When we talk about Chinese cultural experiences most students think of things like watching the Chinese acrobats, experiencing a tea ceremony, or the moon festival. However, cultural experiences permeate every way of life when you study abroad. We have a motto here at TEAN called “It’s not wrong, it’s just different”. It’s a great reminder that just because it isn’t done as efficiently or logically as you do it, doesn’t mean it’s weird or wrong. It’s always good to remember that varying normalities can be subjective, and there are reasons people do things differently. It keeps us unique, and it also keeps cultural differences alive. It doesn’t mean you always have to like the cultural differences, but we do encourage you to embrace them head on. After all, that is one of the greatest benefits of studying abroad.
This may seem silly to you now, but it is something students are always surprised by. Mattresses in China are much more firm than the standard American mattress. It is commonly thought in China that it is better for one’s back to sleep on a firm mattress as it prevents curvature or issue with the spine. Many Westerners who are accustomed to a plush, soft mattress may have trouble converting to the Chinese standard mattress. If you find yourself having this trouble, it is easy to purchase an inexpensive mattress topper for cheap at local stores.
Hopefully it will be no surprise to any of you that the food is very different in China. If you expected Chinese cuisine to be the same as American Chinese food, you’ll be in for a surprise. Here are a few key elements to keep in mind for your upcoming semester. Dairy is uncommon. A large majority of Asian people have a lactose intolerance, so it’s not looked upon as as much of a delicacy as it is in Europe and America. Western food is available, but obviously less common and more expensive. The further away from major cities that you travel, the less common it will be. Farmers markets are quite prevalent in Shanghai and are very affordable. You can buy fresh vegetables and fruit at your regular farmers market to help keep you on budget for your semester.
Contrary to popular belief the air is not too bad in Shanghai. Due to Shanghai being right on the ocean, it helps keep the air quality better. The smog is much worse in Beijing. The US Consulate in Shanghai also monitors the air quality and updates the information on a hourly basis. You can follow them on Twitter, and even turn on alerts if you want to get notifications right to your phone. Students with asthma or allergies should definitely plan keep an eye on the air quality index. Some students will choose to utilize the ever popular face masks on particularly bad days. If you choose this route, just be sure you are purchasing a good quality mask.
The Shanghai Metro is extremely accessible and easy to use. It’s also extremely cheap – about RMB 2-4 (about .30 to .60 USD depending on the exchange rate) and depending on where you’re traveling. Metroman is a popular app that has the entire Shanghai Metro map and will give you directions from one stop to another. All signs on the metro are translated into English and Pinyin. Even the arrival and departure announcements are repeated in English for ease of travel. Many Fudan students will rent bikes to get around campus and local areas. Used bikes can be bought for about 200 RMB (USD $30) to use for your semester. Taxis are also an inexpensive option for getting around if the metro has closed. Taxis can give you an opportunity to practice your Mandarin to get around. If you’re a beginner or nervous about making an attempt, there are multiple taxi card apps, such as Taxi Card Shanghai and Shanghai Places, that will write your desired address in Mandarin to show the driver.
Even if you have an HSK level 5, you are bound to encounter a language barrier during your time in China. Whether it’s encountering Cantonese, a Shanghainese accent, or a slang term, some things just cannot be taught, but you will certainly learn through your experiences! You may encounter a language barrier in a taxi, on a night out, or even in the classroom, but it is important to remember to always keep patient, be polite, and ask questions – that’s the best way to learn and get the most out of your experience! Although you should expect to run into these, you should also be prepared. It’s a good idea to have a language app downloaded to your phone, or a mini dictionary to carry around. We provide taxi cards as well – for the Fudan campus, the local hospital that takes your TEAN provided CISI insurance, and for your orientation hotel. It’s a good idea, once you know the address of your housing, to make a taxi card for that as well, and any other location you frequent. It’s also a good idea to opt to take the UVA language class. You will have 4 days of classes per week where you can practice, plus the added support of a UVA trained language professor. Students frequently ask questions, and it’s a great way to clear up something new you encountered and learn from your classmates’ experiences as well.
Laundry is included in both housing options. You will find though that dryers of the same strength are a lot less common, if available at all. Most people in China air dry their clothes, you can see this evident by the lines strung between buildings all throughout the city and country. For some, the adjustment of not having a dryer can be a huge cultural change. Drying racks are very common, and are provided in the TEAN off campus apartments, and should you need your own, you can be purchase a cheap drying rack at the local Walmart. Air drying your clothes is also better for them and better for the environment. It may take a little more patience and planning, but it is a cultural experience.
Level of cleanliness
The general level of cleanliness in China is different from the U.S. so it is best to manage your expectations before you arrive. Also anticipate spitting and smoking as a very common thing. Non smoking areas are quite rare, but do exist. If you live in the TEAN off campus apartments, cleaning staff will come into the TEAN apartments but they will do a basic cleaning. You are expected to keep your apartment tidy and clean. Regardless of which housing you select, your apartment will stay as clean as you keep it!
Just always keep in mind our mantra here at TEAN: It’s not wrong, it’s just different!