In the Fall of 2019 I made the decision to study abroad in Shanghai, China with CIEE’s Business, Language + Culture program. This experience would become one of the best decisions I’ve ever made, changing my view of the world and personal perspectives forever. My home university, the University of St. Thomas in Saint Paul, Minnesota, prepared me well to study abroad, but nothing could prepare me for the life-changing experience I gained from my travels. As an International Business and Marketing major I had a lot of interest in travel, but I had never been anywhere in Asia. As the program date grew closer, so did my excitement, but I would be lying if I said nerves didn’t come along with it.
My decision to study abroad in China came from a conversation I had in high school. I was on a flight to Orlando for a school trip and was randomly seated next to a girl who was studying at the University of Minnesota. We talked for a while before she told me that she and her friends were headed to Shanghai, China for spring break. At the time I had never been out of the country and I remember thinking “wow this girl is adventurous, I want to be like that in college.” But after I was accepted into CIEE’s program I started to become more and more aware of how different China was going to be than the United States, and it began to scare me. I did not know the Mandarin language and I was traveling to Shanghai alone, not knowing one person in my program.
Fast forward to September 2019, I boarded my flight to the city I would be living in for just short of four months. It was the longest flight I had ever been on and after some unforeseeable flight delays, I was traveling for roughly 28 hours before I reached Shanghai. I got settled into my dorm room at East China Normal University and spent the next day in orientation where I ended up meeting the people who would go on to become my best friends.
One of the biggest benefits of this program was pushing myself out of my comfort zone, traveling alone, and meeting students from all over the United States. I didn’t know how much I could have in common with people from Maryland or Tennessee, but being in such a new environment made us relate to each other in a way I didn’t know was possible. After just three weeks together I knew more about my friends that I was studying abroad with than some of my friends back home. Beyond this, a few of my friends were living with Chinese roommates in the East China Normal University dorms whom I also grew close to. I remember being shocked at how similar my Chinese friends were to me. Even though we grew up on other sides of the planet we all still worried about grades, wanted to go out with our friends, and had the same sense of humor. Their opinions on topics such as business and politics were also very eye-opening. I grew up in the US strongly believing that I had all the right answers to the world’s problems, and they grew up thousands of miles away with very different perspectives, that oftentimes challenged my own. This made me grow immensely as a person and come to the realization that there is more than one right answer to the millions of questions we face as human beings.
Another highlight of this program was the ample amount of free time we had to travel throughout the country. Because my visa was single entry, I was unable to leave mainland China, except for my cultural excursion to Taiwan. This pushed me to see parts of China that I probably wouldn’t have ventured to otherwise. A group of my friends and I took a ten-day trip to Zhangjiajie and Guilin where we saw the mountains that inspired the Avatar movie, the famous Elephant Trunk Hill, rode cable cars, did a lot of hiking, walked on a glass bridge on the top of a mountain, visited a tea plantation, and rode on a boat made from bamboo, just to name a few. We were also able to take several weekend trips to Beijing, Hainan Province (aka the Hawaii of China), and Hangzhou. Our classes were Monday through Thursday, which left Friday through Sunday open for us to travel and explore. Those weekend trips were some of the best parts of my experience, and my friends and I still laugh at the crazy stories that happened in each place. By traveling from place to place and being in charge of our planning, I can personally attest to becoming a more independent and organized person. Whether it be planning our train tickets, finding flights, or staying in a nice Airbnb, I feel far more seasoned as a traveler and have confidence that I will be able to travel on my own in the future.
Lastly, I must mention how much I gained in the classroom. Going into studying abroad, classes were the last thing on my mind. But once I learned that one of my professors was once the CFO of both Nike and Coca-Cola Shanghai, my interest was piqued. I learned so much about China from a business and economic standpoint that I still talk about it with my friends back home. Some classes were better than others, but I truly became a nerd for the content that I was learning. I’ve always been a hands-on learner, and have struggled with classes back home that weren’t engaging enough. But most of my professors at East China Normal University were able to make the course content so interesting and applicable that I wanted to hear what they had to say. I now feel very prepared for the workforce and truly believe that I could handle whatever a future employer throws at me.
If you’ve made it to the end of this post, thank you, I know it was a long one. Honestly, I could write another five pages about my experience and that would hardly do it justice. Studying abroad in Shanghai, China with CIEE’s Business, Language + Culture program was absolutely the best decision I have ever made. Even writing this for me was emotional because I would relive my experience over and over if I could. In today’s health climate, I know that some may be leery about visiting this part of the world, but once the opportunity is available again I challenge you to push yourself to do it. If I had decided to not study abroad in Shanghai, I never would have known what I was missing out on, but now that I’ve had that experience, I couldn’t imagine where I would be without it. The fall of 2019 will be a time in my life that I will remember forever. I am so thankful that I put myself in what I once thought would be a scary situation because it allowed me to become the adventurous college student I aspired to be.
If you are interested in more content from my experience abroad, I vlogged each week! You can view the Youtube videos here: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLzqan4fBEXySk6JNkgT_rZA8Vs7rOd4co