Study Abroad Series: Shanghai, China

As the largest city in China and a center of Chinese commerce, Shanghai is understandably one of the most popular study abroad destinations in Asia. The city’s culture is dynamic and fast-paced. “Shanghai is where everything is happening—it’s especially great for finance, media and art students,” said Tina Qu, who grew up in Shanghai and returned to study abroad as a junior. “Shanghai is a unique city in that it’s a collision of the new and the old,” said Valerie Guan, a finance and international business major at New York University. “You can walk down a block full of shacks selling animals in their front yard and then turn the corner to a new high-rise building. It’s remarkable.”

Like other Asian metropolises, Shanghai is a crowded environment. “Because there are so many people, personal space and privacy are interpreted very differently,” said Alice Hu, a senior at Boston University and Mochi marketing representative. “Chinese people aren’t as careful about personal space as Americans and upon meeting you for the first time, they may ask you questions you would consider rude.” However, she adds that Chinese natives “are very friendly and interested in learning about what life is like in America.”

Shanghai’s social scene is described as vibrant and diverse. “The night-life was fun, especially since you don’t need to be 21, but it can be fairly expensive,” said Leah Clark, an economics student at NYU. “You get used to paying 10 kuai (about $1.50) for dinner, and then you go out to pay 30 kuai (about $4.40) for a beer.” Chan adds that many non-Chinese visit the clubs.There are “lots of different scenes within the nightlife.”

As for dining, “the food in Shanghai cannot be beat,” said Guan. “There’s always something new and different to try at every corner.” Street food is a particular aspect of Shanghai that students recommend. In fact, for Clark, ordering street food was a good way to practice speaking in Chinese. “I learned how to order my favorites and communicate with street food vendors pretty quickly,” said Clark.

Opportunities for entertainment in Shanghai are almost endless due to international influences. “There was always something new to try in Shanghai, whether it was checking out the underground urban scene, talking to French graffiti artists or listening to a jazz concert,” said Guan. In addition, shopping is cheaper there with plenty of room for bargaining.

When choosing a study abroad program in China, Clark recommends paying attention to whether they offer you trips while you’re there, refund museum tickets and to what sort of activities they give you access. Because in China, especially if you don’t speak Chinese, it can be difficult to find ways to experience the ‘real’ China without guidance.

Places to visit: “If you’ve never been to Asia before, I would definitely get a multi-entry visa and start traveling a lot. Go to Hong Kong, Macau, Thailand, Korea, Japan. A must-try in Shanghai itself is the fabric market where you custom-design your own clothes. There’s a market [of imitation brand products and clothing] on Nanjing Xi Lu, and a road right by it filled with street vendors for food. Lastly, you cannot leave Shanghai without going to Yu Yuan Garden for xiaolong baos [soup-filled dumplings]. The best I have ever eaten.” –Regina Chan, NYU alumni

“Travel around in China. It is such a huge country and there are so many different places to see. Obviously, go to the Great Wall, [but] if you can, arrange to go a little further out where you can hike on the wall and isn’t so crowded. Guilin was also beautiful for its mountains, and Hainan offered an island vacation without leaving the PRC.” –Leah Clark

“Travel to Hangzhou and visit the famous lake. It’s beautiful at night. Try street food, but wait a few weeks until your stomach is accustomed to China. Explore Xin Tian Di. Go to the fabric market and get custom dresses, jackets and suits made for cheap. Go to Xiao Chi Jie and try all the different snacks!” –Valerie Guan

“Hangzhou and Suzhuo are cities close by to Shanghai that have beautiful gardens. Pudong side of the Bund gives you a great view with all the old buildings. De La Coast [is a good club] for Friday nights.” –Alice Hu

This story is one in a four-part series about studying abroad in Asia. Click on each city to read about studying in Tokyo, Nagoya and Hong Kong.