Letter from Shanghai

Students on the BCL International can take a year in Shanghai…here’s a letter from one student currently studying there at the East China University of Political Science & Law (ECUPL).

East China University of Political Science & Law – The China Option


Confronted with the list of options for your year abroad, it can be a bit confusing. After all, there are so many great choices and this decision will affect you in countless ways. Shanghai is a hard one to skip over though, or at least it was for me. The chance to live in this vibrant city is not one to be underestimated. It may be a brave choice, a bit more of a culture shock than some of the others, but it should read “Adventure Ahead” next to it; as that is exactly what is in store for those bold enough to study here.


Getting off the plane, you will begin to wonder what on earth you are doing here. I know I did, as did many of my other friends here. It takes a few days to adjust, but once you have the place really opens up. The campus is a mix of traditional Chinese architecture with the likes of what you would find in UCC, so it is a good base to settle in. The dorms make it so easy to meet people; I knew no one in the whole continent coming over and within hours I had already made my first few friends. People from all over Europe as well as Asia live there so thankfully there was no need to worry, people do speak English. Be warned, the same can’t be said for many people around campus so a couple of practical phrases written in characters might come in handy. The last thing you need after a long flight is to be wondering around campus with all your bags because no one knows what the word ‘dorms’ means. Chinese drop loos also need a little bit of adjustment, but eventually you stop thinking of them as so weird.


As for the city, it makes everyday exciting. From food stalls heaped high to bicycles and motorbikes speeding around the corners, parts of it truly live up to ‘Chinese’ cliché and satisfy the craving for that stereotypical idea in your head. There are many Temples and gardens to visit and the food is so delicious you will never want to stop eating (experimenting and trying new things definitely pays off). However the Western influence is unmistakeable, the skyscrapers and shopping malls are just like any other city, although on a massive scale, and many familiar brands and shops are to be found. The subway makes it easy to explore, and if you get lost the taxis cost close to nothing. There is always something going on; I have a schedule so packed I am starting to forget what being bored even feels like. From joining clubs (I joined the GAA, even though I hadn’t even watched it at home) to being invited to social events and shows, there is never a dull minute.


There are a few quirks to the city and the country worth mentioning, both positive and negative. People do take an interest and might stare or take photos of the “wàiguó rén”; it can get tiring but you just have to be flattered they find you so interesting. The traffic system can seem chaotic, and crossing the road should not be done without a good look around – vehicles and bicycles appear from nowhere. There is a real love of music and dance here, there are karaoke houses everywhere and people belting out their favourite songs are to be found in a lot of the parks and open areas. Even more impressive, strangers get together in big groups to do all sorts of dance – it is quite a nice bonus to be walking home and see people young and old waltzing around on the pavement.


It is also a great platform for travelling a bit further afield. I had only arrived three weeks when the Golden Week holiday took place, so I recommend knowing in advance when the next break is so that you can plan. I was lucky enough to see the Anhui province and Yellow Mountain, one of the best holidays I’ve ever had, and can’t wait to tick a few more items off my bucket list.


So somehow, I have woken up six weeks later and realised I am having the best time of my life, with some of the most interesting people I have ever meet. It isn’t the right choice for everyone. You need to keep an open-mind, be up for a change and have some spirit of adventure. Just like all places, there are many things that will annoy you – the Wifi disconnects all the time, organisation is not always optimal and the time difference makes staying in touch less than easy. You will have days you love it, and those when you want nothing more than to be having a cup of tea at home. For me though, it was one of the best decisions I ever have made and, already, I can’t imagine ever wanting to leave!


Ashleigh Hayman, BCL (International) 3 (2013/14)