Shanghai, being so different from any other experience I’ve had, took a while to get used to. There are a lot of things that I know now that would surely have enhanced my experience had I understood them when I arrived. There’s something to say for coming into a situation blind and being forced to adapt and learn through trial and error. But sometimes, the blindness makes you miss potentially great experiences or making the most of encounters. That being said, I’d like to offer some tips and advice, in no particular order, that I would have liked to know when I first came to this city.
People spit a lot, and you just have to get used to it. It’s best to not to look at it as unhygienic or disgusting, but as a unique yet fundamental part of people’s lives here.
Lotus, the nearby Chinese grocery store, may seem off-putting. Despite the open bins of meat and lack of usual western food, I would definitely recommend getting your essential groceries there. You can find enough ingredients there to make a nice home cooked meal, which can be a much needed break from the usual chao mein.
Sherpa is every college student’s best friend. While the food pretty good and couldn’t get more convenient, try not to order it too much, as the food can get monotonous and it’ll burn a hole in your wallet.
Spend as little time in Pudong as you can. Across the river is the amazing cosmopolitan city that people think of when they talk about Shanghai. Pudong is new and big, but can be quite dull when compared to the historical and cultural richness of Puxi.
Travel outside of China as much as possible. China is an incredibly large country, and is geographically and culturally diverse. Besides the almost-required trips to Beijing, Xi’an, and a water town, try to make a trip or two to another area. I can personally recommend Inner Mongolia as an adventurous vacation-destination.
Try as many foods as you can at least once. It’s always easy to order a standard fried rice dish when eating out, but Chinese cuisine often masks delicious treats behind slightly-off putting names.
Don’t spend your entire day at the Academic Center. It’s easy to fall into the habit, especially with the class schedule layout that most people seem to have. Go home between classes, or find a place to grab lunch that’s not the school cafeteria. I spend most of my days there, and it can start to feel like I’m back in high school, or worse, in prison.
At times, NYU Shanghai can appear like two separate universities and student bodies operating in the same physical building. Try to cross this proverbial barrier, either by joining a club or an athletic team or taking a portal campus class. Some people I know have become met very nice and interesting people attending the portal campus, and I wish I had made more of an effort to get to know them myself.
Finally, be prepared to spend nearly all of your time on your Chinese language course, regardless of how inclined you are to learning the language as an academic pursuit. Everything from Practical Chinese to Advanced for Native Speakers requires a disproportionate amount of work and effort.