Sooooo since I’ve only actually written about four blog posts since I’ve arrived here, I decided it was about time that I actually write something entailing what I’ve been doing here, my daily life, etc….
And since I don’t normally have Chinese class on Wednesdays, right now (Tuesday night) is a perfect time to do it! YAAAAAY
As you all should know (if you’ve been reading my blog or have seen the “about” section of this website), I’m studying in Shanghai, China this semester with the Alliance for Global Education program. The program I’m in is called “21st Century City”. I’ve already kind of described the classes I’m taking this semester (see previous blog posts) but essentially I’m taking 9 hours per week of Chinese and two 3-hour elective courses. I also have a half-hour one-on-one session with a language teacher on Wednesdays, and “Chinese Table”, which is basically an outing to get lunch with my Chinese teacher and classmates (super fun and casual) every Tuesday. See schedule below:
As a whole, aside from my Mondays (which are LITERALLY from h*ll), it’s a pretty laid back schedule with a decent amount of free time. Monday just decides to be a jerk and screw it all up with 9 hours of class. You know.
With that being said, though, I do have a pretty considerable amount of work. LOTS of reading, and lots of 生词 (vocabulary).
But for the most part, I’ve been having a really good time getting to know everyone on the program, and I’m really starting to adjust to life here. BUT WHAT HAVE YOU BEEN DOING, LAUREN!?!? ok ok I’ll tell you.
So one of the best things I’ve done in China so far is attended an international AIESEC conference hosted by AIESEC Nanjing and AIESEC Mainland of China. For those of you who don’t know, AIESEC is the largest student-run organization in the world, with more than 60,000 members worldwide. What we do is promote the peace and fulfillment of humankind’s potential by providing exchanges and internships abroad for college-aged students. Basically, it’s a pretty legit and awesome organization with a multitude of amazing opportunities (including regional, national, and international conferences!!!!!) If you’re really curious, find out more HERE. AIESEC is really cool because you can go literally anywhere in the world and find a group of awesome, amazing people who have the same interests and life goals as you do, and who are constantly trying to make the world a better place. If that’s not inspiring, I don’t know what is.
So, two weekends ago (September 6-8), I managed not only to register and pay for this conference in Nanjing (called ILYS, or International Youth Leadership Summit), but also GET there (via bullet train!!!). I was very proud of my ability to get there by myself. ESPECIALLY because I encountered some major traffic on the way to the Shanghai Railway station, and I only had 12 minutes before departure once I arrived….BUT I MADE IT. And the volume of people wasn’t even that bad! PHEW. But anyways, bullet trains are really cool. The trip that would normally take about 3 hours to drive only took about 1 hour and 40 minutes by train. Wayyyy faster than US standards! (pretty bad photo of the bullet train below, you get idea)
So after arriving there, I was picked up by a member of AIESEC Nanjing, where I met another conference delegate and we headed to the hotel. The hotel was pretty far away from the city center of Nanjing, but was absolutely beautiful; it was accurately called a “hotel and spa” or a “retreat center” or something; it was very nice. Lots of nature all around and I felt like I could actually breathe!
The conference itself was great. Lots of useful information, and even more than that, just the opportunity to see and interact with literally hundreds of Chinese college students was so eye-opening. I was really impressed with how hard these students work; they take their jobs in AIESEC very seriously, and it shows. Learning about the structure of AIESEC in China was also very useful; because they deal with a much larger volume of participants on their exchanges, their club is also structured a little differently than it is in the US. Overall, it was a really interesting conference.
BUT THE BEST PART WAS DANCING!!!!! So since this was their first “international” conference, the OC (organizing committee) made it a point to organize a good amount of dancing so that everyone could have an awesome time. In AIESEC, we have these things called “roll calls”, which are essentially choreographed dances that entire clubs do together to represent themselves in a creative way. The ones that are really really good become popular and get picked up by other clubs, and eventually entire countries, continents, and even the whole world gets to know them. My personal favorite AIESEC dance that we did at the conference (and one of the most CLASSIC AIESEC dances, known almost everywhere) is below:
I can’t tell you the awesome sensation you get when 400 of your closest strangers are all dancing together to one song, literally and figuratively doing the same thing for the same reason and the same goal. You feel a real sense of connection with the people around you, and weird as it might be to those of you who aren’t AIESECers, it’s truly an amazing feeling to know how interconnected you are with one another. All 400 of us, trying to change the world. Pretty awesome.
