Studying Abroad in China: Feelings you get when away from home (Study Abroad Series Part 1)

你好!

It’s the spring semester of my junior year in college, and I’m spending it abroad in Shanghai! I chose to come here to confront a lot of the fears I’ve had about going to China, a place I’ve always associated with being confused and uncomfortable about my identity. I was going to live in Shanghai to force myself to learn Chinese, get acquainted with 21st-century Chinese culture, and to gain some independence.

But I quickly learned after getting here that me living here in Shanghai isn’t one long seminar about Gloria’s identity problems. It’s about living in a new country, where I’m not at the center of it. Throughout the next couple months, I’ll be working on a multi-part series that’ll capture, as comprehensively as I can manage, my four months studying abroad.

Here are a few snapshots of what it feels like to be abroad. These thoughts and experiences are ordered loosely in chronological order.

The “Wow I am so far from everything I know and am familiar with” moment

I’ve been getting these fleeting moments of clarity that happen especially when I’m alone with my thoughts or simply enjoying myself in Shanghai. Last time this happened, I was taking a solo midday walk through a new neighborhood. For a few moments, while trotting down some empty wet sidewalk, hearing just the clicking of my boots and the whooshing of passing cars, I suddenly became aware of the fact that I’m all alone over here. Like thousands-of-miles-from-all-the-people-who-know-and-care-about-me alone. It was exhilarating and freeing in a way that’s hard to put into words. Imagine taking a hike in really thin air: there is beauty and novelty surrounding you, and you walk around with a slight tightness in your chest — the giddiness that comes from the sheer aloneness and anonymity. Also, a thought crossed my mind that if some random guy on a moped were to bash me on the street and leave my body there, no one would know who the heck I was, where I was from, or who to call. With the vastness of the city and the oceans of people, Shanghai has been triggering in me a sense of smallness and awe I thought only natural landscapes could produce.

A classic shot you’d get while walking along the 外滩 at night

“Poor connection. Try switching to audio”

Feeling out of touch with what’s happening back at home

“I’m not putting myself out there enough…”

This is no knock on the street food in Shanghai. 豆浆, 煎饼, and 油条 are crazy cheap and tasty here

“Talk to the person. Say hi and strike up a conversation. Do it. Say HI.”

Needless to say, I didn’t make any new friends that day. But I’m proud of myself for putting in the honest effort.

上海财经大学 (SUFE) campus

This ends part 1 of 4(?). More study abroad posts to come in the next few months :)

Writer, Cog-Neuro Research Assistant @ Yale. Presenting my thoughts about self-development and life as a former college student || gloriawfeng.com

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