Shanghai is an incredibly fascinating, neon metropolis of contrasts. Old & new. Classic, historical temples & sleek, modern skyscrapers. Strong tradition & hybridized pop culture. Communist rule & privatized economies.
For a short clip of my month in China, please enjoy the video below:
So why did I choose Shanghai? For many of the same reasons my peers mentioned in their interviews: a center of global attention for its rapid development, emerging Asian economy, its sinodependency with the rest of the world, China’s rich history and culture, and the opportunity to see a “Great Wonder of the World” to name a few.
On top of that, I felt that growing up in a very much developed and rather U.S./Euro-centric world, the Far East has to be so vastly different than everything that I am used to. Sending myself to a country so far from home – physically, culturally, politically – absolutely threw me out of my comfort zone. I worked through a seemingly impossible language barrier, gave all the “mystery meats” a try; Jasleen and I took four hours using the metro to find the market, which is really only a 20 minute taxi ride (our Chinese translation skills, or lack thereof, had us walking in giant squares).
Throughout my experiences abroad, I have learned that in whatever bind you may find yourself – however uncomfortable, foreign, maybe even downright frustrating – don’t forget to step back and take whatever life throws at you with an open mind, quick humor, and a light heart. In hindsight, we can look back and laugh about our experiences getting caught in the pouring rain frantically chasing after taxis in a busy Shanghai intersection, cramming 8 of us in a Beijing hostel room for a weekend (epic sleepover), watching each of us barely keep down a serving of stinky tofu, laughing at our attempts to order food in Chinese and receiving a completely different dish (“oh well, I guess this looks good too”), or taking time to just pause and gaze out at the endless green mountains from the Great Wall of China (an experience far better lived than shown in any photo or video).
After 4 weeks of living, studying, and exploring Dynamic China, several thousands of miles from the Orange Country bubble where I grew up, this experience gave me the opportunity to cast aside those comforts of home and learn about myself in different contexts. For me, I truly surprised myself sometimes. I never thought solo travel/exploring in Asia would ever be for me. With those experiences, I felt a new surge of independence, connection with the destination, and even accomplishment. I spent a few weeks after the program traveling Hong Kong, Singapore, Manila – most times meeting up and staying with friends or family, other times just exploring on my own. Upon my return, I felt I had become a more independent and culturally aware global citizen – something certainly learned through experiences and not a textbook.
So I encourage you, fellow bruin and dear reader, to seriously consider studying and traveling abroad if you do not already have plans to do so. If it’s the fear, they say life begins at the end of your comfort zone. If it’s the finances, make travel your priority. Cut down on those daily coffee trips, cook at home, work a part-time job, apply for scholarships – a small sacrifice for a truly priceless experience. After all, when will you get the chance to spend month(s), even a year, in a foreign country with 30 of your college friends while still being productive to please the parents (AKA those college units).
For some, it’s the beautiful Greek Isles with that iconic, crystal-blue ocean and striking white architecture, maybe the flavorful, samba-dancing Brazil, art immersion in classic London, or diplomacy in cosmopolitan NYC. Wherever travel study may take you, don’t forget to follow your bliss.