I have safely arrived in Shanghai China for my study abroad experience! I will be studying at ECNU, which is a university in the outskirts of Shanghai. I have just picked my classes and will be studying Chinese for 2 hours a day, 4 days a week, as well as Issues in Chinese Society, Intercultural Communications, and Modern Chinese History. I am so excited to start studying because these classes all fit perfectly with my International Studies and Women’s and Gender Studies double major. I also have a Chinese roommate who is so cute and awesome. She is helping me so much with Chinese and taking me to the cool places to eat near campus. I also made her teach me all the bad words in Chinese J
Since being here only a week, I have learned so much about Chinese culture that I had not expected. One thing is that the idea of personal space has a different meaning in China. Sometimes this is good, and something it’s really uncomfortable. For example, on the subway it is almost always packed to the brim. It is not customary for Chinese people to say “sorry” or “excuse me” as often as Americans or Europeans, so when they bump you it seems a little rude, but you have to remember its just the way things are. I think because there are so many people in China, people get used to close quarters. While these customs can be a bit uncomfortable for Westerners at first, there are also cute ways that Chinese people can show their closeness. My roommate will always link arms with me or hold my arm while we are walking somewhere together. A lot of Chinese girls and women will do it when walking together. It is a very cute thing and it makes you feel included as a foreigner. It might also be my roommate, but when she speaks she will always touch your arm, making you feel like she’s really paying attention. My goal by the end of the month is to snuggle with her, but we’re not quite there yet haha.
Another thing that really surprised me about Shanghai is how clean it is. Shanghai is so much cleaner than both New York and Boston. The streets are wide and there is hardly any trash on the roads. There are some unpleasant smells, but they occur infrequently. Additionally, there are bike lanes for bicycles and motorbikes so that it is safer for those traveling both in cars and other motor vehicles. I have also hardly seen any motorbikes that use gasoline – they have all been electric. Most people ride bicycles on the campus anyway so it is very quiet and does not smell like gas. I think most people think of Chinese cities as dirty and wasteful, but most people try their best to conserve energy. We have been told over and over again to conserve water and power, because there are limited resources and we need to be careful. In our rooms, which look like hotel rooms, you have to put your room card in to get power; where as other dorms have no control over their own power. While this may seem undesirable, at least it is not wasteful. China, in my opinion, is much more advanced in the ideology of conserving energy than America, even if the execution is behind.
Furthermore, the technologies available are way more advanced than anything Americans use. The trains are very new, the tracks are always clean and there are even barriers in front of the tracks so no one can fall or jump on the tracks. Also, phones and apps are very much a part of daily life for Chinese people. The app We Chat is similar to Facebook, Instagram, and iMessage all in one. You can text your friends, start group chats, share photos and videos, facetime, call, pay for goods, order taxis, and get directed to other helpful apps via WeChat. Everyone has WeChat, and if you don’t you are disconnected from the rest of China. This can sometimes help compensate for the lack of Facebook, Snapchat, Insagram, Google, and other media apps that we enjoy in America. The downside to this is that it can be hard to communicate with global friends and the rest of the world if you solely rely on WeChat. I suppose that’s what the government intended but it seems to be a disadvantage to China’s global relations. Also, because VPN’s are so readily available it is quite easy for people to reach out if they so desire, however I’m not sure this happens often.
Overall my experience in China has been amazing, however one thing has been a real shock. The metro shuts down at 10pm during the week and 11:30 on weekends so if you are out after that you have to get a taxi. The other night it took us almost an hour to hail a cab in Shanghai because apparently no taxi driver wants to drive foreigners. I don’t know if it’s the language barrier, or the fact that some foreigners are very rude, but it is extremely frustrating. In every other Asian country I have been to, taxi drivers and tuktuk drivers have practically harassed me to take a ride in their cab. That was because those economies are mainly run on tourism, but China’s economy could do without tourism I believe. Hopefully this will change and I will learn the customs so I can hail a cab more effectively, but I doubt this practice will change anytime soon.
I am loving China, except for some minor culture shocks, and I am so happy to be somewhere new. I am excited to live here for an extended period so I can live the life of a Chinese person and form some patterns of daily life. My Chinese has already improved so much and I am getting more comfortable with conversational speaking. My writing does need some work though. Hopefully I will learn so much more in my time here. Can’t wait to update you on all my exciting adventures in the months to come!