As my time here in Shanghai draws to a close, I have been doing a lot of reflection. I was so busy during my time here that the time just slipped by! My last semester abroad is almost over, and in one month I have to go back to real life. Although China is awesome, I am 100% ready to return stateside.
If I could build a time machine and go back to my first day in Shanghai, I would not change much. My only regret is that I did not go out and explore as much as I would have liked to. Between school, an internship, and recruiting for jobs, I think the constant stress inhibited me from fully enjoying the present. I now realize that life will always be busy – the key is to be efficient with time so that you can maximize fun!
I originally took this class because I thought it would be interesting to read insights from students at different study abroad locations. And it was. I read stories from Italy, London, Australia, and a ton of other NYU sites that I will probably never get to see. I think the most valuable part, however, was documenting my own study abroad experience. I’m not selfish I promise. The only reason I say this is because I never write in a journal or take many pictures. Thus, there are probably hundreds of awesome memories in my mind that get weaker and weaker every day, in a queue to be forgotten forever. The Art of Travel saved a few of these memories and documented them forever. While I don’t see myself typing 500 word blog posts about my life in the future, I am definitely going to start documenting notable occurrences. As I review the 14 journal entries that guide my reflection of a great semester in Asia.
I definitely grew up this semester. For some reason, living here made me feel more independent. It may have something to do with the fact that I am thousands of miles away from any family members. Additionally, I honed my time management skills, improved my work ethic, and learned a modest amount of the Chinese language. At times, the language barriers and cultural differences were frustrating, but in the aggregate they made me a more openminded and accepting person.
When I go back to the U.S, I will not worry as much. I am a huge worrier, and although some concern is healthy, I tend to mentally blow things out of proportion. Here in China, I would see people every day who sold bananas on the street for a living, and they would be smiling from ear to ear. Meanwhile, I would be walking to class with my headphones in, stressing out about an assignment or a deadline. Moral of the story? Don’t sweat the small stuff. If someone with so much less can be so much happier, then I have no excuse.
Thanks to everyone for posting interesting entries and giving great feedback. Good luck with finals and happy holidays!
I would recommend studying abroad at NYU Shanghai to anyone who is openminded. For those that cannot divorce themselves from the small comforts and conveniences of daily American life, I do not think China is the place for you. The standards for cleanliness, politeness, and every other type of practice are different here. If you are the type of person that enjoys being in new, slightly uncomfortable situations, you will definitely enjoy the China experience. If you are already planning on studying here, get rid of any expectations and prepare to have the most unique semester of your college career.
Keep in mind that Chinese is mandatory for everyone (including teachers) at NYU Shanghai. If you have never taken any Chinese, you will have the option to enroll in a “practical Chinese” class, which is the tier below Elementary I. Despite its lowly level as a class, do not be deceived. Practical Chinese is very time consuming, and the teachers hardly show any mercy. As a junior who was abroad in Shanghai during the height of recruiting season, I can say that my GPA is definitely going to take a hit because of my Chinese class. Despite the numerous qualms I have with the class, I cannot deny that I have learned an incredible amount of the Chinese language (both vocabulary and grammar) as well as the Chinese culture (both traditions and etiquettes). I guess that NYU Shanghai has the philosophy that if you are going to study abroad somewhere, you better get to know your host country extremely well. If you struggle with learning languages (like me), I would recommend starting your Chinese studies prior to coming here. You do not have to dedicate your entire day to it, but a few minutes each day studying basic vocabulary will do wonders – you’ll thank yourself once classes start!
In the case that you are gifted when it comes to learning languages, you will have some free-time. I can only imagine what this situation is like considering I struggle with languages and consequently had zero free-time. What should you do with your free time, you ask? Well, the possibilities are endless. I will stick to things within Shanghai, although there are hundreds of places to travel outside of the city.
One place you definitely must visit is the Shanghai South Bund Soft-Spinning Material Market. This three-level building houses hundreds of tailors who will literally make anything for you. I personally bought suits, shirts, jackets, and pants. If you show them a picture of any piece of clothing, they can miraculously replicate it. The best part is the price. Handmade dress shirts are less than $20. Full suits are less than $100. It is a no brainer.
If you want to go out for a cheap drink, go to Perry’s. It is China’s version of an American college bar. The place is frequented by young Chinese and expats alike and is always packed. It is kind of dirty, but that’s part of the novelty.
I know that I don’t have to write about a profound realization for this post and that I can simply use something mundane or funny. However, I do believe I experience an “epiphany” by literary terms. I will not go as far as to say that my situation involved an appearance of a God, but it was pretty intense nonetheless.
First, I will give the reader some background. At NYU Shanghai, the study abroad students live in six-person suites. The suites are equipped with two bathrooms, a spacious living/dining room, and a full kitchen. My epiphany revolves around the latter part of the room.
Since I’ve been here, my meals can go one of two ways. If I have tons of work, feel stressed, or am tight on time, I use Sherpa’s. Sherpa’s is a wonderful delivery service – the Seamless of the far east. Any type of food is available, and once it is ordered, it will be brought anywhere at most hours of the day. If I have more time, am in a good mood, or am simply bored, I skip the Sherpa’s and venture out to dine. The restaurants here are so cheap that I have never thought twice about it. When I say cheap I mean a full meal costs the equivalent of $3! As you can tell, my life here is a binary; I’m either busy and ordering in, or I’m happy and venturing out.
