Illustration by Shenuka Corea

J-Term Guide: Shanghai

Shanghai J-Term through the eyes of students who have studied there.

Oct 9, 2016

Get ready to make unforgettable memories full of sleepless nights as you wander around restaurants ordering food based on how it looks in the pictures. Get yelled at in Chinese when bargaining, or go to the marriage market to find your perfect match. Visit the Bund to witness the most beautiful, breathtaking skyline and explore China beyond Shanghai by going to Beijing, the Great Wall and the Forbidden City for a weekend.
“[Shanghai is] the perfect combination of cultural experience, engaging academics and city exploration,” said sophomore Flavia Cereceda, summing up the experience beautifully.
But also be ready for an initial lack of excitement — I still remember getting off the plane in Abu Dhabi for a four-hour layover on my way to Shanghai and wishing that I could stay in the place that I finally felt comfortable calling home. That was mainly because I didn’t know what to expect in Shanghai. It was precisely my cluelessness, however, that eventually made my experience an excellent one.
For many of us, Shanghai became the place where we formed new relationships. The whole group felt like one big family.
“I started becoming friends with my best friend [during J-Term],” said sophomore Araz Aslanian. All of us shared the excitement and thrill of being there; we all wanted to stretch ourselves and explore the great opportunities we had been given. We all realized the magic in saying yes to anything that offered us the chance to learn more.
Sophomore Tami Gjorgjieva agreed.
“I absolutely loved the J-Term Shanghai-nians. The fact that there is a limited group of people at a J-Term site makes [it] a perfect opportunity to meet new people from NYUAD and get close to them. Shanghai holds some of my dearest memories from freshman year, and I owe that to the great group dynamic we had there.”
Food was the most fascinating — and sometimes, the weirdest — part. A highlight of our experience in Shanghai was trying different kinds of delicious traditional Chinese food. The love you’ll develop for dumplings will make you want to never leave. According to Gjorgjieva, dumplings are a must.
“Don’t you dare to leave Shanghai without eating street dumplings — before class, after class, before going out or at 5 a.m. — there is not a bad timing for dumplings, and there are street vendors selling them right across the dorm!”
Whether for a quick snack or a fulfilling meal, dumplings were absolutely the way to go. However, make sure to try as many different food options as possible. There’s a lot to learn about the culture through the food. Rice, noodles, meat, hot pot — you should try them all.
For transportation, the metro is perhaps the most convenient option considering its low price and the proximity of stations to both the dorm and the campus. While several people recommend avoiding the metro during rush hour, others consider the morning rush to be a must-have experience in Shanghai. Most of us would also suggest taking the metro to class instead of the shuttle bus, due to the very early departure time of the bus. I tried to take the shuttle for about a week, but then ended up using the metro nearly every day. As for transportation to and from the airport, sophomore David Curcubet recommends taking the maglev train, as it's faster — 430 kmph — and cheaper than a taxi. Taxis are still cheap compared to those in many other cities, and they can be a very convenient alternative to public transport. But make sure to have your destination written down in Chinese characters if you don’t speak Chinese. Moreover, when traveling long distances, the Chinese high-speed trains are the best option.
J-term is at the time of the year when winter hits hardest. It rarely snows and it is mostly rainy and windy. The temperature is nearly 5 degrees Celsius on average and, believe me, it is much colder than the number indicates. The worst is at night. Be prepared to put on several layers of warm clothings on a daily basis. Winter gloves are strongly recommended.
As far as travel and sightseeing goes, there’s a lot to explore in this short period of time, and every place is incredibly amazing in its own way. First you need to go to the Bund, the famous waterside walkway with an amazing view, especially before sunrise. Then, close to the Bund are Nanjing road and People's square, a flourishing, busy place for people to look around. For the best views, visit as many skyscrapers as you can. We went to Shanghai World Financial Center, which had a great view. The Oriental Pearl Tower, the second tallest building in China, has an amazing 360-degree view of the city, including the Shanghai World Financial Centre — which you’ll know as the Bottle Opener — and Shanghai Tower. We also went to Tianzifang and Xintiandi, small neighborhoods with traditional architecture and a touristy atmosphere. I fell in love with Shanghai just by walking through the beautiful French Concession.
Curcubet decided to study away in Shanghai next spring after spending his J-Term there. He found that during his J-Term he experienced an entirely different culture and different perspectives of the world. He wanted to learn more about how Chinese society works. One of the biggest challenges Curcubet talked about was the language barrier, because most people don’t speak English. As much as we all agree that communicating with people through weird gestures is fun, it is definitely recommended that you take precautions, such as downloading translation apps.
Rita Akroush, a senior who spent her semesters away in London and New York, said that J-Term in Shanghai was a completely different experience for her.
“It was a different vibe; although it has the basic elements of a big city, the culture was completely new to me, which was very exciting. There's so much to learn and see.”
Mai Awamleh is a contributing writer. Kristina Stankovic is Senior Features Editor. Email them at feedback@thegazelle.org.
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