To those thinking of spending time in Shanghai, I will find it hard to include all of my praise in a single post. It is hard to characterize the financial capital of mainland China. In fact, I have struggled all year in absorbing the full spectrum of Shanghai, from French-inspired winding streets in Puxi to the distinctive skyline of Pudong. The physical characteristics of this city are as diverse as they are stunning. After three months, it still feels as if I have yet to penetrate the surface of what Shanghai has to offer. I’m going to start by giving a brief overview of the city, with a few recommendations before finishing with a brief, but necessary, disclaimer about the study away program itself.
For those who don’t know, Shanghai is roughly split into two large areas, each with their own individual districts: Pudong and Puxi. The two zones are split by the Huangpu river which is crossable both by bridge and tunnel. The west bank of the river makes up “The Bund” which is arguably Shanghai’s most famous tourist attraction. In past generations, it was the port area of the city where all manner of goods and people filtered in and out. Today, the trading houses which once represented some of the most lucrative commerce centers in all of Asia have largely been converted into luxury hotels and restaurants. The east bank of the river holds Shanghai’s instantly recognizable skyline, which is mainly located in the Lujiazui area. While visually stunning, Pudong mainly serves as a commercial area.
Puxi, on the other hand, is synonymous with old Shanghai. While the legacy of the concession era is obvious, make no mistake, Puxi is a far cry from Europe. One is liable to find live eel for sale, cozy Western cafes and laundry hung in plain view all on the same block. In other words, Puxi operates more as a melting pot than anything else. Western influence can be obvious at times, but the city is unmistakably Chinese.
A few recommendations to get a taste of the full spectrum of options the city has to offer:
Dogtown — 409 Shanxi Bei Lu
A simple hole-in-the-wall bar at street level with six stools and a killer beer menu. Oh and a great selection of tacos/nachos. Be aware: closed for Winter. Reopens sometime in the Spring.
Hai Di Lao Hot Pot — chain
There are a bunch of hot pot spots all around the city, but this chain is the most well-known and consistently fantastic. Great for large groups. Staff will occasionally ask you to dance with them.
Sushi Ichi — No. 5, Lane 50, Gaoyou Road
One of the very best meals I’ve ever had. 12 seat sushi restaurant right in the middle of Puxi’s Xuhui district, yet still difficult to find. Expensive, but worth it for the experience.
Disc Go-Karting — 809 Zaoyang Road
Now I know what you’re thinking, the states have plenty of go-karting spots. Not like this though. Fully stocked bar for post-karting, cheap admission price. All around fun for big groups.
Study Away Program
There are a number of shortcoming about the study away program as a whole that I feel obligated to mention. Firstly, the academic building itself is isolated from the desirable parts of the city. The campus is located approximately 30-45 minutes by taxi from central Puxi. Moreover, the student dormitories are currently located in a long-stay residence called the Grand Pujian, approximately 20 minutes away from campus by bus.The area surrounding the dorm unfortunately does not have much to offer.
Academically, most courses are not as easy as one would expect for study away, but still not overly strenuous; that is, with the exception of the Practical Chinese language course. For anyone with no desire to pursue proficiency in Chinese, please do yourself a favor and study elsewhere. The administration here requires completion of Practical Chinese for study away students not interested in learning Mandarin long-term. The course claims to accommodate student who have a short-term desire to learn a limited amount of spoken Chinese, but betrays that mission by advancing an overly strenuous and somewhat disorganized course-load not fit for a 4 credit class. I would honestly rate the class among the most time intensive that I have ever taken in my academic career.
That being said, it is very possible that this will change going forward given the level of pushback expressed by current students. Of course, the benefits of Shanghai as a city have outweighed many of the cons of the study away program. However, it is something to monitor if you are interested in studying here.