I don’t think much preparation needs to be done before coming to Shanghai. Maybe it would be useful to memorize the name of foods you think you’ll like (especially if you have dietary restrictions). It might also be useful to subscribe to Smart Shanghai. It caters to an expat population and will keep you notified you of festivals, concerts, cultural events and parties.
Next, it took me a while to fully become aware of what I had access to in Shanghai and what was close to my dorm and the academic building. I highly recommend people to explore the streets by the Lancun station (there are a lot of restaurants there). Additionally, in the small park behind the Grand Pujian residence (which I’ve been told will be housing NYU students next semester too), there is a thriving community. Don’t be afraid to go there, exercise with the locals, shop at the street side fruit vendor, point of random foods vendors are making and order them.
Chinese language class will take up a lot of your time whether you want it to or not. So I suggest you mentally prepare for this and embrace it. Everyone, regardless of what level of Chinese, has improved immensely. People who had previously never dreamt of speaking Chinese could now hold (comical) conversations with a Chinese person.
However, despite the Chinese classes, language can be a huge impediment so make sure to have friend that speaks good Chinese. This will come in useful especially when opening bank accounts or setting up your phone. But also, a Chinese friend will also introduce you to local things. I had a Chinese suitemate this year who showed me so many ways of making my life easier. For instance, instead of going to China Mobile to top off my each month, he showed me how to simply charge it using WeChat. Which ties in nicely to my next point: WeChat. Since Facebook does not work without, WeChat is a great resource for communicating. It comes with a lot of fun stickers and add-on features. I’m definitely going to try and see if I can get people use WeChat in the US.
In all, I would recommend this abroad site if you are interest in Chinese contemporary culture, art and politics. My classes were very time consuming so I didn’t get the chance to explore Shanghai as much as some other students did. NYU Shanghai is still very much in its trial and error stages. But they’re learning fast. Despite all the mishaps and aberrations of NYU Shanghai, I am confident that things will only get better with time. Already the facilities are top notched and one curriculum, professors and other details are ironed out, I have no doubt NYU Shanghai will be an amazing campus to study abroad at. So this recommendation comes with a caution. Moreover, as NYU Shanghai reaches full capacity (for the portal students), it will be even more interesting as study abroad students will be able to interact with students who have very diverse and interesting perspectives.