My semester abroad in China: “… It just flows”

Originally from Colombia and currently in China for her exchange semester, María Lucía is one of our Master's students. Follow her on her trip and enjoy a good read about daily life in Shanghai and the many beautiful, adventurous, and obscure experiences she has had so far.

I knew that this trip to China would be an adventure but I sincerely did not think that it was going to be so interesting and entertaining. I come from Bogotá, a city with around 8 million inhabitants, many traffic jams, and disorganization on the streets. As a Colombian girl wanting to live in Germany it was important for me to get used to the German rules and to respect them, so with time I forgot a little bit about the chaos on the streets and the sound of the horns. I came to Shanghai and I thought that because of my background it would be easier for me to get used to a new culture. Well, that did not happen – at the beginning, I was just shocked.

Tongji University and campus life

More than 50,000 students at all levels, from certificate and diploma courses to Bachelor’s degrees, Master’s, PhDs, etc., study at Tongji University. There are six different campuses and I think all the students are distributed well. Nevertheless you will meet many people during the rush hours at the canteens, which open at 11 am and close at 1 pm. The curious thing is that although they are always crowded and you will probably have to stand in a long line, it moves very fast. I don’t know how it works, but it flows. If I don’t want to eat in the canteen I can look for “street food.” On the streets, people sell food at little stands, which sometimes are moveable, like wheelbarrows. I can eat something there for less than €1, but if you do that, you had better like Chinese food. There are of course many restaurants and cafés where you can eat; it only depends, as usual, on your budget and taste.

We are studying at the Sino-German School of Management and have met many people from Germany there, as well as some Chinese students who are learning the German language. I have had only a few courses until now, but the one I liked the most is Supply Chains in China. I think it is really important to know the industry from a different point of view and we are doing that by analyzing the cases of Chinese companies.

I wanted to save time crossing the campus, so I got an old bicycle for €20. When I arrived in Hamburg, I was surprised at the large number of bikes I saw there – but here it is just crazy how many motorcycles and bikes you encounter on the streets, so you need good skills and reflexes to ride. I’ve already become used to the noisy streets and chaotic traffic. I wondered why I have not seen the first traffic accident yet, and I think it is because as I said, it just flows. Despite the chaos, people know how to react and everything flows. It is really odd.

Shanghai is a wonderful city with a lot of contrasts

You can visit a Buddhist temple that is surrounded by tall, modern buildings, for example. There are also some places where everything looks Chinese, but when you look up to the sky you can see the skyscrapers in the part of the city called Pudong. For me, it is a wonderful mix.

The air quality is not good and because of that, I check an app on my mobile phone every day to find out which time is the best for going out or playing sports. Sometimes of course you do not have any option and then you have to deal with the smog. I had to change my habits a bit because of this.

In comparison to Germany, taking a taxi for me here is really cheaper and buying fruit is too. I am saving a lot of money. For example, a 30-minute ride can cost around €7 and 1 kg of pears, around €1.

As I told you at the beginning, this adventure has been very interesting. I have seen people hanging their wet underwear and clothes from the trees or a hairdresser cutting the hair of a man sitting on a chair on the corner of a crowded street. Sometimes I feel that I am in a show where rules and manners do not exist. Here, it is impossible to be bored when you are walking or riding a bike.

I am very happy that until now, we have had enough free time to get to know the city and see some sights. From Shanghai you can easily go by train to nice cities like Hangzhou, Suzhou or Nanjing. Beijing is 5 to 6 hours from here when you take the fast train. It is very easy to travel in China when you know how and where to buy the tickets. I visited an important place in China called “The Yellow Mountain” in the province of Huangshan, and while I was viewing the sunset from up there I was thinking about how tiny we humans are. It was just breathtaking.

I can continue writing about my daily life here in Shanghai and hardly stop because there are too many stories to tell. To summarize: I am absolutely sure that I have chosen the right city for my exchange. Although the culture and the people are really different from the ones I am used to meeting, until now these have been some of the most important weeks of my life. I feel very lucky to be here and have this opportunity. I am learning a new language and meeting new people every day. I am improving my intercultural skills and tolerance, and I am getting the best of this experience.

I wanted to come to China to be able to talk about it and now I am doing it. I have to say it feels great!

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