Major: Business Administration and Journalism and Mass Communication
Hometown: Cary, North Carolina
Study Abroad Program: CIEE Shanghai Summer
\"Shanghai neighborhoods. On the outside they all appear to be the same: the rows of apartment buildings look identical - you can barely tell them apart. Look inside, however, and you will discover a world of infinite variety. Each and every one is different, leaving you groping about for the door. What goes on next door may as well be happening a million miles away.\" This quote is from The Song of Everlasting Sorrow, a novel I read while studying abroad in Shanghai this summer. While the passage describes the author’s depiction of Shanghai in the 1940\'s, it also reminds me of my experience in Shanghai in 2010. Even today Shanghai neighborhoods look identical from the outside. There are plain-looking high-rise apartments as far as the eye can see. Clothes hang outside of the apartment windows. Guards snooze at the community entrance gates. Bikes of all shapes, sizes, and colors lean against racks in never-ending rows. While they all look the same from the outside, each neighborhood has a distinct personality. I spent all of my free time in Shanghai exploring those neighborhoods, learning more about the city and myself through the process.
I spent most of my time in Putuo District where I lived and went to school. In Putuo, the nauseating aroma of sewage, animal blood, and sweat hung in the air as I passed by shacks selling everything from live caged-up chicken to plastic trinkets. All of Shanghai was crowded but I felt like life was bursting out of every crevice in Putuo. Walking down the main street, I always saw stray cats eating trash, naked babies playing in murky water, shoppers hassling over bananas, and old men lifting their shirts above their big bellies to cool off. At first I felt like I didn’t fit into the way of life there; my western upbringing had not prepared me for such a different atmosphere. Within a few weeks though, Shanghai life became routine. I embraced all of Putuo, the good and the bad. I loved to watch the older couples walk around the track every morning; wave to the huge Mao statue on my way to class; even engage in ruthless battles to get to the front of a food vendor’s line.
While my daily routine brought me into contact with the average Shanghainese people and their life, my exploration of the French Concession did not. There was one place in Shanghai where a white foreigner could feel like part of a majority race again, and that was in the French Concession. My long blond hair always got stares from Chinese people on the subway but in the French Concession it was the norm. Its two major streets were lined with glitz and glamour: five-star hotels with posh rooftop terraces; luxury stores like Tiffany’s, Cartier, and Coach; and famous restaurants where dining required a reservation or a membership card. The French Concession showed me just how modern parts of China have become over the past ten years. Walking down the street, I felt like I was in a newer, cleaner, bigger version of New York City. The area was a huge melting pot of cultures. Indian restaurants, Muslim mosques, and American grocery stores stood side-by-side, just as they do in the U.S. I didn’t spend a lot of time in the French Concession because I wanted to experience “real Chinese culture”, but looking back on my trip I now realize that the French Concession shed a lot of light on modern Chinese culture. It highlighted China’s obsession with status and looks, as well as the drive of its residents to build such a beautiful and global city.
Shanghai is one of my favorite cities in the world and I never would have experienced it without the Phillips Ambassadors scholarship. The scholarship allowed me not only to go to China, but also to make the most of my time there. Studying Asian culture, history, and business through the Phillips program enhanced my understanding of what was going on around me while I was in Shanghai. My interactions with the other Phillips students while abroad made me see certain aspects of life there to which I would have otherwise been blind. After coming back from China I am really excited to get engaged in the Chinese community here on campus and in the community. I wholeheartedly encourage others to jump at the amazing opportunity at Carolina to study abroad and broaden horizons. It was a life-changing experience in which I grew to admire and respect a culture shared by 20 percent of the world’s population.