I have officially been in Shanghai for one week! Yay! So far we have just been doing orientation stuff, although Chinese classes begin on Monday. The orientation has been really great, because it has given me the opportunity to see lots of different places around Shanghai, while simultaneously getting to know my fellow program-mates.
This semester, I am one of three students on our program that are living with host families. I came in to this program having heard that IES Abroad programs are often less academically challenging in order to give students more time to travel and experience the culture of the country that they have traveled to, which is part of the reason I chose this as my second semester program. However, while I am excited to have more oportunities to travel, I also want to keep challenging myself to improve my Chinese as much as I can while I am here, and I figured that a host family would be the best way to do that. So far I love my host family; I have a wonderful 阿姨 (Āyí - aunt/polite way to call someone the same age as your parents) who is very chill and cooks really good food, and a 哥哥 (gēgē - older brother), who is a year older than me and a senior at a university in Beijing. He is currently at home still (for 春節 chūnjié - spring festival), but I'm pretty sure he will return to school in the next week or so. They also have a small dog, who has yet to impress me. It is very barkey, as small dogs tend to be, and does not strike me as the most intelligent dog I've met, as it will bark at me if I stand up after sitting for a little while as if it's never seen me before. Ultimately, it comes off as cute, harmless, and annoying, all at the same time.
I think the biggest challenge with living with a host family will be connecting with my classmates and not being too isolated. This is my second semester in a host family, but it was done a bit differently on my program in Beijing. Here we were placed with our host families right off the bat, and have been staying with them since the first night here in Shanghai. On my Beijing program we lived in the dorms with the other students for half of the semester before moving into our host families' homes. I think there are pros and cons to both methods, and don't necessarily think one is better than the other; it is all a matter of preference. I think that the main benefit of doing half and half is that everyone on the program had time to get to know one another as we were all exploring the city for the first time together: getting dinner, going shopping, and seeing the sights. And while many people would argue that hanging out with other Americans takes away from time that could be spent getting to know the locals, I think that one of great things about study abroad is the ability to get to know and possibly befriend people you might not back in the states. I also think that it is a great chance to make connections with other students from all over the US. Living in a host family also limits your ability to stay out late on the weekends, as I have found myself limited by the time the buses/metro stop running, and by the dog that has no problem waking everyone up if I get home too late (it might not have a conscience, but I do). On the other hand, living in a host family from the get-go challenges your language skills and forces you to start thinking in a new language, which will definitely help with improving language skills. It also takes a bit of time (for me at least) to get over that feeling of awkwardness of living in someone else's home, and learning their customs and habits. I felt like half a semester wasn't quite enough time, as by the time I was comfortable with the family, it was basically time to leave. I'm hoping that having more time to get comfortable will also ultimately help with my language learning, as I will begin to feel more comfortable having casual conversations with my family members, and as they get more comfortable in talking with me. Either way, I am definitely happy with my decision to live with a host family, because in my case, I am ultimately here to learn Chinese, and to learn the culture that goes along with the language, which I don't think can be learned quite as well without actually living it.
That's about all for now; Chinese classes start tomorrow, and Fudan (one of the two universities my program is affiliated with) classes start next week, so I have started getting ready for that. Until next time!
PS. I went with some of my fellow IES Abroad students to a lantern festival held at 豫園 (Yùyuán - the Garden of Happiness) this evening, and I was amazed at both the beautiful lights and the number of people there to celebrate. The lantern festival is tomorrow, so I might go celebrate it with my language partner, which would be fun!