Just a shoutout to AIESEC Nanjing for a second: their whole entire club and organizing committee for the conference was amazing. Not only did they help me get from train station to the hotel area, but they also helped me pay for it, and further spent a LOT of time with us international delegates making sure we had a good time. They even brought us McDonalds one day, which they totally didn’t have to do. What a bunch of awesome people.
So yeah, that was the conference. After the awesome experience I had, I am trying to apply for another international conference in Hong Kong; however I’ve been put on the waiting list (SADDDD 😦 ), so I’m not sure if I’ll be able to go. Regardless, I’m glad I achieved my goal of attending at least one international AIESEC conference (check that off my bucket list!)
Since then, I’ve just been continuing to adjust to life in China. Having a consistent daily schedule has been nice, and honestly it’s been really fun going on random adventures around Shanghai. One of my adventures last week included running into some incredibly adorable little things of fun! (there is no word in the English language to describe how cute these are):
LIKE WHY ARE THESE THINGS SO CUTE I CANT EVEN WAAAAT. ===( 0 _ o )====
Also, I felt an odd surge of US pride when I saw these US-imported grapes at the local fruit market:
In addition to these lovely happenings, I also made a trip with a few other Alliance students to Shanghai’s Urban Planning Center last Friday. Despite the arrangements being slightly off (somehow they didn’t write down our reservation for an English-speaking guide), we still managed to learn a great deal more about Shanghai. The best part of the whole thing was seeing an absolutely ginormous model of Shanghai.
It definitely gave me a little perspective about the actual SCALE of this city. It really is the biggest city in the world….
Afterwords, I went with Felix, our Resident Director, and Valerie, a fellow University of Illinois student (represent!!!) to a vegetarian restaurant not far from the main city center. And got this incredibly delicious mango flavored strawberry ice cream topped yum yum freaking awesome dessert:
I can’t even express how amazing it was. It was everything I’ve ever dreamed for in a dessert and more. Just looking at the photo makes me happy.
From there, we ventured home (in a literal torrential DOWNPOUR), managed to get turned around a few times on the subway (oops, haha), and eventually got home. We enjoyed a nice evening on the town with the other Alliance students, and a grand time was had by all!
This past weekend’s OTHER random adventures included Xintiandi and Tianzifang, both places of particular interest to artisans and architecture-lovers alike. Characterized by the Shikumen-style architecture, both neighborhoods were previously lived in by native Shanghainese people, and have since been converted into stores, restaurants, coffee shops, and small tourist attractions.
While Xintiandi catered to foreigners, was more open, spacious, and aesthetically pleasing, it was also characterized as an expensive, upper-class, “expensive” place to spend time.
My roommate, Kim, posing by the Shikumen architecture.
Here you can see more Shikumen architecture, but clear evidence of Western influences.
Tianzifang on the other hand reminded me of the tightly-packed, winding markets of Thailand, and many other places in Asia. Everything was small, closer together, and the stores were less high-class and more trendy Art studios and small craft or knick-knack stores, a perfect place for cute souvenirs.
These photos not quite as good, but you can see just how much more cramped the area is than Xintiandi.
In Tianzifang, as opposed to Xintiandi, people still live in many of the upper floors and hang their laundry washing from the balconies.
The adventuring was a fun time.
Since then, I’ve just been desperately doing homework, trying to catch up on sleep since I was suddenly faced with much more homework than I had anticipated, experimenting with odd recipes I am trying to make in the wok we have in our apartment (it’s literally the only pan, but it works!), and writing this.
I’ve also noticed that I use the word “literally” WAY TOO MUCH and from now until the next post I will try to find a much better substitute for this word to better and more accurately describe my way of life.