and friendly here,” she says. “Everywhere I go, everyone is really polite. Before I came here, I was told that American women were extremely complimentary, but it still took me a while to get used to it.”

In China, she says, people tend to keep to themselves out of the fear of coming across as annoying or intrusive. “Even if we’re sitting in close proximity, people tend to mind their own business.” That cultural trait explains the reticence of some Chinese students in the classroom, according to her. “Back home, our classes have around 30 people. We’re used to speaking only when the professor speaks to us directly. It’s difficult to have a conversation with 30 people at the same time. Here, the classes are much smaller and hence conducive to more interaction.”

Chinese education is more about freedom and doing things yourself, she feels, whereas American education seems more guided and focused. As a result, she finds herself on campus here a lot more than she did back in China, mainly because of the workload and assignments. Out of all her classes at Boston University, Communication Research with Professor Anne Danehy is her favorite. Autumn likes her because she’s extremely patient with the students and always has a smile on her face. “I think a smile has a lot of power over people to put them at ease and help them relax,” she reflects.

As an advertising student, she feels even the approach to the craft is very different here in the U.S. In her opinion, American advertising generally needs context, while Chinese advertising tends to be more direct.

“Even with the Colin Kaepernick ad for Nike, you need to understand the cultural and political context. Chinese advertising doesn’t have layers to it. Anyone can get what the message is.” Her recent favorite Chinese ad was for Durex, which she says always has a witty take on the latest topical events. This one references an Apple keynote event that unveiled a dual simcard phone in China:

But does the cultural disparity make it difficult for her in class? She laughs as she thinks back on a recent fish-out-of-water moment for her. “I remember, one of the professors made a joke about Melania Trump, and everyone in class started laughing, and I had no idea what they were talking about. I have to admit, I didn’t know who she was!”

Despite all the relative ups and downs in her short stay here, she’s enjoying life in Boston. “I love the coffee and bagels,” she says. “And I love how friendly everyone is.”

If there’s one thing she’d wish for, though, it would be to have more friends to go out with. “I’d love to get to know more people, but I’m not sure if I’m just supposed to walk up to them and say, ‘Hey, are you doing anything this weekend?’” she admits.

However, with her charm, candor, and warmth, Autumn might not have that problem for too long.


Nihal Atawane, Staff Writer

Nihal Atawane is a writer for The COMmunicator and a second-year graduate student in the advertising program at COM. He spends his free time thinking of witty comebacks for arguments he lost a year ago and watching wood-carving videos with his imaginary cat, Harold.


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