Because of the lifestyle I have been leading, I do not use the kitchen much. This is probably exacerbated by the fact that I cannot cook to save my life (luckily i’m signed up for a culinary class next semester). I go to the refrigerator every now and then, and occasionally do some dishes. That’s pretty much it though. Yesterday, I went there to wash my hands and I could not believe my eyes…
On the counter, next to the cabinets…was a toaster. A TOASTER. I had never seen it before, and I could felt excitement surge through me. Although pop tarts and bagels are rare commodities in China, a toaster meant that I would be able to have toast every morning! I quickly ran out of the kitchen to the living room where my roommates were watching a soccer game. I had to tell them about my game changing discovery. “GUYS,” I exclaimed. “DID YOU KNOW WE HAVE A TOASTER?” Half of them looked at me for less than two seconds. One of them mumbled “duh, dude.” I guess it had been there the whole year.
Moral of the story: sometimes everything you could ever want may have been there all long. You just have to open your eyes.
Traveling is not brutality, but learning Mandarin can be.
When I was registering for classes at NYU Shanghai, I knew that Chinese was mandatory. While I tend to automatically resent things that I am forced to do, I could not deny that learning the language of my host country would be extremely useful and enriching. I signed up for the lowest level – a class called Practical Chinese. This class was supposedly even easier than Elementary 1 due to the fact that Hanzi (Chinese Characters) were not part of the syllabus. In other words, I was enrolling in a class that would equip me with language skills that all Chinese 3-year-olds have mastered. Without having to learn the notoriously difficult characters, what could go wrong?
The first couple of weeks were pretty simple. We learned useful vocabulary that I found myself using in everyday situations. It was encouraging to be able to order food, give taxi drivers directions, and even engage in basic conversations at bars. This all changed once grammar rules came into the mix. I am able to memorize Chinese words and their definitions, but the vague grammar rules in the language are riddled with exceptions, complements, and generalizations. Perhaps I do not have a right to complain. Chinese does not have verb tenses or word genders like romance languages, and in order to make something plural, you simply add a particle to the end. Despite this, I struggled in internalizing the rules that were present, perhaps because I was overthinking them.
I was in dire need of guidance, advice, and comfort. My frustration with Chinese got to the point where it was inhibiting me from enjoying my study abroad experience. The worst part was that all of my peers seemed to be getting along just fine! Fortunately my Chinese teacher, Chai Laoshi, came to the rescue. Chai Laoshi has a degree in teaching Chinese to English speakers, so I’m sure that she had heard complaints plenty of times from other people. She patiently explained the grammar rules and the rationals behind them. She also gave me examples which illustrated the rules and helped me remember them. Although I have by no means mastered the curriculum of Practical Chinese, I feel as if I am now in a much better situation (although my final exam score will be the true indicator).
My Chinese teacher’s dedication to my understanding provided me with comfort. It is a great feeling when something “clicks,” or suddenly begins to make sense. If it weren’t for my teacher, nothing would have clicked. During the peak of my frustration, I swore to myself that I would never subject myself to learning Chinese again. Now that I have regained my sanity, I am open to the possibility of continuing my studies. Thanks to the well engineered curriculum and my caring teacher, I can say that I have a great foundation of the Chinese language. I can only hope that my future instructors will be as conscientious as Chai Laoshi!
Sorry for the lack of posts the past few days – I’ve been recovering from a pretty bad cold. Thus, if we are operating under Rudyard Kipling’s definition of understanding a country, my recent lack of olfactory function would render me ignorant. Thankfully, the embodiment of genius loci is not a smell for me. I think the “spirit of China” is better characterized in people’s manners and attitudes.
If I had to generalize the attitude of every Chinese person I have interacted with, I would describe it as curious and kind. Waiters, hairdressers, and street-vendors alike have attempted to ask me questions in English before – like where I am from, whether I am a student, etc. When I answer in my dismal mandarin, I usually make it to about ten words before we both burst out laughing. We laugh because we are from opposite sides of the world and there is no denying we are fundamentally different. Or perhaps we are laughing because we both feel uncomfortable. Either way, by making light of this situation, we find common ground in humor. A game of interpreting Chinglish mixed with charades typically ensues, and by the end of the conversation, both actors leave with a smile on their face and a better understanding.
When I first arrived, I was primarily on the receiving end questions. Random people would ask me questions on the street, and as my Chinese vocabulary slowly increased, I would sheepishly answer. As I learned more mandarin (thank you, Practical Chinese) I began to ask questions as well. I realized that I was extremely curious about random people; I wanted to know their background, their story, and their attitudes. Nowadays, I try my best to strike up a conversation with every shifu (cab driver) I encounter. Almost every time, we communicate with broken Chinese and English, then laugh it off when we cannot convey an idea successfully. If only this attitude could be extrapolated and incorporated into more formal interactions such as politics! Imagine – two leaders accept the fact that they have huge differences, and then make light of it. More often than not, misunderstandings between people who speak different languages are extremely hilarious.
In the United States, many people are either indifferent or close-minded when it comes to people from other countries. Many say that perhaps Americans are jaded because they live in a “melting pot.” However, Shanghai is just as much of an international hub, and the residents are generally very welcoming towards Laowai (foreigners). I think that people visiting China thus have the responsibility to be extremely respectful and openminded during the duration of their stay. The Chinese are great hosts, and to offend them would be both a disservice to future guests as well as an affront to the undeserving!