“Some of the best times on campus, or in the vicinity, were spent during lunch..”
Kirsi and Anna from Finland went together to study at the Shanghai University in China. Read their story below.
We flew to Shanghai from Finland with a group of other exchange students and were greeted at the airport by a representative from the Shanghai University. It was March and Shanghai was much colder than we’d expected but luckily, we got the heating working in our campus accommodation and blocked the almost merciless Shanghai breeze outside our new home.
The winters in Shanghai can indeed be quite chilly but from March onwards the weather does warm up and everything starts blossoming in the parks. The summers, in contrast, can be very hot, with temperatures sometimes as high as 40°C (104°F) in July but they cool down again in the autumn and become very pleasant.
Accommodation at the campus
The campus accommodation options were single or twin rooms, nice enough and very easy to book and pay for. However, off campus living could have been cheaper and you could have gotten a much nicer place for the same amount of money. Still, the students who opted for off campus options had to endure the sometimes crippling, and frustrating, language barrier.
Your schedule at the university depended on the courses you took but early morning starts were not unexceptional. Some of the best times on campus, or in the vicinity, were spent during lunch at the Wish Dong restaurant – mouthwateringly delicious!
Eating was an interesting experience every time and especially in the beginning, unless you ducked to a Western chain food place. You should definitely try one of the tens of thousands of restaurants in Shanghai; everything is worth tasting! Spice food lovers are absolutely spoiled, too. No one we knew got sick from the food; getting sick was much more due to the too flimsy clothes in a new climate.
It is worth learning how to pronounce a few things in Chinese and recognize a few signs. This is especially useful when dealing with the menus. Also, having the address of the university and your accommodation are good to have on a piece of paper, in Chinese.
The easiest way to commute between the university and the city center was by underground. If you want to experience the population explosion of the planet in a gripping way, get on the underground during rush hour, especially around four in the afternoon. Buses are a very cheap way to see the city; make sure you have the exact change for the payment. Taxis are also affordable, till you are so used to the low cost of everything that you start feeling cheap about the more luxurious way to travel, too. Shanghai is massive and the taxi drivers can’t possibly know the more obscure addresses. It’s wise to have a map with you at all times, even though it may not have every street of the rapidly growing city on it. Bicycles are dirt cheap, about 10€, but the traffic can be scary.
Travelling and shopping
Traveling around in China is very cheap, as is finding accommodation when on the road. If you have time and the budget, spending a longer time in China is an excellent opportunity to explore the country: it is unbelievably varied in culture and landscape. We used a travel agency, Spring Tours, located just next to the People’s Square. The staff spoke English and booked us bargain tickets to Beijing (85 €) and a five day holiday on the Hainan island, in a four star hotel, for less than 200€. You can also travel by trains, even longer distances, since the cabins are very comfy.
Shopping opportunities in Shanghai are abundant, to say the least. Shopping centers with Western products can be just as expensive as at home so not everything is a find. Check out the various markets were you can find quality brands for a fraction of the price. You can also have clothes tailor-made very inexpensively. A suit, for example, made according to your measurements, was only about 30€. Our favorite music store was near JinLing Road #200 and we shopped for groceries at the affordable (French) Carrefour supermarket.
There are excellent opportunities for exercising on campus. You can use the track and basketball fields free of charge, and you can practice your table tennis skills on the courts in the building opposite the international students’ accommodation. The tennis courts and the swimming pool charge a small fee for entrance.
The gym we used was about a kilometer from campus, temptingly next to a McDonald’s. The monthly fees were very affordable. There are also, of course, numerous other gyms all over the city and the prices can vary quite a bit based on the facilities. We went bowling in a stadium next to the Shanghai Circus World, where you could also go climbing and carting. Opposite from the school, there was a massage parlor where an hour long foot massage cost a mere 2€!
Don’t pack too much when you leave: you will go crazy about the shopping opportunities (and low prices!) in Shanghai, even if you hated shopping before. The biggest problem during the whole semester abroad for pretty much everyone was how to bring all the stuff back home! Still, keep in mind that it is worth bringing some light winter clothes as well as a warm pair of pajamas. Tall girls (over 165 cm) might find it hard to find jeans in Shanghai. DVDs are terribly cheap (less than 1€) and nearly all of them have English audio and subtitles. If you like movies, it is worth bringing your laptop with you for the marathon movie nights you can have.