Review Of Life, Travel, and Food in Shanghai

The Great Wall of China


When Sara Urner ’16 arrived in Shanghai, she had never spoken a word of Chinese in her life.

Still, she had relished the opportunity to travel abroad, as so many other students had, and made the most of her time in China. Months after her arrival and a five-week Mandarin course later, Urner may still not be an expert in the language, but she has nevertheless forged a place for herself, in China and as an intern at Vandergeeten, a formerly Belgian craft beer company now based in China and looking to expand to the United States.

Complicated, right?

That’s where Urner comes in, not only examining the Chinese beer market but looking back at her home country to gain insight about the drinking habits of Americans. While much of her work takes place in the typical office building, complete with an early morning rush and inter-branch confusion, she also participates in field work, traveling to “western” bars and gaining a unique perspective about the craft beer market. 

“We basically just get to go take pictures and talk to people about what they’re drinking,” Urner said. “And of course, we get to try some beers. It’s the perfect balance of having fun and analyzing a perfectly normal environment.”

Urner also participated in the International Food and Drink Expo in Shanghai, an opportunity to talk to potential buyers in both markets she had studied. Investigating American culture may seem counterproductive for a trip centered around global perspectives, but Urner’s exploration of China and its culture has opened her eyes to the diversity of the country. 

Like most culture, a significant part of what makes China unique is the food.

From candied lotus root, a Buddhist tradition, to the do-it-yourself meat fryer that is a hot pot, Urner has sampled cuisine from all around the country. Going from “bright green” meat to cow stomach in the same meal may sound bizarre, but for her, it was just part of the experience. More importantly, the vast range of food made her even more aware of China’s diversity.

“I’ve experienced everything on the spectrum, from the high tech bright lights of Shanghai to an ancient Buddhist Temple,” said Urner. “I think that’s what China is, and it was really cool to see these two worlds coexisting.”

Spending time on the other side of the world has inspired Urner to pursue her dreams when she returns home.

“I’ve had ideas dancing around in my head about writing, painting, and getting my education certification so that I can teach English in foreign countries,” she said.

The desire to teach came in part from experiencing China’s vastly different school system. Urner met an American high school teacher, Jeff Engle, and his class of students. She witnessed his students, whom she described as “super smart,” preparing to go off to universities, and realized what an impact Engle had had on them. The learning culture in China emphasizes respect for teachers and academic drive, two things that Urner admired about Chinese students.

Even though this chapter of her life has closed, she eagerly anticipates the day that she can return and fulfill her newly discovered passions.