In the Middle of 24 Million Other People

My name is Mathilde, a twenty-something born and raised in Paris. As more and more students do nowadays, I decided to step in my years of higher education in a different country than my own, and started a Bachelor of Business Administration in International Business in Avans University of Applied Sciences in Breda, the Netherlands. I can tell this was the best decision I have ever made!

A girl with brown curls is smiling into the camera.
The author, Mathilde, is currently studying in Shanghai with Asia Exchange. Photo by Mathilde / CC BY

I have always been keen on discovering new horizons, and I feel incredibly lucky that my studies actually allow me to live abroad and study simultaneously.

After two years in the Netherlands and an internship in Sweden, I was craving for some more “exotic” sights. My current year of studies being cut in half with a semester abroad, I started looking for the partner’s schools of my home university, knowing I had a growing interest for Asian countries in general, and more specifically China. It has been quite a disappointment when I realized that none of the suggested options were matching my expectations. Determined, I started my own research for Chinese universities which offered free mover programs for a semester…. Ouch. Not as easy as I thought. Without the help of a home university, it is quite a tough process to apply for a university in Asia, if not impossible! To mention a few obstacles, some universities websites lack of lot clear and up-to-date information, many institutions solely welcome students from partners schools, the credits conversion is nowhere to be found (if existing?), extensive response time regarding emails sent out; only to quote a few… If you are reading this, you probably encountered the same issues as I did!

Well, just when I started to be lacking patience, hope and time, I opened Asia Exchange website. Wow, now we are talking! I was thrilled to find out that two top destinations in China were offered for a semester abroad, coupled with an extremely simple application process, and a super-fast online response time. Suddenly, all the above-mentioned headaches related to the application process were not a problem at all!

People are walking in a street with old Chinese buildings in Shanghai.
The first impression of a country matters! Walking in Shangai can look something like this. Photo by Ioa8320 / CC BY

After hearing so much about Shanghai, its opportunities, its diversity, I found myself daydreaming about its unique skyline and decided to gaze at it from a different angle than from my desktop background. Being a worldwide hub for International Business, a metropolis where expats blend with locals in a country known for its unique economical development, Shanghai clearly stood out as the best destination to undertake my semester abroad. I gathered all the relevant information about the university’s program and I sent my application to Asia Exchange. Next thing I know, I am typing down this interview from one of the most exciting cities in the world, Shanghai!

High buildings on the water side and a blue sky in Shanghai.
Stop daydreaming about the unique skyline of Shanghai and just go! Photo by Steven_yu / CC BY

Within a week, I received a positive reply from my application, and since then it all went by very fast! I am currently experiencing an unbelievable experience and encountering new things every single day. The city is extremely lively, there is always something to see, to do, to try! The development of the past two decades and the pace at which it is still growing makes it really extraordinary. It might seem intimidating at first, but it was easier than I thought to get to know my way around, even though there are so many things I have not seen yet!

A person is making a picture with an iphone of scorpions on a stick on a market in Shanghai.
Scorpions? Some of the local delicacies may not be for the faint hearted.. Photo by Mathilde / CC BY

I live in a shared apartment three metro stops from the university campus, which is really convenient, considering the size of the city. The building is fairly new, and conveniently located close to the main metro line. It was quite easy to find a place to live, however I do have to say that Shanghai is not cheap for accommodation. Many people decided to opt for the university dorms located on the campus, with single and shared bedrooms available, making it a great option.

Shanghai University has two main campuses: Baoshan and Yanchang. All classes and the dorms are located on the Yanchang campus, located on the main metro line, a few metro stops away from the famous People Square! The area around the campus is loaded with nice restaurants (you can eat a proper meal for less than 3€!), a park, a couple of supermarkets, a farmers’ market selling fresh products daily and more, which makes it very enjoyable for lunch and coffee breaks! The classes cover diverse topics related to Chinese culture, history, and economy, all taught by Chinese teachers in English.

Two Chinese characters with the meaning dream and hapiness.
Learning the local language of the place where you are really adds value to your stay! Photo by Alexas_Fotos / CC BY

The Chinese language classes occur twice a week and are really adding value to my stay in China! As you might already know, English is not really widely spoken by locals, so if you can manage to order some food at the restaurant or give directions in a taxi in Chinese, you directly feel more integrated, and trust me lot of things get easier too! Being free on Fridays, the program leaves plenty of time to arrange some trips around Shanghai and beyond, doing sports, and visit the countless venues in town. You cannot get bored over here! The city accounts many renowned museums, theatres, acrobatics shows, concerts etc.

Illuminated buildings during a claudy night in Shanghai.
Shanghai may and will make you feel small if you grew up in a little country town. Photo by Adi Constantin / CC BY

A culture shock? Well, China is probably not like anything you have experienced before. Having to cope with a complete new (and in so many ways opposite of my own) culture and all it implies is an inevitable step for any foreigners landing in China. I believe each individual, depending on its own background and ability to adapt, will have something different to say about going through a cultural shock.

I had traveled to Asia before, but it was my first time in China, and I can now say that yes, there was a bit of a culture shock at the beginning. But there is nothing wrong with that, on the opposite! The country and its people’s history, values, traditions, customs, do’s and don’ts, beliefs, is completely different than anything I have come across so far in Europe. Of course it is easy nowadays to browse these things on the Internet, but I have to say that I am amazed by how authentic it is to discover it from the inside. It is also somehow ironic to realize that many small stereotypes I previously had about China are simply false! Did you know the fortune cookies you might get at your corner Chinese restaurant are a pure invention? I have not seen a single one of these here!

Green ricefields and mountains are surrounding a small farmer's village in China.
And if you feel like escaping the city, beautiful country side is not that far either. Photo by Sasint / CC BY

As a foreigner, although it is becoming rare nowadays because of the increasing amount of expats in a city like Shanghai, you might get stared at by some local Chinese. Or even asked to be taken in a picture! It might be weird at first, but you quickly get used to it since it is mainly due to genuine curiosity, nothing else!

You might also be interested in: Student Experience in Shanghai – Gerhard

Surprisingly, in a city that accounts around 24 million people, I did not (yet) experienced a feeling of real oppression by the “mass”. Of course if you take the metro at a peak hour you will have to find your way in a jammed wagon, but I had similar experiences in other big cities, Paris for instance! The main point I would highlight in terms of “shock” is the language barrier. It can sometimes be extremely frustrating not to be able to communicate. I even once had an entire conversation face-to-face by the mean of an online translator on a smartphone! Overall, there is always a solution, and Chinese people are most of the time really willing to help.

Overall, I can already feel the benefits such an experience will bring me: becoming more aware of the world’s diversity and thus open-minded, learning to adapt to different environments, meeting great and interesting people from all over the globe, and getting real insights of a country soon about to become the biggest economy on Earth. Most importantly, stepping out of my comfort zone.

Find out more about studying abroad in Shanghai

Asia Exchange is a Finnish company providing study abroad opportunities in Asia Pacific for students from all around the world. Want to get travel tips and new blog posts straight to your inbox? Subscribe to our monthly newsletter! If you have any questions about studying abroad, feel free to contact us! We’ll get back to you as soon as possible.

This article was written by our former student Mathilde.

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