My summer exchange in Shanghai
Studying abroad is possibly one of the greatest opportunities you’ll have whilst you’re a student. Scaling out a somewhere that is often completely new to you, and making your way around until you feel like a local yourself means that your learning experience is never confined to the classroom or lecture theatre again. I spent the summer of my first year studying at Shanghai Jiao Tong University, studying a range of interdisciplinary subjects and grasping everyday life in one of the world’s most populous cities.
1. Why it was so worth it
At home, in London, I study Geography at King’s College London. During my time in Shanghai, I took classes in public speaking and social sciences, including a very interesting module on American politics. The teaching style was different to what I had grown used to in my home institution, but the fast paced independent style is something that thoroughly enjoyed. I found that the students within my classes thrived off of the motivation and enthusiasm of their classmates; an attitude that definitely helped to foster a sense of belonging amongst the student body. I was, at first, a little sceptical about being so far from home, in a place so different to anywhere I had been before; although I was excited about delving into Chinese culture, language and history, I was also hesitant about how things would go. On reflection, I know for certain that the warm welcoming I received from my classmates, and friends I made in China, and how at home they made me feel, were very influential in helping me transition into everyday life in Shanghai. Moreover, their hospitality, kindness and willingness to share their culture and interest in mine is something that has made a lasting impression on me.
2. Cultural differences
I landed in China with my smartphone in hand, fully equipped with a translation app and useful Chinese phrases. I knew language would be a struggle, with no knowledge of Chinese and appreciating that I probably wouldn’t master the language in a month, I instead made an extra effort to learn the essentials and relied on my fluent Chinese speaking friends for the rest! Their language competency became most useful in restaurants, where I would have sat for hours trying to decipher the menus otherwise! Chinese food in China is very different to what is on offer in the UK and this is something that, although I was aware of before I arrived, I hadn’t realised the extent to which this was true. If you have any dietary or allergies I would advise being a little cautious whilst eating out and about, but generally the vast array of food on offer in China means that every meal time is an adventure!
Whilst a student in Shanghai, my typical day included attending classes, figuring out the metro service, eating and socialising. My teachers were really friendly and engaging, organising social events and excursions to develop on what we had been learning in class even more. The campuses at Shanghai Jiao Tong University are immense in size, I would often travel between different campuses using the designated school bus, but I also found the metro easy to use and great if I needed to get somewhere quickly. Facilities on campus were also very impressive! I often met up with other students and played bowling at the onsite bowling alley, or cycled around the beautiful greenery that is often forgotten about in cosmopolitan Shanghai. There was always something to do and this made me feel like I really did make the most out of my time in China. In addition to this, my class schedule meant that I was able to travel out of Shanghai on the weekends; visiting Beijing, Wuzhen and the Yellow Mountains, all incredible visits that helped me appreciate China’s many different landscapes.
4. Go for it!
The opportunity to study abroad is most likely one of the greatest opportunities you will have. Ever. It not only teaches you transferrable skills and the ability to adapt to different learning styles and assessment, it also meant that I was able to learn so much about myself, grow in independence and confidence, as well as thrive in a completely foreign surrounding. I know that my experience of studying abroad has meant that I am not only a more competent and open-minded student and Geographer, but I am global citizen with a broader perspective; I have my time in Shanghai, China, to thank for that.