Ni Hao, Shanghai

Solty biking around Guilin.
Photo: 

A friend once told me that when you visit China for a week you feel as though you can write an entire novel about it. 

Stay a month, and you might be able to sum up your adventures in a blog post. Live here for any longer and you’ll find yourself staring at a blank page for hours. 

This holds true, as I’ve spent three months studying at Fudan University in Shanghai and don’t even know where to begin summing up the experience I’ve had. 

 Solty and two other Queen's students overlooking the Longji Rice Terraces in Guilin.

Solty and two other Queen's students overlooking the Longji Rice Terraces in Guilin.

I chose Shanghai for my semester abroad on a whim, with little expectations of it actually coming to fruition. 

Looking back now, I couldn’t be more pleased that I did. While experiencing a new culture and learning a once (okay, still) seemingly impossible language, I’ve also been fortunate enough to travel to some of the most beautiful places in the world.

In places like the mountainous regions of Guilin and Huangshan, which I might have otherwise dismissed from my travel bucket list, I’ve created some of my fondest memories while in China. From biking around the picturesque countryside in Guilin to sleeping at the peak of Mount Huangshan, both trips have offered me experiences I will never forget.  

My first month in China was a whirlwind of emotional ups and downs. Although I tried to mentally prep myself, my first few days in Shanghai made me quickly realize there was virtually no way I could have prepared myself for the culture shock. 

While settling into my new home, even the simplest of tasks, like ordering food at a restaurant or asking for directions, suddenly seemed daunting. 

My lack of proficiency in Mandarin forced me to become creative with my styles of communication, forcing me to rely on using makeshift sign language when interacting with waiters or cab drivers.

To my dismay, even hand gestures seem to get lost in translation here in China. As it turns out, even the 10 fingers on my own two hands couldn’t help me count to the number 10 like I can back home. Rather, numbers are replaced by hand gestures. For instance, six is communicated by what is commonly known as the shaka or hang loose sign. 

While my inability to hold basic conversations could be extremely frustrating at times, looking back now, I can easily find humour in  situations that had once seemed impossible to overcome. 

After I got my bearings and I started to grasp some “survival Chinese” from my Mandarin class, each day became astonishingly easier.  

With each person I met and each new cultural understanding I gained, the virtues of this experience started to become much more noticeable, and before I knew it Shanghai felt like home. 

This semester, my eyes have been opened to a whole new world of opportunity, I’ve experienced an astonishing amount of personal development, and I’ve had the time of my life along the way. 

For anyone that’s on the fence about participating in a cultural exchange, I urge you to take advantage of Queen’s Experience the Future program. It’s programs like this that have the ability to redefine the boundaries of our comfort zones, which makes for a remarkable experience abroad. 

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