Where did you go? Shanghai, for 3 1/2 months. Yes, that Shanghai. All the way in China. Yep. China. For 3 1/2 months.
Did you live in a dorm? Nope, a host family that didn’t speak English. But it was great. I had my own room, internet that actually worked, good food, and they did my laundry for me. It was the Chinese version of My Big Fat Greek Wedding. “Are you hungry?” “No, I’m good” “Ok, I’ll make you something.” Also my 30 year old host sister lived next door with her husband and the most adorable little girl.
How was the food? Lots of rice and lots of noodles, but definitely not the fried rice and lo mein from the Chinese takeout place down the street from your house. Fresh, lots more vegetables, very few fried things, mostly wok style. Got a little sick of the rice there at the end. But as comedian Mitch Hedberg famously said, “Rice is great when you’re hungry and want 2000 of something.”
What did you do in Shanghai? Took classes everyday Monday through Thursday. Language class everyday for 2 hours, elective classes Monday, Tuesday and Thursday afternoons and evenings. All of the electives focused on China and it’s economy or the government.
Did you like living in Shanghai? Absolutely, it’s a great town with lots of different cool areas to explore. Each part of the city is different and interesting in its own way. Lots of foreign influence, definitely more international, but not very touristy. A very livable city.
Did you travel? Yes, a bit, it’s a bit more difficult to travel in China than Europe though. Everything’s really connected but it’s a tough journey. Lots of trains. I traveled both independently and with my program. With the program to Nanjing and Yunnan Province (greatest week of my life, Dali, Shaxi, Tiger Leaping Gorge, Shangri La, Lijiang, and Kunming), on my own (with friends) to Xi’an, Xiamen, Gulang Yu, Hong Kong, and Beijing.
Why didn’t you leave China? China doesn’t like people coming and going as they please, so visas and entries are both expensive and difficult to arrange. That and there was plenty in China to see without adding in the rest of Asia.
What were your favorites? Tiger Leaping Gorge in Yunnan, the Great Wall and Beijing, and Hong Kong
What kind of cool things did you do? Ate some awesome street food, lived with a host family that didn’t speak English, met some really cool Chinese business owners, toured the Coke plant in Shanghai, toured the largest steel producer in the world, hiked the most precipitous mountain in the world, hiked one of the deepest river gorges in the world, learned how to make traditional Tibetan yak butter tea (there’s a reason it’s not popular outside of Tibet), went to a party on the 92nd floor of Shanghai’s tallest building, saw (and shotgunned a beer at) one of the 7 wonders of the world (the Great Wall) and the 8th wonder of the world (the Terracotta Soldiers), sang Wagon Wheel to a bar full of Chinese people that I’m pretty sure has never hosted foreigners before, celebrated my 21st birthday on an airplane (got a fruit plate and a card from the flight crew), got a picture with Mickey and Minnie at Hong Kong Disneyland, rode a double decker bus all over Hong Kong, ran into a good friend’s little sister in Beijing at the Forbidden City, took a LOT of selfies
Do you want to go back? Absolutely. I lived in Shanghai for 3 1/2 months and still didn’t get to see everything I wanted to see in Shanghai, nevertheless in the other cities I visited. I needed more time in Beijing and Hong Kong, and there were a few places I didn’t get to hit, like Guilin, Yangshou, Chengdu, etc. I also want to explore the rest of Asia, particularly the Southeast.
What did you learn? A lot about myself, and a lot about the world. And how big the world actually is. And that I’m just a really, really small part of it. Perspective. I gained a lot of perspective.
And I’m really good at using chopsticks now.
Would you recommend it? Studying abroad in China? Definitely not for most people. It’s not study abroad like Europe. But visiting China absolutely. Yes it’s a little scary, and a lot different, but it’s a whole different experience than what you get in Europe. Everyone should hop a plane and check out China. Plus it’s much cheaper than Europe.