1 People are different
The first thing you’ll inevitably realise is that the culture is very, very different. People here are loud, walk extraordinarily slowly and spit in the street. As much as I want to look down on it, it’s a part of their culture and has got to be embraced. Having said that, the people here are way more trusting and are far more willing to help strangers, foreign or not.
2 Cooking for yourself isn’t worth it
No one cooks for themselves here. It’s bizarre but for a lazy student, it’s ideal. I bought some chicken, pasta and tomato sauce from a Western supermarket which came to about £9. By contrast, I can get a huge bowl of wontons (dumplings) for less than £2. Although I do miss cooking, Shanghai is so multicultural that you can find pretty much any cuisine you want. Although a Lebaneat is yet to be seen...
3 Ofos- Boris bikes on steroids
I’m convinced there are more ofos (cheap rentable bikes) than people in Shanghai. It costs 10p an hour to ride them and they’re honestly everywhere. Unlike Boris bikes, they don't require being taken back to “stations”, and you can pick one up and leave one anywhere you like. Chaos. There are so many outside of my university that it looks like a scrap heap. They are really useful and although Chinese roads are probably up there with the most dangerous in the world, it beats walking.
4 WeChat is your everything
WeChat is a mobile app that you cannot live without in China. Not only is it the Whatsapp equivalent, but you can use it to pay for food/drinks, buy train tickets, call a taxi etc. I feel like I find out something new that I can do on WeChat every day. It makes life so much easier, yet it scares me how reliant I now am on my phone. If my battery dies on a night out, I am beyond screwed.
5 You get treated like royalty and shit at the same time
Western privilege is 100% a real thing in China. Free drinks and entry to nightclubs, deals in restaurants which Chinese people don’t know exist, getting paid to do random voice recording jobs… the list goes on. Despite all of this, it doesn’t stop locals looking at you in disgust or bumping you off the train. People analysing everything you do and not even being discreet about it is something I doubt I will get used to.
6 The classroom can’t compare to real life
As every language student on a Year Abroad learns, as much as it is important to learn your characters and grammar from your textbook, it can’t prepare you for a shopkeeper or landlord shouting at you with vocab you’ve never heard before. Having said that, you learn the daily necessities pretty quickly over here and before you know it, it’s second nature to shout back.
7 The classroom is still very important
Although I mentioned that you learn the local basics fast, you cant presume that everything will just come to you. Chinese is hard, and you have to be very committed to revising. With classes every day (8ams…), along with daily vocab, grammar and essay writing tests, staying on top of your studies is tough but vital. Even if it’s just writing out characters for an hour a day, it 100% makes life easier when it comes to revision. Plus there’s something so satisfying about seeing a rogue character you’ve learnt in class on the side of a bus and finally understanding it.
8 You can literally bargain for everything
Whether that be at a food market or clothes shop, Chinese people haggle for everything. Paying anything over 25% of the price shown is conceived as daylight robbery. Similarly, rent can also be bargained for face to face very informally. As long as you don’t show that you’re desperate, Chinese sellers tend to fold fairly quickly.
9 You’ll appreciate the little things from home
Whether that be a Tesco meal deal, Lemsip when you’re under the weather or cheesy chips from Paddy’s, random cravings are inevitable. The ones you think you will miss tend to subside after a while, but there’s just something about a chicken chow mein after a night out that doesn’t quite cut it. Paying £20 for a bang average haircut isn’t ideal either.
No matter how tough China can be, and how many days I resent it, there are great pros too and I know that regardless, I will end up missing the place. For good or bad, I’m making the most of it.