I arrived at the airport around 8:00AM and gathered with the fifteen in my group. After checking my bags and hugging my mom goodbye, I gathered with my group and we all made our way through airport security. Even though I know I had nothing to be concerned about, airport security always makes me nervous. As it turns out, my worst fears of airport security came true. All of my things were pulled to the side and a man turned to me and said, “Your laptop tested positive for explosives”. After all the shenanigans that that caused (all of my things being wiped down and searched, being searched myself, etc.) I was set free to my gate where I prepared for our 14 hour flight from Chicago directly to Shanghai.
Because I had only gotten three hours of sleep the night before, I was planning on passing out on the flight. However, I forgot how uncomfortable planes are and ending up spending the flight reading, watching movies, listening to music and (trying to) meditate. Getting through customs was easy-peasy and we took a bus to our dorm at East China Normal University, which was about an hour from the airport. My first glimpses of Shanghai were surprising. Though I saw the several houses and enormous apartment complexes I was expecting, it appeared there were more construction projects than finished ones. Our campus at ECNU is pretty much smack dab in the middle of the city and it’s incredibly beautiful. There’s tons of beautiful trees and scenery and students everywhere from everywhere around the world!
We arrived at the university around four-ish in the afternoon and were given a few hours to rest and clean up from our flight before we had dinner at Green Tea, a beautiful restaurant downtown. Here we met all of the CIEE faculty that had been organizing this program for us and we learned about the plans for the days ahead. By the time dinner was done around 8:00PM, I was barely able to keep my eyes open. I had been up for around 29 hours at this point and was completely ready for bed, as was the rest of the group. I slept so well that night. So well that I don’t even think I suffered jet lag that much!
My first actual day in Shanghai was a whirlwind. We had a Chinese language bootcamp that left me more overwhelmed than I could have imagined. We learned some necessary phrases but it’s so hard to absorb all of it, especially when native speakers speak so fast. After bootcamp we got lunch at a cafeteria on campus and we all still just had to point to things on the menu that we wanted. It’s embarrassing not being able to communicate, but being someone who loves to communicate, the barrier is definitely giving me a heavy incentive to keep practicing everything we learned in bootcamp. Another problem with the language barrier is most of the time I don’t know what I’m ordering. For example. I thought I ordered bubble tea. As it turns out I ordered tea that had red beans in the bottom instead of tapioca. But I got my protein for the day I guess!
After lunch we met in front of the giant Mao statue on campus to meet some Chinese students from ENCU who would show us around campus and the city. The campus is absolutely huge here! After walking around for a half hour we decided to visit Global Harbor, the largest shopping mall in Asia which is conveniently a fifteen minute walk away from campus. Honestly, this mall put Mall of America to shame. I don’t even think we were able to explore every floor! It’s seven stories tall (if I remember correctly) with mostly designer and Western stores. I’m so glad we explored the mall because we ended up going back there for dinner and got dumplings! After dinner I went back to my dorm and fell asleep. I love my new sleep pattern of going to bed by ten and being up by six-ish.
So far Shanghai has been overwhelming in the best way. I’m nowhere near comfortable here but I’m excited to start class in a little bit and continue practicing my Chinese! Hopefully I will be able to at least order my own food this week. 🙂