Before coming to China I was excited to meet new people on my program, and I was also excited to make local Chinese friends. I was looking forward to attending courses at a local university, expanding my comfort zone, and forcing myself to practice my Chinese. Of course, I have Chinese friends at Lafayette, but my excitement about making Chinese friends in China was focused on immersing myself deeper into my abroad program and getting to know the ins and outs of the city from locals. My RA, Zhenzhen was the first to greet me when I arrived at the New Harbour Service Apartments. Although I was tired, her spirit and energy revived me as she started explaining the orientation schedule, how to get a Chinese SIM card, and where I could get some snacks and groceries in the nearby area. She brought me up to the sixteenth floor where the IES Abroad Shanghai staff office is located and introduced me to some of the Shanghai staff. They were eager to answer my questions and help me get settled in after a long day of traveling. Having the IES Abroad staff office just three floors above my apartment on the thirteenth floor has been so nice. Anytime I have a question, need to print something, or want to chat, I can always head upstairs and there’s bound to be someone at my convenience.
After having the rest of the day to unpack and get my bearings, those of us who had already arrived were invited to an optional welcome dinner at a restaurant near our apartment.
One of the perks of Shanghai’s IES Abroad program is the Chinese language partner program. Before even arriving, IES Abroad pairs you with a student who is either studying at Shanghai Jiao Tong University or Fudan University in order to give you an outlet to practice Chinese, ask questions about Shanghai, learn more about daily culture, and whatever else you see fit.
We headed down to the lobby and a group of our language partners were waiting to meet us. Arriving in a foreign place was definitely overwhelming so having plans for dinner already arranged was really wonderful. I was tired, nervous, excited, and anxious for my semester ahead and didn’t know my way around Shanghai at all, but the language partners took us out to dinner and helped us get some food in our tummies.
My language partner is a student at Shanghai Jiao Tong University and has been incredibly helpful during my time here in Shanghai. We get lunch together at the Jiao Tong canteen in between classes, I ask her for advice on where to travel and what to do in Shanghai and outside of Shanghai, and practice speaking Chinese with her. She even came with a few of my friends and me to Suzhou for the weekend! Although the language partner program is all volunteer-based, the partners are all are so generous with their time and always seem to have time to meet up.
Although we learn about Chinese culture in Chinese class in America, being in China and speaking with locals about their impressions is completely different than reading and discussing cultural similarities and differences in an academic setting.
It’s also really great that we’re able to study at Fudan University also well as Jiao Tong because the classes we take at Fudan have other students from different abroad programs as well as Chinese students.
Another one of my Chinese friends goes to Fudan University and has taken me and other people on my program out to eat at multiple different restaurants in order to expose us to a wide variety of cuisines. Last week, she took us to an authentic Xinjiang style restaurant, which is a noticeably different cuisine compared to the Yongshou, Xian, Chengdu, Henan, Shanghai, or Sichuan styles that we usually eat in restaurants near our apartment. I’ve gotten to try so many different dishes while being here, which not only expanded my taste buds, but also helped me understand how important gathering over a meal is in Chinese culture.
Although it’s easy to get absorbed in the bubble of abroad students when studying in another culture because it feels familiar, it’s important to push yourself out of your comfort zone in order to make local friends, use your language skills, and understand the local culture through a native eye.
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<p>Ever since I was a child, my life has always been linked to helping other people. I founded Kids Helping Kids when I was in sixth grade after I was in a serious car accident. While in the hospital, I heavily relied on the support of my friends and family as I had recovered. As I reflected on my accident and the serious injuries I had suffered, I saw the incredible power that I was shown as everyone came together to help me heal. The idea to start KHK was inspired by the small acts of kindness I witnessed from so many. I was so moved by the generosity of my peers that I wanted to harness that energy and share it with others, who may not have the same access to support. Kids Helping Kids has changed the way I view the world and others around me. I love volunteering because of the experiences and lessons I gain. It has shown me the power I have to make a difference in another person's life, and the impact that the people we serve have on my life.</p>