In only a short amount of time, I will be back at home in Coopersburg, Pennsylvania, and my time in Shanghai will be but a memory. As the semester here comes to a close in the next few weeks, the arrival of our departure-date has everyone concerned with if they’ve done enough or seen enough while here. With a city of this magnitude, it’s hard to accomplish everything. But even for those who are more of the adventurists, even they find themselves pressed to do more and see more before they leave.
This is the harsh reality of studying abroad and traveling, the pressure to see it all and do it all in a small amount of time. However, it’s important to remember that that simply can’t be accomplished. Despite this truth, there is a lot that can still be accomplished in this short time span. For every person, the number of things seen or done that constitutes a successful trip varies, and its important to remember that difference in people when evaluating a trip at its conclusion. For me, I can safely say I’m content with my own experience.
For many students, studying abroad is one of the first chances for them to spend an extended amount of time in a foreign nation. With the ability to be in a new location for so long, there is a certain pressure to see and experience as much as you can. Friends and family from home constantly ask what you’ve been up to, asking where you’ve been and what you’ve seen. But the reality of travelling extensively while abroad may not always be realized either for budgetary reasons or for personal preferences. Despite the belief by many that travelling is a universally enjoyed experience, some people find comfort in simpler travel or no travel at all. For example, an introverted person may find it harder to force themselves to travel within the country they are studying abroad for a variety of reasons, including discomfort. And while others may be taking every advantage they have to visit and tour nearby countries, cities and locations, that does not mean that their study abroad experience is any greater than someone else’s. Studying abroad is defined by so much more, and each student will define that experience.
In my program specifically, it is clear to see who in our group has been more adventure-set and determined to travel across China to various locations. Simultaneously, there have been some people in the group who have been more content to save the costs of travel and continue to spend time in Shanghai, where they may or may not even choose to see what this city has to offer. Often when someone in our party can’t be convinced to go on a trip somewhere to see or do something (both in Shanghai and outside of it), they are viewed as not “maximizing” their time here. I find that explanation to be too simplistic because it fails to account for the individual’s desires and what they hope to gain from a study abroad experience.
I, myself, came to China with the intention of trying to travel across China as much as I could. Though I never loved travelling as much as others did in the past, I saw my study abroad experience as an opportunity to try and change that facet about me. I was prompted to do this in part because I thought that this may be the only time I visit China (perhaps even Asia) in my life. Thus, I should see it all while I can. Since then, my experience here has really shifted my views on that position. Now, I see myself visiting China once again in the future, so I don’t feel as rushed to see everything right now. Furthermore, there’s a certain level of comfortability I’ve found with just residing in Shanghai and experiencing what this city has to offer. In my view, every weekend spent outside of Shanghai is an opportunity lost to further experience Shanghai. And when I say experience Shanghai, that doesn’t necessarily mean visiting all the museums and sites the city has to offer. It can mean anything from trying a new Chinese restaurant each day to talking to a new store-keeper. The little things about a study abroad experience, like these, can be as enriching as travelling to a nearby destination.
So while I haven’t been as adventurous nor traveled as much as I thought I would when I initially planned out my semester, I wouldn’t consider my time here as a failure or as falling short of what I hope to accomplished. My semester abroad has been what it is, and I measure my time here as a success simply by the fact that I am here. Coming to China in and of itself was a big step for me personally, and not travelling to every sightseeing attraction will not degrade that fact. While traveling and keeping a busy schedule may be the key to a successful and eventful semester abroad to some, others may find joy in smaller and simpler things. Studying abroad is an intimate experience for each individual, and its success will be determined by that individual alone.