Fully immersing oneself in a foreign country requires a willingness to experience a different culture and an eagerness to eventually embrace the components of the new culture. It is certainly no easy task, as it may place one outside their comfort zone. Fortunately, given my primary major in International Relations and my passion in exploring today’s interconnected world, I constantly seek opportunities that will expose me to foreign cultures. I believe in today’s globally interwoven world lie abundant opportunities to travel to a foreign country and truly experience cultures that define nations, and for me, the past summer in Shanghai has served as an unbelievable experience. Not only have the language classes been both challenging and intellectually stimulating, simply residing in Shanghai has opened my eyes to a vibrant society. The philosophy, traditions, lifestyles, and even interactions embedded in the Chinese culture all explain not only Shanghai’s, but also China’s major advancement in recent years.
If there were one overarching theme I would use to describe Shanghai based on my two month-long venture, it would place emphasis on the city’s determined mindset. During the past two months, I had the privilege to explore multiple sections of Shanghai—People’s Square, Nanjing Lu, The Bund—and one major observation I made was how fast everything progresses. Now that is not to say I believe Chinese people are impatient or snappy; rather, I observe a fast-tempo society in which the people are constantly eager to improve their business and advance forward. I would describe Chinese society as a hard-working one and more importantly, a sincere one that empowers fair play. I recall our first tour guide, Andy, who explained why so many people move to Shanghai for business opportunities when there are already 23 million people bustling in the city. The answer was because Shanghai is a city of fair play that advocates talent and sincere efforts as opposed to other regions where business or employment opportunities heavily rely on pre-established connections and networks. Being born and raised in the United States, where the situation is very similar to China where some regions are attractive for its “fair play” while others are infamous for the dependence on connections or networks, I am beginning to understand how Shanghai’s “fair play” characteristic has become attractive to the Chinese people and how in effect, it led Shanghai to be one of China’s most global and influential cities.
A huge aspect of Shanghai and China in general that I admire is its rich history. I credit this growing admiration to the SISU-CMU program because not only do the language classes provide us a basic foundation in which we can interact and communicate with Chinese natives, but the class trips we had to Hangzhou, Nanjing, and Suzhou provided us with valuable experiences. Each trip composed of different schedules and tour guides, yet they all served one major purpose: to exhibit China’s rich history. From the amazing views atop the Leifeng Pagoda in Hangzhou, to the sacred halls of the Nanjing Massacre Memorial in Nanjing, to even the fascinating Suzhou No.1 Silk Factory in Suzhou, each trip embodied China’s vast capabilities and a piece of the country’s history that will forever contribute to China’s ever-growing culture. Even through my daily interactions with Shanghai natives at restaurants or at shopping mall centers, I am continuously reminded of how far China has come in terms of development. As I learned from previous academic courses and even through recent tours, particularly at the Nanjing Massacre Memorial, China has suffered constant oppression the past two centuries through the Opium War and Japanese imperialism. While it may vary throughout the country, to visually witness Shanghai’s exponential development continues to fascinate me. Since my first day landing at Pudong Airport, I am overwhelmed by the never-ending skyscrapers and buildings that fill Shanghai’s skyline, and it reminds me of the determined attitude and willingness of Chinese people. It goes a long way to describe the hard-working and passionate orientation of Chinese society and how it can build its up way to become the world second largest economy and a major global actor.
To be honest, I had my doubts about spending two months in Shanghai. It would be my first time in a foreign country for this long, and I was hesitant as to whether or not I would be able to truly embrace this culture. I was hesitant about whether or not my appetite would cater to the food, the language courses that I took a hiatus from my junior year at CMU and Georgetown University, the local Chinese people and whether I would be able to adapt to daily interactions, and even the daunting traffic that people constantly warned me about. These were all concerns that made me nervous, even till the hour I arrived at Jinjiang Inn. However, reflecting on the past summer in Shanghai, I feel truly blessed for everything the SISU-CMU program has provided me. In the process of catching up on my Chinese language abilities, I have developed a mutual friendship with both my professors and classmates that create a comfortable and stimulating learning environment in the classroom. By experimenting at local restaurants, and yes, even at street vendors as well, I came to love the traditional taste of authentic Chinese food. And I am guilty to say I treated myself to China’s popular CoCo bubble tea everyday the first two weeks. I also had many memorable highlights where I would find myself struggling to understand what a street seller was trying to sell me, while having multiple near-death experiences after crossing the streets. I mention all these progressions to highlight how much this past month has meant to me. The new friends, memories, and even newfound determination to continue expanding my Chinese language abilities, hopefully even at CMU, have all made me appreciate spending my last summer as an undergraduate in Shanghai. I view my time at SISU as a huge stepping-stone to my passion in International Relations and future goal in applying to law school. The simple interactions and people skills I nurtured in a foreign country have all been valuable lessons, and the practical use of Mandarin excites me for future opportunities.
To cite another quote from our tour guide Andy, he expressed his opinion that “Chinese people are good at observation, but not innovation.” While I believe there are many perspectives to view the Chinese society from, one thing is clear to me. Whether or not its observations or innovation, I wish to include China, and Shanghai in particular, in my future plans. What those future plans may be, I am not certain. But I understand the how important Shanghai is to China, and subsequently, how influential China is becoming in today’s interconnected world and global economy. By embracing China’s rich history and culture, my time in Shanghai has expanded my interests in hopefully continuing my stay in the near future.