Mariana shares her experience of her semester abroad in Shanghai, China
Mariana from Mexico studied at Anahuac University Mexico and spent a semester abroad in Shanghai, China, in autumn 2019. Luckily, her exchange semester took place just before the pandemic hit the world. Consequently, Mariana had the best study abroad experience possible. She fell in love with Shanghai immediately, gained lifelong friends along the journey, enhanced her language skills and opened doors for future career opportunities.
Why did you decide to study abroad in the first place? And why in Asia?
Studying abroad was something I have always dreamed of. After my older brother studied abroad in Europe, I knew that I had to do it. Initially, I was thinking about applying to study in Europe, just like my brother did. But after travelling to Asia, I became more attracted to study abroad there. It fascinated me! The cultural difference between Asia and Mexico first drew me in. The variety of cultures and countries in Asia was highly intriguing. I wanted to experience this cultural shock! And I wouldn’t have been able to have that in Europe.
How did you come across Asia Exchange?
By the time I finally started planning my semester abroad, my decision fell on China as it caught my interest the most. My home university had a few partner universities in China. However, I wasn’t satisfied with the cities they had to offer. Then, our student advisor suggested an organization with which I could study in Shanghai: Asia Exchange! After a couple of chats with Asia Exchange, I knew I had found the best study abroad solution for me.
Did Shanghai live up to your expectations?
Yes, I have loved Shanghai since the minute I arrived! It was so easy for me to settle in, especially with the help of Asia Exchange. When my semester came to an end, I was heading to the airport. And I remember how I was crying so badly because I didn’t want to leave. I want to go back one day.
Did you know any mandarin before you studied in Shanghai?
I did! I learned Chinese when I was around 13. We could choose a language among German, France and Mandarin. I opt for Mandarin, as I felt most drawn to it. Looking back, I am glad I chose Chinese. My language skills were sufficient enough to get me around and during my stay. Moreover, it gradually got better and better over the semester.
Has knowing Chinese benefited you career-wise?
Yes, definitely! After graduating from university, I landed a job in Mexico in a Chinese company. So, it paid off for sure. I would also love to go back to China and work there for a couple of years. The company I work for has branches not only in Mexico but also in China. Therefore, it is realistic that one day I will be back working in China.
You mention you wanted to experience cultural shock. Did China deliver?
I had been to Asia before, but China surprised me. First, I felt overwhelmed because everything felt so new and crazy. But after a while, I got used to it. I found many similarities between Mexico City and Shanghai, which help me get more accustomed to the culture. The traffic, hecticness and crowded places weren’t new to me. But the cuisine and meeting locals was the biggest hurdle. In addition, China is a very high-tech country. You use your phone for everything – ordering food in restaurants, communication, taxis, or travelling. Also, you need a VPN app to access your social media platforms from home. If you want to have less of a culture shock, inform yourself about the most vital apps in China.
You might also be interested in 8 TIPS ON HOW TO PREVENT OR DEAL WITH CULTURE SHOCK
How did you make friends?
I already made friends when I had my first class in university. I was the only Mexican exchange student, while the others were mainly from Germany or France. We had lots of fun together! I said ‘YES’ to everything, which resulted in unforgettable memories. When you are abroad, it doesn’t matter how little sleep you get, because after all you only remember the experiences you shared with your friends. That is why I recommend anyone: say yes to everything!
How was studying at Shanghai University?
It was much easier than I initially thought it would be. I only went to university three days per week. Consequently, I had more free time than other exchange students might have. The courses and people were fascinating. Most of my lectures were business-related, but my absolute favourite class was culture centred. I took four courses. However, none of them had exams. Instead, we wrote essays as finals. It was interesting and a good way of learning new things.
Accommodation in Shanghai
I lived pretty close to campus, but not in the dorms. I initially applied for them but didn’t get a spot. Due to that, I decided to rent a room in an apartment near the university. I found the accommodation and roommates through a Facebook group (e.g. Shanghai Expats). We were all from different nationalities, including a Chinese guy.
I used the subway to get to the campus area. The campus area itself was huge. You could bike around it and relax in coffee shops and boba shops. Moreover, the campus had a garden where you could study, chill and meet up with friends.
How have you dealt with homesickness? Any cure for that?
There were some moments where I was a bit homesick during my semester in China. Fortunately, Shanghai was a big city. I could find a little bit of ‘home’ there. For instance, I visited Mexican restaurants where I met Mexican people. Over time I got to know the Mexican community there more. I even celebrated our Independence Day in Shanghai! I took my European roommates with me to celebrate it. It was so much fun!
How did the exchange affect your personal growth?
It made me more adventurous and more outgoing with new people. It helped me see things from a completely different perspective and be more grateful about little things in life. I also see my own culture differently now. I’ve become more open-minded and understandable towards things.
What was your highlight of the semester in Shanghai?
It’s hard to point out just one thing. I loved travelling around China. It is a big country, so I explored different parts of it. Every place had something new and unique to offer. For example, I visited Beijing and Xi’an, some of the most renowned cities in China. Travelling was very easy and affordable. I used only one app on my phone. It would tell me how to get from A to B. You could also buy your tickets on the app. I miss that now that I am back home. But yeah, I would say the travelling and the people I met during my stay.
Do you have any tips for students who want to study in China?
The best advice I have to offer is to be open-minded. Don’t be too judgmental! Try to understand that it is a whole different world compared to what you are familiar with. Also, don’t be too afraid or listen to what other people say. Don’t listen to people who judge a book by its cover – go to China and experience it first-hand. When you let go of your expectations, it really can surprise you in the best possible ways!
Do you want to study abroad in Shanghai, China? Find out more information here!
Asia Exchange is a Finnish company providing study abroad opportunities in Asia Pacific for students from all around the world. Want to get travel tips and new blog posts straight to your inbox? Subscribe to our monthly newsletter! If you have any questions about studying abroad, feel free to contact us! We’ll get back to you as soon as possible.