The ride to Shanghai Pudong International Airport happened on a restless Friday night when the city was lit by looming skyscrapers all around, a testament to how such a city can come more alive at night than during the day, and that was when the lingering feeling began to sink in even deeper as I continued to look out the window of the taxi that was driving me to my departure flight from Shanghai. One month wasn’t enough to take in the whole city and I knew that before I even left for my study abroad program. Even though I was reluctant to return back to America, I knew this wouldn’t be the last time I would be in this city. This was just the beginning of something that would give me an introduction in regards to my bearings within Shanghai, and I promised myself that.

Downtown night scene

Choosing to study abroad really did change a lot of things about me (and this isn’t one of those cheesy statements just to throw in and randomly say).  At least for me, when I’m placed in a new environment that requires me to instantly change my mannerisms of speech and habits of lifestyle, there are many things I begin to discover about what I can and cannot handle. Every day was a challenge and I had to prepare myself for the worst. There were times when I stuck out more because I was able to effectively communicate to some extent, then automatically assumed to understand from the Chinese speaker’s point of view that they could start using really complicated vocabulary or talk even faster to which I was too embarrassed (or perhaps even prideful) to tell them to slow down. Other times, if they figured out that I couldn’t properly communicate, there would be a look of uncertainty as if they weren’t sure how to assess me and were thinking “Hmm, you look like one of us, but you’re not really one of us.” I was an impostor in plain sight, and knowing that, I made myself more uncomfortable than others at times. But nevertheless, everyone within my program was adjusting together, so I forced myself to talk to others as much as I could to get in sufficient practice within a month; however, insecurities crept in every now and then.  Overall, taking on and attempting to utilize this experience of studying abroad has given me the courage to continue to seek out opportunities that will challenge me. I think after coming back, I have a clearer understanding in terms of the direction I want to take for my career and the job experiences I want to take on in order to get there. There are many life adjustments and changes in daily habits I believe I am already in the process of making. I have gained a source of inspiration from my trip and that was what I hoped to obtain when I came on it.

Spinning turntable of Chinese dishes and Baijiu in the center

As for the stages of reverse culture shock, I don’t think I might’ve experienced it as strongly as some of the other individuals in my study abroad program. China is a country that I have visited before (although those visits were short term and when I was too young to remember), so the trip was less of an entry into a completely exotic country and more of a self discovery into my roots. It could also be that I didn’t stay in China long enough to experience the full effects of culture/reverse culture shock, but I also do usually make sure to mentally prepare myself for such long-distance trips. In terms of my stance upon returning to America, I will remain neutral in the way I begin to analyze the differences between the two countries and cultures; I’ve unconsciously had to juggle the two my whole life, but now it’s become more of a priority to balance their influence on my life—something I think kids of immigrant parents have to face (called 面对 in Chinese) at some point in their lives if they haven’t already done so. It is the most uncomfortable thing you will do to yourself, but you will learn so much more about yourself and the culture from which your family comes from. And it just might make your parent(s) pretty happy that you’re willing to go to the extent that you are going to in order to discover such things.

The inside of a huge mall called Global Harbor next to our campus

So, for all the students who are considering studying abroad: just do it. If your schedule and budget allows it, go for it. It will be a beautiful experience as long as you are willing to make the best out of it. There is a certain kind of clarity you gain from it too—though you still may not know what the heck you want to do with your life after returning, you possess a special kind of energy and mentality that will allow you to get closer to where that is. You will meet wonderful people stuck in similar dilemmas as you and you will carve meaningful relationships learning about them, their backgrounds, and their dreams. Take as many pictures as you can. Eat as much as you can. Pack the minimum if you want to bring a lot back. Go in with an open heart and mind. Do not try to view the world based on the one you already know because it is much bigger than that and there is much beauty in the discovery of it. And finally, enjoy yourself in your new environment. Your experience will be as good as you allow it to be. Go find yourself.

Inside Yu Garden with all the girls in and director of my study abroad program