My Home for the Semester

After living in China for the past month, my new reality is starting to feel more and more like home.

For the semester, I’m living in an international student dorm on campus, with a Chinese student as a roommate. Living with a native student has been both fun and eye-opening. Most of my friends here live with other Americans, so I feel like I get more insight into tiny aspects of Chinese culture that otherwise would not have been possible. We’ve had a lot of conversations about the differences in Chinese and American culture, politics, friendships, beauty standards, and general way of life. Since we use a mixture of Chinese and English, our conversations can be a bit mentally exhausting but they’re always interesting!

Now onto the dorm itself. My residential hall is only a 15 minute walk to class and right next to the dining hall, so I’m very conveniently located on campus. In fact I think my favorite part about where I live is my walk to class, which is alongside a pretty, flower-lined river. The building itself is pretty similar to the average dorm at Pitt, but a bit larger, and with bigger beds, which is definitely a perk! There is a study area on the first floor that I use to do my homework in most nights, as it’s one of the few areas in which I get good signal on my laptop. Students from all around the world also study here, so it’s interesting to listen to all the different languages being used.

While I enjoy it overall, there have definitely been some things that are very different than life in the US. In Chinese buildings, it’s standard practice to not use much, if any, heating, and my new home is no exception. In order to use any electricity in a dorm room, you need to have your student ID card plugged into a slot on the wall, meaning that if you’re not home all day, your room can get REALLY cold. Furthermore, the cleaning ladies (who we call “a yi” or “aunt”) open all the windows in the bathroom, letting in cold wind. Although the temperature was in the mid 50’s outside (nothing compared to Pittsburgh in February), walking around in the hallways or standing in the bathroom to brush my teeth was almost unbearably cold. To make up for all of this, I keep my room at a toasty 30 degrees celsius. My roommate thinks it’s funny but she’s been a good sport about putting up with the blasting heat.

Since my last post, I’ve become accustomed to my internship commute. Altogether, it takes about an hour each way, which is much more time than I’ve ever spent traveling around Pittsburgh. I go into the office every Tuesday and Wednesday morning, plus all day Friday. To get there, as well as around anywhere else in the Shanghai, I use the metro. Compared to the bus system in Pittsburgh, it’s extremely efficient, but also extremely crowded. It’s the perfect opportunity to do some people watching, observing Chinese relationships and fashion. In the morning, everyone piles in, leaving almost no room to move. I’ve come to never expect to get a seat. My biggest tip for using public transit in China is to be aggressive; get rid of western ideals of politeness because letting one person get on ahead of you means at least ten more will also take advantage.

After I get off the metro, I walk about 15 more minutes to the office. The walk takes me past a bunch of convenience stores, bakeries, and food vendors, as well as a park. I’ve developed the routine of grabbing food from a new place everyday, then stopping to eat at the park, while watching a crowd of senior citizens practice tai chi. The cover photo of this post is my view during breakfast. It makes for a very peaceful start to my day!

Despite some of the drastic differences, I’m adjusting well to life in Shanghai, and coming to really view East China Normal University as a home away from home!