For York native Jordan Eckenrode, moving to China was unlike anything he's ever done.
The 2007 graduate of Red Lion Area Senior High School moved overseas about a year ago. After finishing college at Kutztown University two years ago, he opted to take a shot at the abundance of teaching jobs in China.
In addition to teaching English to second-language learners, Eckenrode, 25, freelances for Redstar, a Chinese magazine.
And even though it seems as if he's found his niche away from home, learning the language is a different story, he said.
"The Chinese language is really hard to pick up -- it's completely different," Eckenrode said. "I can order food, and I can have conversations on the simplest level. I can talk to 2-year-old children, basically."
As he spoke from his apartment in the city of Qingdao, which is 12 hours ahead of York time, it's clear
that his old life in York and his new one abroad are as different as day and night.
The landscape: "The city I live in is not really like a big city," Eckenrode said, although there are about 9 million people living there.
As a reference, York County's population is about 438,000 -- and that's in the whole county.
But Qingdao is nothing like Shanghai or Beijing: It's more sprawled out, he said.
"For example, in downtown, it's similar to downtown York -- just much more traffic and people on the sidewalk," he said.
But some aspects of the distant lands are similar: The climate, for example, is humid in the summer and cold in the winter, with a temperate spring and fall, Eckenrode said. But Qingdao is right by the ocean, so it's a bit windier, he said.
"A lot of the Chinese people think that it's one of the best places to live in China," he said.
The food: Although the landscape is familiar, the culture and food took a little bit to get used to, Eckenrode said.
"The food's actually really good," he said. "But when I first came here, I couldn't eat it."
So he was stuck eating Oreos for breakfast, he said. Other Western foods, such as Coca-Cola and even Hershey bars, are available, too, he said.
Real Chinese food is a far cry from the Americanized version the Western world is accustomed to, Eckenrode said.
"I think it's pretty good because Chinese food seems pretty healthy -- a lot of vegetables," he said. "Plus, it kind of reminds me of Mexican food, in a way."
That's because it's rice-based and spicy -- not like bland Pennsylvania Dutch fare, he said.
But to Eckenrode's dismay, there are no Taco Bell chains in his area. Instead, the city has Burger King, McDonald's and KFC -- with a particular affinity for the latter.
"KFC is huge here. It's extremely successful," he said. "The street that I live on, there's five KFCs."
So there's a bit of a taste of home for Eckenrode, he said.
"The culture's completely different, though," he said. "Everything from food to manners is just completely different."
The culture: When Eckenrode first came to the city, he said it took about a week for him to get his bearings.
But after that, he found a close-knit group of foreigners from all kinds of countries that helped him settle in, he said.
"The foreign community is really good. They really help each other," Eckenrode said, although they tend to come and go as new opportunities arise.
And the Chinese people are very nice to foreigners and have overall positive attitudes, he said.
"I was actually shocked when I came here at how open everyone was," Eckenrode said.
And the Chinese really like the idea of finding things out about the West, he said. They watch American TV and particularly like "The Big Bang Theory," Eckenrode said.
"They even think that stuff on TV is America's image," he said.
Eckenrode said he's thinking of spending another year or two in China before returning to his family in the states.
But his ongoing Chinese journey, which has included Thai kickboxing in a nightclub and eating pig intestines, has been one to remember, he said.
"I learned a lot here, and it's such a different style of living," Eckenrode said. "I've enjoyed my experience so far."
--Reach Mollie Durkin at mdurkin@yorkdis patch.com.