Balancing Act

In Art of Travel Spring 2016, Shanghai, Tips by Matthew G

So you’re planning to come to Shanghai?  Congratulations!  I know you made the right choice.  When we attend a university referred to as the “global university” you have almost too many options to choose from when deciding where you will study away.  Unfortunately, I feel like NYU Shanghai is often overlooked, which is a shame since it offers unique opportunities separate from the other sites.  Because NYU Shanghai is a portal campus, you have full access to a range of facilities and resources that will remind you of home.  The portal students hail from around the world to create a diverse and incredibly ambitious student population who are actively shaping the future of their three-year old school.  Finally, the city itself was once referred to as “the Paris of the East” due to it’s Western architecture and large foreign settlements.  Today, Shanghai still embodies those same elements, as well as a boom in transnational investment making it the financial capital of China.  So yes, I think you made the right choice.

The biggest piece of advice I can offer you when you come to Shanghai is rather simple–balance.  Foreigners come to Shanghai in droves, and many parts of the city have developed to accommodate them.  Consequently, you can fill your days in Western cafes ordering from restaurants with employees who speak English and your nights in nightclubs packed with “ex-pats.”  This is a very comfortable way to study away, and you’ll still experience a lot, but I encourage you to consider balance.

China can seem inaccessible and closed off to foreigners.  You’ll encounter stares and catch people referring to you as an outsider, but this is a very superficial barrier.  With a little bit of effort, the cultural divide between China and outside countries is easily broken down.  I find that more often than not, Chinese citizens are greatly interested in people from other countries.  When I meet new Chinese people away from NYU, I usually get a barrage of questions that show genuine respect for who and what I am, and that’s a nice feeling when you come to a new place.  At first, Shanghai might not seem welcoming, but give it a chance and people will invite you in.

NYU Shanghai is a global center, with half the student population from China and half the student population from other countries.  You might notice a divide between Chinese and international students, but I encourage you to reach out to your Chinese classmates.  We are all NYU students, regardless of where we come from.  Your relationships with NYU Shanghai students will offer you new access to obscure places in Shanghai, wonderful restaurants you might be afraid to try on your own, and a number of cultural experiences that are unique to this country–but most of all they become wonderful friends.

So when I say that biggest thing to remember is balance, I mean to say that you should try a little bit of both.  Have international friends, spend time in the French Concession, and eat at Wagas because sometimes you just really need Western food.  But don’t forget to meet Chinese students, visit their homes and high schools, and try chicken feet.  It is a combination of all of these experiences that makes studying away in Shanghai unique.  Shanghai is special because East has met West and created something wonderful.  Balance your time and you’ll come home with your sanity and a new perspective.

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  • Jing’an Temple: Matthew G