Michael C. Orr

My name is Michael and I study bees at the Institute of Zoology in Beijing. I moved to China in November 2017, following the defense of my dissertation, and I’ve since been awarded postdoctoral support by President’s International Fellowship Initiative(PIFI), the Chinese Academy of Sciences. As part of this program, I’m studying the evolution of mimicry in high elevation endemic bee species, alongside many other exciting projects in Dr. Zhu Chaodong’s lab. I’ve been continually impressed by the level of research activity in China as well as the support my lab provides to foreign visitors. In large part thanks to the friends I’ve made as well as support from my lab, the transition has been relatively quick and easy, much better than I expected. Within two weeks, I already had a Chinese bank account and phone, and even an apartment and gym membership.

Acclimating has been a surprisingly quick process. I strongly value self-reliance so I’ve been working to do things more independently, and luckily it has been easier than I expected because the people here are generally quite nice and accommodating with foreigners. I’m not suggesting that there aren’t cultural differences, of course. Almost everyone at the Institute of Zoology speaks English capably, but that isn’t the case everywhere, even here in Beijing. Realistically, if you plan to come to China, you should be prepared to adapt to a more Chinese lifestyle. After all, immersion is not really immersion if you always stay in a bubble. Acclimatization in China means getting used to a relatively fast-paced work environment, taking things as they come, and dealing with frequent changes in planning. It also means that some websites can be rather challenging to access. Every culture has its unique differences and challenges, and these are accompanied by a suite of clear benefits. The people here are friendly and welcoming and very understanding of my inability to correctly speak even the most basic Chinese. The food, for instance, is one of my favorite elements of Chinese culture. Although things like chicken feet or pig intestines might sound scary at first, they’re quite delicious, and it’s nice to see more of animals put to use than is seen in the West. While obviously different from my prior experiences in the United States, living in China is not as frightening as one may think.

I’ve frequently been asked why I came to China, by colleagues and even random people I’ve met on the street here. The easy answer is that the type of bee I specialize on is very species-rich in Asia and that I always wanted to work here at some point, but that’s not the entire reason. Though I’ve visited much of Europe, I’ve never properly lived in another culture, and I knew I wouldn’t always be able to uproot and move so easily. It was too good an opportunity to pass up:  the chance to continue my research in a country that clearly values and invests in basic science. Six months on, I’m happy with my decision to come to China.

Source: Institute of Zoology, CAS

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