Hi! I’m Allana and I’m currently in Shanghai learning Mandarin as my gap year!
I designed my gap year to be a “breather” year between high school and college: a time for me to take a break from the stress and bustle of school. Even though learning Chinese and immersing myself in Shanghai’s culture is certainly a lot of work, it’s so fun that it doesn’t really feel like work. Being able to learn vocabulary and immediately apply it when I buy groceries or ask for directions is amazing. It’s easy to pick up and guess the meaning of words I hear again and again around the dinner table. There’s really nothing like learning a language in its native country!
In high school, I focused on electives that supported my passion for the sciences and music. I’ve never been very good at the blunt memorization of learning languages, so after taking Latin throughout middle school and for two years of high school, I decided to dedicate my brainpower to mostly STEM and music classes, which I enjoyed very much. I didn’t have the schedule space or the mental capacity to learn Chinese during high school, but I’ve been fascinated by the country and the language for several years. Taking a year to solely learn Chinese was the perfect option for me.
As a serious musician (I play the harp), I grappled with the decision of whether to take harp lessons from a Shanghainese teacher or take a break from playing music during the year. During high school, I participated in weekly lessons, 3 orchestras, and in a harp ensemble. I also sporadically filled in in other orchestras who needed a harpist. Since I love the instrument, I was reluctant to rest my fingers for 9 months, but I eventually decided to play it by ear once I got to Shanghai. After all, I did dedicate this year to learning Mandarin, and if my harp responsibilities conflicted with my language-learning, I would have to drop the harp lessons. With four hours of class and three to four hours of homework per day, I have not yet found time to pursue my harp studies in China, but I will keep the option open!
My family includes myself, my three sisters, my parents, our two cats, and our twenty-odd chickens. I do miss them a lot and talk to them frequently. However, my host family makes me feel welcomed and at home even though I’m halfway across the world from my real family.
My host grandmother is an amazing cook; I have no idea how she cooks such delicious food every day and manages to never quite make the same thing twice! However, I do crave American food quite a bit. At home, I’m used to both making my own food and eating the food my parents make. We constantly try to cook outside our culinary “comfort zone” and, as a result, we eat foods from all over the world quite regularly. Here in China, although the food is wonderful, I wouldn’t dream of eating Moroccan, Italian, or German foods, since I know the authentic Chinese food my host family will have prepared for me will be more delicious than anything I’d get at an international restaurant. However, I do miss my parent’s signature dishes- chili, sautéed homegrown vegetables, baked mac-n-cheese, and more! American staples like cheese, pasta, Greek yogurt, and home-y candy bars are nearly impossible to find here in the city, and I have a growing list of foods I want to eat when I return home.
Taking a gap year in Shanghai meant giving up several of my own hobbies and family traditions, but the payback is worth it. I’m learning an incredible language, experiencing life as a (mostly) independent adult, and exploring a brand new city. Shanghai is awesome- there’s always something to do here, whether you are looking for a quiet afternoon in the park or a hectic lunch at a tiny, crowded noodle shop. I’m excited to blog for the next several months and hopefully provide some insight into my time here in Shanghai!