Bite Before You Are Bitten

In Shanghai, The Art of Travel Fall 2014, Tips by Nicolas Lopez

NYU Shanghai is a tricky place to recommend. I’ve had a lot of fun here, the building is nice and most of my professors are quite interesting. However, that definitely does not tell the full picture. As with many things here in China, it’s much more complicated that what it seems.

I am part of the first batch of students at NYU Shanghai’s brand new campus in Pudong. Before we arrived the students shared a campus and dorms at East China Normal University in Puxi. From what I have heard they had it both better and worse in diverse areas. While they did not have their own facilities, being in Puxi provided a lot of advantages as it’s closer to the real Shanghai were all the bars and restaurants are in addition to most historical sites. I will leave it up to you if proximity to fun things matters more than having a nicer campus. Study Away students suffered a lot just a couple weeks before getting to Shanghai as our accommodations were changed three times. To add insult to injury, every person studying abroad was initially promised a single and with the sudden changes these were made into doubles. It was a rough start to say the least. However, NYU’s own campus is said to be ready for next year, so incoming students will hopefully be able to reap the benefits. Having said that, NYU Shanghai is still prepubescent and in like many of us at that stage is still trying to figure itself out. If they take our comments and critiques into consideration when designing a plan for next year, this will definitely help them improve and reach that pubescent stage they are probably longing for.

As for China and Shanghai, this short summary will definitely not encompass all of the tips necessary to survive and thrive here. I will thus only provide my reader with a phrase, a mantra if you will, to keep present while studying abroad or living here: bite before you are bitten. This is by no means meant in a negative way, as I have said before this has been an incredible experience, I encourage everyone to come experience China and see it develop on a day to day basis. I just likewise encourage you to keep in mind that in many ways this is the wild west (east?), especially if you come from an American perspective. The Chinese have been historically wronged by foreigners from the British to the Japanese to the French. Most of them thus have a predisposed suspicion for their intentions and in an effort to qualm any attempts of wrongdoing, will undoubtedly bite first (I know this is an unfair generalization but it is something that has been present in my experience abroad and in many of my friends’). This predisposition is primarily expressed when bargaining and negotiating but will certainly take different forms. As Machiavellian as it may sound, I have found this mantra useful in my daily interactions. I think as a foreigner one can have a great time in China and particularly in Shanghai, however is crucial to understand and respect the cultural differences between our cultures.


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