The China study abroad experience: Welcoming culture shock and exploring radical differences in Shanghai

Culture | by Kush Rauhila
Posted: March 18th, 2011 | Updated: July 25th, 2012 | Comments
  Shanghai Puxi China is becoming an increasingly popular destination for foreign students. Many come to study at Chinese universities, others participate in study abroad programs run by overseas institutions of higher learning. Here at the Ctrip-sponsored China Travel Blog, we've been fortunate to have a number of talented interns work with us in recent years, the majority from the NYU in Shanghai study center (you can find out more about them here). Kush is our newest intern. He'll be learning about the travel business in China this semester while sharing with us his impressions of life as a student in China. >>> Hello, my name is Kush Rauhila and I'm a student at New York University Shanghai majoring in marketing and economics. I am currently studying abroad at the East China Normal University campus in Shanghai, and this semester I'll be working as an intern for Ctrip and blogging about my experiences here on the Ctrip-sponsored China Travel Blog. This is my first time in China, and it’s been an enlightening experience. I'm seeing a world I have never seen and doing it as a complete foreigner. It’s evident to me how different I am as an Indian-American (Měiguó Yìndùrén 美国印度人) from the many stares I get while walking down the street. So, why China? One reason was that I actually wanted to experience culture shock. I wanted to have to adapt to an environment in which I do not know the language, and see how my experiences will change me as a person. I had options to study abroad on all the other continents (well, Antarctica excepted), but I chose China because of all the stories I’ve heard from previous study abroad students, it seemed the best choice to really experience a radical change from the New York lifestyle. I’ve been here for one month now exactly, and I'm absolutely in love with the place. The food and transportation are cheap. The technology is amazing. The nightlife is incredible. There’s so much to see! I don’t know how to see everything in only four months time here. However, the one thing I find most striking is the sense of sharp duality. Here, everything seems to be either one of two extremes. If I have 25 kuai, I can use that money to eat food for possibly four days, or I can spend it all on a drink at Starbucks. The prices here are either dirt cheap or the same as in the US. It makes me wonder how people who operate cheaper places get by. Outside the back gate of ECNU, there is a line of small restaurants. I see a lot of now-familiar faces operating a lot of these places. Take the woman who operates a single hole-in-the-wall restaurant serving Chinese "pancakes" and "burritos" that range from two to eight kuai. I've learned that she works 15 hours a day every day. That's an astonishing 105 hours of work a week, just to get by. I’m certain this is very common. And then, just around the corner from such tiny businesses, there are a multitude of modern Western-style malls. They are some of the best ones I have ever seen, as are a number of the best lounges and clubs I've hung out a bit in. This all makes me reflect on my own situation. I'm quite well off. I paid a price lower than I would in the States for a single bedroom with heat, a private bathroom and access to a kitchen and other utilities. The only downside is slow Internet, but I’m already really spoiled being here. Most Chinese college students here don’t even what I’ve learned to take for granted. They don’t have heaters, they have to use a public washroom, and they work about three times as hard as NYU students do. I realize how easy I have it, and how Chinese students here casually do what most of us Western students would consider difficult. I'm amazed by the work ethic. It reminds me of my trip to India many years ago, which took me from a comfy Long Island home to a rural lifestyle. Like that trip, Shanghai has changed me, making me aware that there are other worlds beyond New York. Shanghai is something completely different. I was searching for some culture shock, and I'm getting it! In my time here, I will be traveling around China in hopes of getting an even wider and deeper perspective. In the end, I hope to take what I learn here in terms of gaining greater insight about a new world, bring it back to New York, and better understand myself and how I operate in different environments. This is just the beginning!
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