Tina Chen-Xu


Major: Business Administration

Hometown: Raleigh, NC

Study Abroad Program: CIEE: Shanghai Summer

Studying abroad was undoubtedly one of the most amazing experiences I have had. The study abroad program, CIEE, which I participated in, provided many opportunities inside and outside of the classroom to explore the local Shanghainese culture. The teachers and staff were very supportive and encouraging. I really enjoyed the experience of learning the culture while meeting new students from around the country.

First impressions- The City is Huge

When I first entered Shanghai, I knew I had arrived in a big city. Even though it was midnight, the streets were bustling with cars and buses. I was very surprised to find that their highway system looked strangely similar to the U.S. and even North Carolina. It was not until the first few days of the program that I really saw how large the city really is. Officially, Shanghai’s population is around 18 million. Growing up in North Carolina I have never been in a place so densely populated, it was a huge change, but I was excited.

In the beginning, one of the biggest challenges was figuring out how to classify myself to the local Chinese. As an Asian American, many local Chinese people found my situation very confusing. Some would wonder why I did not speak Chinese well and were confused as to why it was only my second trip to the country. Some wondered why I would even come to China if my family was already Chinese, and others couldn’t wait to ask me questions about America and state how grateful I must be to grow up with such a prosperous nation. It felt strange to be questioned so much but I quickly learned how to say in Chinese that I was an “ABC” (American Born Chinese) and adjusted to the fact that the population of foreigners in China is still relatively small.

Olympic Games 2008 - “One World, One Dream,” World Expo 2010- “Better City, Better Life”

The Olympic Games and the World Exhibition banners, advertisements, mascots, and souvenirs were posted all around the city. Whether it was watching television at home, walking on the streets, taking the subway, or taxi the two events were constantly present. I found it amazing that the Olympics are the defining event for the country and similarly the World Expo for the city. It was interesting to see that the non-stop advertisements, which personally overwhelmed me,

created so much support among Chinese citizens. Days before the Olympic torch was scheduled to enter the city, numerous Chinese flags were strategically placed one by one down the streets of Shanghai. I could not remember a time during my life in American were patriotism was so wide-spread and for such a long period of time. It was very different and even a little intimidating.

Sichuan Earthquake- 3 days of Mourning

May 12, 2008 the 8.0 magnitude earthquake hit Sichuan Province, China. After the earthquake, Chinese patriotism was once again overwhelmingly present. The week following the Earthquake the country went into three official days of mourning. The first day of mourning included a three minute moment of silence. In these three minutes I stood outside my classroom and heard the horns of countless cars surrounding my university. Everyone in the entire country stopped for three minutes, and anyone with a horn of any type was to hold it down to represent their memories of those lost. It was the most bizarre few moments of silence I had taken part in. Following the three minutes, the university broadcast system expressed words of support to those on campus who had been affected and to remind all of the students to keep all of the victims of the tragedy in mind. Within the three days all public forms of entertainment were closed or cancelled, including movie theaters, bars, and some TV channels.

Many superstitions arose about this year after the earthquake. A lot of Chinese felt that this year was unlucky because it included the snow storms in February, the Tibet conflict, and then the Sichuan earthquake. The events have many people crossing their fingers for the Olympic Games in August. I feel that although these events were tragic, the Chinese have managed them relatively well and have gained even more country-wide support and patriotism which will only aid in hosting the games.  When comparing the reactions of the Chinese to Americans in the wake of tragedy, I feel that the most obvious difference is the overpowering amount of nation-wide advertisements to support the disaster.

Trip to Xi An

My favorite memory of my study abroad experience is the week-long trip my program took us on to Xi An. Xi An is Shan Xi province west of Shanghai, in the mid-western portion of China. On the trip our teachers took us to see the Terracotta Warriors as well as many other mausoleums and Pagodas that were thousands of years old. It was amazing to be able to look at artifacts that were so old with such rich history. There was so much that was hundreds of times older than the United States! The most surprising part of our trip was our stop in the country-side of Shan Xi province. When we arrived there was a large parade of children waving flags yelling welcome, women dancing, and men playing large drums and singing. It was crazy, we were like celebrities! My teacher said that the official count of the number of people in the village that came to greet us was 700! It was very overwhelming but a lot of fun. At night we all had separate home stays. The woman that I stayed with did not know Mandarin, only her dialect of Chinese, so it was very interesting using sign language to communicate. I really enjoyed it because it was my first experience with such a large language barrier and such a different environment.

After the Program

I feel so lucky that I had the opportunity to study in Shanghai and witness just how fast the city is growing. I was not only exposed the culture, but the vast amount of opportunities for the future. The program gave me a great impression of Shanghai so I stayed in the summer to exploring the idea of working there in the future through an internship.

On my last day in the city I sat down and talked to one of the vendors at a jewelry market. I think my conversation with her really put my entire trip in perspective. The woman I sat with was from out of town. She works very hard making hand-crafted jewelry daily from 9 to 9, with no time for herself. Her child lives and studies in their home town with her parents because she does not even have time to watch over her. Her story is similar to numerous Chinese in Shanghai. Although Shanghai, and China itself is growing at such a rapid pace, there is a very large disparity problem arising. I feel that there is still much to be done to guide the working class and migrant workers into the growth of the country. I look forward to see the progress of the city, and the nation in this globalizing world and feel that my study abroad experience has opened my future to a variety of opportunities to be apart of this great change.