Studying abroad in the meeting point between east and west

Moving to a metropolis to study abroad and call it your home for a half year, sounds pretty scary and both exciting to most of us. A couple months ago, Jonas found the courage to study abroad and flew to the financial capital of China, Shanghai. To find out how he’s doing and what he thinks of the city that’s also known as the meeting point between east and west, we asked him all the ins and outs about his student life in Shanghai.

A young man is smiling and standing in front of a Chinese building in Shanghai.
With his study background, he couldn’t have chosen a more perfect destination than Shanghai to study abroad! Photo by Jonas / CC BY

Hi Jonas! Can you tell us a bit about yourself?

Hi, my Name is Jonas Finkele. I´m 21 years old and back home in Germany I´m doing my Bachelor of Science in Global Business Management at the University of Augsburg. Currently, I am studying at Shanghai University (SHU) in China for a semester abroad.

Why did you choose Asia as your study destination, and why Shanghai in specific?

Actually, my plan had always been to do a semester in the United States but when the time came, and I had to decide, I thought Asia was going to be way more exciting. I chose Shanghai because I believe, nowhere in the world will you ever find such a great mix between a globalized metropolitan city and ancient Chinese culture.

Illuminated buildings under a grey sky during night in Shanghai.
The populous city Shanghai is one of the fastest developing cities in the world! Photo by Adi Constantin / CC BY

Can you describe a regular day as an exchange student in Shanghai?

A usual day at SHU starts with a morning class at 8. Since most students are living on campus, you just grab a quick Chinese breakfast in the school´s canteen before taking one of the shared bikes to the classroom. After your lecture, you´re most likely to find yourself in one of the countless small restaurants around the campus, where you will have some delicious noodle soup, fried rice or dumplings. Since there are basically no tourists or expats around, prices are low and the food is authentic.

A woman is looking out the window of a restaurant with bottles on a shelf in Shanghai.
There are so many nice an affordable restaurants to discover in Shanghai. Photo by Pedroserapoi / CC BY

In the afternoon you will either work on some group presentations for the next week or use your free time to explore Shanghai – and trust me, you will never get tired of this buzzling city. After you went through some invitations to numerous clubs where you as a foreigner will get free entry and free drinks tonight, you decide whether to go to Model night at M1NT where they have an aquarium with sharks in the club, grab a beer and enjoy the view of all the lit up skyscrapers by the Bund or just visit another temple before heading home on campus because it´s Wednesday and yesterday you had already been to Zapata´s for Taco Tuesday. Yep, this is Shanghai.

People are having a drink at a rooftop bar with a pool and a view of the skyline of Shanghai.
Just imagine having some drinks with this amazing view of Shanghai’s skyline … Photo by Jonas / CC BY

What is your hobby, and can you practice your hobby in Shanghai?

I personally love all kinds of sports, so meeting with the guys and playing soccer on campus is always a lot fun. Also, there is a gym very close to the campus, that most of our group have signed up for. It really feels like being at home, if you go for a workout and accidently bump into people you know. I also play the piano and the drums and if you are cheeky enough you will probably find a grand piano in some mall or just join some guy playing in a bar.

How did you experience the cultural differences between Shanghai and Germany?

Obviously, there are many cultural differences but something you will recognize immediately is people loudly clearing their throat and spitting on the ground in public. This is not just some stereotype but daily life. I can ensure you, however, you will start to find it rather funny than just disgusting after a while. Digging a little deeper into the not so obvious, in China there still is a culture of acting in social responsibilities. Traditionally this meant, everyone would fulfill their role in society, nothing more, nothing less.

Chinese red lanterns are hanging in a street as decoration in Shanghai.
Give yourself time to adapt to another culture when you’re living in a different country. Photo by Chastagner Thierry / CC BY

Coming to the more positive things, as everywhere in the world, people really appreciate if you try to speak their language and most Chinese will start to openly smile and help you, even if you only use the three words that you have learned in your last class. Generally speaking, if you get to know Chinese people a little bit better, they are one of the most welcoming people I have met in my entire life.

Green hills with rice fields during a cloudy day in China.
There are so many things that will impress you when you’re traveling within China. Photo by Jonas / CC BY

What were the highlights of your semester abroad?

Shanghai already has a lot to offer, but if you start traveling within China, there are so many things that will really impress you. Standing on the great wall of China or hiking the yellow mountains are surely something you will remember. For me, the highlight of my time here in China was experiencing Chinese hospitality.

Students are sitting on a stone wall that goes over mountains in China.
Don’t forget to visit the greatest symbol of ancient Chinese engineering; The Great Wall of China. Photo by Jonas / CC BY

Once, the father of a Chinese friend of mine invited us to come to their family´s place a few hundred kilometers south of Shanghai. When we arrived there, he had rented a big fishing boat, that we would spend the whole morning on the sea with. We caught heaps of fish, shrimps and crabs that were cooked for us right after we got back to land. This was not only the freshest seafood I ate so far, I had never met this man before, but still he treated me and the others like we would belong to the family.

An old street with an old wall and a big modern skyscraper in the back in China.
Many cool places around the city are easy to go to by metro. Go for a run in Nanjing for example! Photo by Gwen24 / CC BY

What are the must-visit places and must-dos in Shanghai for an exchange student?

Shanghai has a lot to offer, my personal top 3 are the following:

  • Visit one of the numerous sky- and rooftops bars. My favorite ones are “Flair” in Ritz Carleton, the “W” hotel and “Sir Elli´s” in Peninsula. Although they are pretty expensive, I think getting a fancy drink and enjoying the different views on the city is a must do! If you like it a little more casual, Captains Hostel has a bar with a very nice view as well.
  • If you´re a fan of live music, go to “Blues and Jazz” to enjoy another nice drink and listen to some awesome jazz bands. It´s right next to Captains and just a couple minutes from the bund.
  • Have as much local food as possible. Opportunities are limitless. Try dumplings, hot pot, different soups and many more. The more authentic, the better. Don´t avoid a place just because it doesn´t look so nice. If there are many locals eating there, you can as well. For those who are a little more adventurous, you can also go for jelly fish, duck brain, pork blood soup, entrails, chicken feet and whatever you might find.
People are eating Chinese food on a round table in Shanghai.
Jonas said he will definitely miss the amazing food when he goes back home. Photo by Jonas / CC BY

How will you think your exchange would affect your future?

The exchange certainly taught me a lot about China, I really learned to love that country and can even see myself living in Shanghai for a couple of years. I also think, learning about the culture here makes you realize that we often judge people without knowing their background. Even though I had been traveling a lot before and had lived in different places, living in China really opens your mind. But most importantly, I made some great friends here!

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

Why should students go to Shanghai to study abroad? And why with Asia Exchange?

For me, it´s living in one of the most diverse and buzzling places in the world, the cultural experience and the great location from where you can travel to all parts of China. Asia Exchange is a great choice too! They just make going abroad so easy. Many people believe, studying overseas was difficult to organize if you have to plan it yourself. In fact, it was even less red tape than most university partnership programs! Great Job, guys – Thanks a lot!

Experience the best of both worlds yourself by studying abroad in this ultra modern Chinese city.

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 interview was made by our intern Noortje!

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