1.) Being a degree granting campus Shanghai’s atmosphere is different compared to other study abroad sites. At other sites I think students are focused on exploring that culture and the surrounding areas but here that is not the case. Many of the students you come in contact with have four years to explore so it is not an immediate concern of theirs. This makes it difficult to find friends to travel with etc. This also means people have their friend groups and there is not much interaction between portal students and study abroad students. I know they are trying to fix that but other than group projects and other school related activities the two groups stay quite separate.
2.) Prior coming to China, learn some Chinese! This is a must. The elementary class moves at a pace not suited for beginners (as most people in the class have taken Chinese before) and does not really cover things that will be useful for every day interactions. For example, you do not learn how to communicate with a delivery man or how to moderate spice level when ordering food. I found Lonely Planet’s pocket book on Chinese very helpful. There are phrases in there that are much more suitable to actually living in China.
3.) Phone/Apps – this is a big one! First off, get yourself a SIM card, even if you have T-Mobile or another US carrier that provides data internationally it will not do. Within the first week of classes NYU has phone companies come to campus to help you set up a phone. It is really easy and cheap! 100 yuan ($15 USD) for a whole year of 20GB per month plus some minutes. Next thing you’ll want to do is get yourself a bank account or if you are lucky like me a friend will share their Chinese bank account with you. Most places in China only take WeChat and Alipay as payment methods. While the internet has all these posts about how foreigners can link their Visa’s to WeChat etc. I have found that none of these methods work. In order to survive in China, you are going to need to have Alipay and WeChat wallet working. Additionally, you will need WeChat to check NYU bus schedules, cafeteria menu etc. so it is essential to even being a student. Other apps to get are Didi (Uber), Eleme (food delivery), and Dianping (basically Yelp). Didi does take foreign cards so you can pay with your credit or debit card and its interface is in English. Eleme will probably become your go to food app. There is so much you can get delivered from fresh cut up fruit to boba. In fact, most of the time it is cheaper to get food delivered then go out due to deals basically all restaurants have on Eleme. It is all in Chinese but with pictures and some google translate using the app becomes pretty easy. Dianping is a little harder to navigate. It is all in Chinese and the interface is not as smooth. However, I find it great to just open up the map on Dianping and being able to see activities, food, etc. around me. Lastly, Meituan is like the Groupon of China. There is an app, but I find it much easier to use on the computer because Google can automatically translate the page for you. Meituan is great. There are all sorts of deals from the movies and restaurants to karaoke and bars, there is even deals for big attractions like Disney World.
3.5.) Although, I just said it is necessary to have WeChat and Alipay in order to have money, there is a service called Swapsy that matches you with another person who needs USD in exchange for RMB. I have used it a few times, but it still does not outweigh getting your own WeChat/Alipay working. Also, PRO TIP: if you have a Discover Credit card it works anywhere Union Pay is accepted. As Union Pay is China’s version of Visa or Master Card that is basically everywhere.
4.) As for dorms there are two options: Jinqiao and Pusan. Jinqiao is the original NYU Shanghai dorms and will 99% still be available in upcoming semesters (until 2022 when NYU Shanghai moves). Pusan is new this year and to my knowledge is more of a temporary fix to the increase in student body numbers. I am unsure if Pusan will still be available in the future. I currently live in Pusan. Some pros of Pusan are that there is a gym, the communal kitchen is nicer than Jinqiao kitchens (from what I have heard) and it is newer. Cons are that is far from the closest subway (20 min walk along a highway) compared to Jinqiao (around the corner from a subway stop), it is sort of in the middle of nowhere (Jinqiao has a movie theater and malls right across the street) and depending on what room you select it can be small. I live in the biggest of the rooms a 1-bedroom apartment and it is huge! But a friend of mine who is in a standard double have about ⅓ or less of the space I have. This being said the price difference is only a few hundred dollars so if you can afford a bigger room, I would definitely go for it. (Plus, it is cheaper than anything you would find in NYC).
5.) My last tip is to get out there and explore not only Shanghai but China. Shanghai is enormous but so is China. China has 55 minority groups all with different cuisines, phenotypes, and cultures that are all worth exploring. It will really redefine what you think is China and Chinese. In Shanghai there is a Muslim market on Fridays, that is something that I would recommend seeing. The semester in China will go by so fast if you take every weekend you can to get out and explore. Go to cities in China beyond just Beijing. Do not wait for long weekends to explore instead take every chance you have to do day trips and get out of your comfort zone.