My Experience in The Middle Kingdom
I departed from Boston on a plane bound for Shanghai, and if the 15-hour flight ahead wasn’t daunting enough, the windows on the aircraft soon blacked out. My coveted window seat had gone to waste.
When I awoke from a coma-like sleep, the plane had landed on Chinese soil. I was ready to start a new chapter of my international experience, this time completely on my own. My legs were shaky as I gathered my bags, trying to hail a cab. The sensation that I truly had no idea what I was doing or why I was there hit me like a ton of bricks.
The lights of the city seemed cold to me as the cab whizzed down an elevated road, high above the food stalls and shop fronts purveyed by the people that I would come to know. But that day all I really wanted to do was talk to my girlfriend and go to sleep.
I wanted to go back to the summer, sitting in streams or walking barefoot over warm grass, but that was not an option. There was no way to turn back, and when I met Craig and Jonathan, two people who would become my best friends during the experience, I was swept into this new world.
In this world you don’t need to sleep, you can fill your belly for barely 50 cents, and in one minute be talking to a beautiful French girl then in the next a Russian model buys you drinks. As readers might have inferred, in this place a girlfriend wouldn’t last long.
The idea of living in China was startling at first, but in order to thrive in this world, you have to throw yourself into it with full force. If you only engage halfway, you risk being reluctantly tied to affairs taking place more than 8,000 miles from you, with only a tiny phone screen telling you what is going on at home. I couldn’t be held in that state of limbo, something I don’t think people at home understood.
Amid the traveling, the drinking, and learning the Chinese language, I found solace through the same thing I enjoy doing at home: riding my bike. I bought one brand new online for less than $20 and rode it every day, either weaving through traffic or riding down quiet back alleys. This is how I learned about the city and what it had to offer.
The fusion of cultures in Shanghai was something that took me entirely by surprise. I should have known, though, considering I was studying at an international school in arguably one of the most internationalized cities in the world.
The history of Shanghai is one of almost constant foreign influence, so I got a taste of every corner of the globe within that city. From the colonizing powers of France and Britain to the business moguls of India and the Middle East, the internship I took on with a Chinese development company showed how truly co-dependent our global economy has become.
I worked closely with a Swedish company headed by a Chinese-speaking French entrepreneur, and was able to visit the Swedish embassy to see how business is conducted by international firms operating in the Middle Kingdom. I was again surprised at how welcoming these people were to an American student, especially considering the post-election developments of mid-November.
I left Shanghai with lifelong friends. Coming home at the end of December was difficult for me, and reverse culture shock took its toll. But my mind was clear, though it took me a couple of tired weeks to get back on my feet.
I think it is important for people who have studied abroad to process the experience with openness and honesty. I still don’t think I have fully processed my time in China; more and more I am reminded of experiences there and am filled with happy memories. I would definitely recommend China as a truly enriching experience for anyone interested in studying abroad.
Cooper Gerus for LVC 430 Feature Writing