It feels like just yesterday I was on the way to Shanghai having no idea what I was in for for the next 4 months. Now, I am currently somewhere north of Alaska 6 hours into the flight back from Shanghai to Chicago! I can’t believe how fast this semester has flown by (pun intended) and it didn’t really settle in that we were leaving for America until I boarded the plane and saw friendly American flight attendants that spoke the best English I’ve heard in 4 months. One of them has a son that is going to Purdue in the fall! It was really, really nice to have a conversation with someone who understood every word I said. Other notable observations from the flight: having Diet Coke with ice (I literally haven’t had pop with ice in months, it really is an amazing combination), hearing announcements in American English instead of Chinese, and I was actually able to sleep really well for about 3 hours. I’m trying to stay awake until I get back to Indy at around 10 pm tonight so I can conquer jet lag and not waste any time sleeping during these next two weeks before I start work.
After studying for the first half of the week and taking (and hopefully passing) our finals Wednesday and Thursday, the next two days were spent going downtown and redoing some of our favorite things in the city. Almost immediately after our exam finished at noon on Thursday, Graham, TJ, and I had a quick last lunch at La Bamba and then Nick and I met up with some of the others at Cages. I enjoyed my last Boxing Cat Ringside Red Lager, played what was probably the longest game of cornhole ever, and enjoyed celebrating the end of the semester. I also tried sushi for the first time that night (not a huge fan, but it wasn’t bad). We headed back to Ziroom for the night and had our last movie night in Graham’s room. I don’t remember if I’ve mentioned it before, but our new movie night situation involves taking mattresses and laying them on the floor of someone’s room and hooking up a computer and speaker to this TV we “borrowed” from a hall closet in Ziroom. It’s pretty creative, in my opinion. My plan was to stay up pretty late the next couple of nights and sleep in to attempt to get back on American time. The staying up late worked, the sleeping in did not. I’m exhausted, but it’s a good exhausted.
It rained most of the day Friday, so Graham, Nick, TJ, and I didn’t head downtown until around 1 for xialongbao (soup-filled dumplings) and some last minute fake market and souvenir shopping. We also got friendship bracelets (we were supposed to all do a last trip to Nanjing and get them there, but the trip didn’t end up happening, so we settled for bracelets from the fake market instead). I’m really going to miss the fake marts when I get home. I also insisted that we go and get milkshakes at Bistro Burger one last time before dinner. These are literally the best shakes you will ever have in your life; Oreo Mudslide is definitely the way to go if you want to live to the fullest. After shakes, we met up with Tony for our last dinner at a Cantonese place and did the famous walk down Nanjing Road to the Bund one last time. This is definitely my favorite part of Shanghai; I’ve really grown to love Shanghai for the amazing city it is. Looking at the most incredible skyline in the world for the last time, it finally hit me that I’m really going to miss it here despite all of the cultural frustrations we’ve experienced (or “getting China’d,” as we like to call it). I couldn’t help but reflect and think about how far we’ve come since seeing the Bund for the first time when we arrived in Shanghai back in January. The past 4 months have gone so quickly, but we’ve all seen and experienced so much that you can’t remain in the same mindset you had before coming here. I’ve seen the absolute best and some of the worst parts of this country, and I’ve been here for so long that I honestly can’t remember what I was like before China.
Wow I’m going to miss these people.
I believe that you need to experience the good and the bad to really understand what it is like to live in a different country. You can travel the world and stay in fancy hotels, lay on the beach, and do touristy things, but I don’t believe you’ve fully experienced a new place until you see how the everyday people live. We definitely had the good when we lived in Xuhui for the first 6 weeks and had a lot of the not-so-good when we moved way out to Minghang and lived off-campus for the last 12. Living in Ziroom taught me a whole slew of new lessons about living in Suburban China that I honestly don’t think I would have learned had we stayed downtown. We had to bike a mile to class every day and experienced how most Chinese people get around. We took engineering classes that were taught in a very different way than we’re used to and had to adapt to the Chinese learning style. We learned how to live without the everyday conveniences we were lucky enough to have when we lived downtown, such as dryers, free electricity, and endless food options. We’ve learned how to communicate despite the huge language barrier. I’m fortunate to have traveled and experienced all that I have here and I will never take that for granted. I’m so proud of what this group has been able to do in the 4 short months that we’ve been here.
As for me personally, I’ve gotten a lot out of this trip. I signed up to spend an entire semester in a country where I didn’t know the language or the culture, along with having no international experience whatsoever. I’ve been challenged in ways I couldn’t have imagined and have had so much fun living outside of my comfort zone. I traveled all over this country and have been in more airports in China than I have in the US. I’ve hiked mountains, ridden camels, seen historical monuments, slept in a yurt, and learned kung fu. I met people from all over the world and tried new food. I learned how to navigate a city with 27 million people. I did life with the same group of people for 4 months and they’ve become some of my best friends. I learned how to adapt and go with the flow when things don’t go as planned. I can now see the positive in every situation and see it as a way to grow and develop myself. I’ve become more open-minded. I am a better person now because of what I’ve done in China.
On that note, I’m going to wrap it up here and save the next couple of posts for when I actually get back home. Stay tuned to learn about my reverse-culture shock and first few days back in the best country in the world. The Chinese word for America, Meiguo, literally translates to “beautiful country” and you definitely can’t argue with that. Thanks so much for letting me share my stories and adventures with ya’ll; turns out, engineering students can also learn to enjoy writing!
California roll with caviar on top.
My last xiaolongbao.
Our last milkshakes.
At the Bund in Shanghai
Our last night in Ziroom!