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Adapting to a Lack of Change: Normalcy Abroad

March 12, 2018

Now that’s a word you don’t often see in a blog about traveling internationally: normalcy. But as I’ve settled into my classes and my homestay, I’ve begun to feel exactly that. Should I be concerned? Well, not exactly.

As a participant of the Shanghai: Engineering program, for the first month in China I live in an apartment complex downtown, squeezed nicely in Shanghai’s Huangpu district. In fact, if you were to look up the apartment that I lived in on Google Maps, you’d find that the red arrow lands right about on the (shi) that designates the city. It’s THAT centrally located. During my time there, I would get up at around 8:30 a.m. every day, head down to the city or sometimes just make some oatmeal, do some quick brush-studying, and then climb up the stairs three floors to the IES Abroad Shanghai Center for Chinese class. My class in the morning was two hours long, during which I would do my best to speak as little English as possible with my teacher as we worked through each lesson in my course. After class had finished up, we would all take a nice, long lunch break. My roommates and I would head out on the town in search of whatever food we felt like that day, although we eventually began to seek out a select few restaurants in our district for lunch. Following our lunch break, we’d meet up with our teachers and head out for some cultural immersion. Those activities were as varied as Shanghai is, one of our trips took us up through the Shanghai Tower in Shanghai’s modern, financial Pudong district, and another one took us through an animal market where sheds barely passing as shops sold everything from dogs and cats to the largest bugs I’ve ever seen. After our cultural activity had finished, my roommates and I were free to explore the town, provided we finish our homework before the night’s up.

Despite what certainly was a highly structured month (I could know what every cultural activity each day would be just by checking the calendar), it never really felt like it. Every day we did something totally new and exciting with our cultural activity. And because we were in the heart of Shanghai, our downtime always brought about new adventures. Despite all the plans, nothing ever felt expected.

Following our Chinese New Year break, we had one last day of class and proceeded to move into our new homes at Shanghai Jiao Tong University, specifically at it’s Minhang Campus. The Minhang District is a suburban district to the far, far south of the city center. It isn’t exactly suburban by normal standards, the district alone still has over two million residents, but it’s by no means as bustling as Shanghai’s center. Nowadays, I wake up according to my class schedule, sometimes around 6:50 a.m., sometimes later, head to my class, head to the gym, head back to campus for lunch, study until my next class, have my next class, and arrive back home just in time for dinner with my host family. The days I’ve spent so far in Minhang have been quite routine. Now, don’t get me wrong, I like having a routine: I typically follow a relatively repeatable schedule back home. But, at the same time, I do miss the hustle and bustle of the city, and the spontaneity that was afforded by it.

Thus brings me to my point. After moving and starting my engineering classes, I have reached this area of normalcy: my life in China is pretty standard. China has really started to feel a lot more like home. This is likely in part because of my current living situation, but also in part because the culture shock, the high of being in a totally new place, has faded, and I’ve much more fully acclimated to living here. It is easy at this stage to become somewhat stagnate, to forgo the opportunities that have been given by virtue of studying abroad, even to become bored. “DON’T!” This is what I tell myself, and this is what I’d tell to anyone else in a similar position. You’re abroad! If you're feeling stuck in the same place, make a trip! If spontanaiety isn't coming to you but you want it to, then you need to be more spontaneous. But even in the routine, even in normal day-to-day living, don't get down. Though the novelty of where you live has faded, the culture in which you have been immersed you have grown familiar with, that place and that culture are no less beautiful. Now there no better time to be grateful! For you get to observe that beauty every day of the week. With that in mind, I think normalcy is nothing I need to worry about.

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