12 December 2018
Lukas Werner, student in business economics wrote about his trip.
From lentils and spaetzle to duck with rice. For anyone looking to consciously break out of their comfort zone and experience culture shock, a semester abroad is the best way to do it.
The DHBW offers students a number of study abroad opportunities throughout their studies. These range from short programs of one to two weeks to entire semesters abroad for six-month periods. Students can choose from one of DHBW’s partner universities in Europe, the USA and Asia. After taking part in short study exchanges to Myanmar in 2017 and Kuala Lumpur in 2018, I knew for certain that I wanted to embark on a semester abroad. Right from the start I knew I wanted to break out of my comfort zone as much as possible, so Shanghai was the perfect destination for me. With over 24 million inhabitants, it is one of the world’s largest megacities. The city is on the other side of the world in state-controlled China, a country where hardly anyone speaks English. It was the ideal challenge for someone who comes from a village of 1,500 people. Rutronik provides generous assistance to students to meet the high costs of such a program. Tuition fees (without a scholarship) amount to almost 2,000 euros, the flights come to around 700-800 euros and a room in a student residence costs approximately 1,500 euros. Although the semester is not exactly cheap it is worth every cent!
On September 10, the semester started at Shanghai University. Although lectures were in English the teachers were not always easy to understand. The university campus, which is also home to the international students’ residence, is centrally located in Shanghai meaning we could use our free time to explore the city and meet new people. The cheap and very accessible metro system made it possible to move quickly and easily around Shanghai and visit new places. The university also organized several trips for us like visits to the free trade zone on the coast of Shanghai, a food manufacturing plant as well as cities like Suzhou and Hangzhou where we stayed overnight. We used the remaining free weekends to make trips to the desert near Mongolia, the Beijing Wall or to go for hikes in the mountains. Shanghai itself fascinated me from the beginning. The feeling of standing in front of its breathtaking skyline is indescribable. In a city of millions, you quickly realize that there is nothing you cannot find. We ate in different places every day, and it would take years to visit all the restaurants, bars, clubs and shopping malls. It is impossible to list here everything that I had the chance to experience. I can now confirm the rumors that hardly anyone in Shanghai speaks English. In fact, most Chinese do not speak it which proved a little complicated when it came to ordering food, for example. It was not even possible to ask a member of the police force for directions. But you get used to it after a while and find ways to manage. Contact with other international students was very helpful in this regard.
A big highlight of my experience was seeing the extent to which China is becoming digitized. It is completely normal to be only able to pay using the smartphone app “WeChat”. I had 4G coverage even on the mountain top while hiking and could pay for my bottle of water using my mobile phone in the space of a few seconds. But that is not all. Mobile phone data usage, car rentals, flight booking, restaurant reservations etc. are all combined in one app. In Germany, this is still a long way off and is in fact controversial due to data protection regulations. A SIM card costs about 35 euros and contains 20Gb 4G/LTE of data per month for three months.
Coursework was assessed via presentations and homework for the most part while my Chinese course entailed a written exam. The lecturers were very friendly and helpful. At the university too, it became clear in the first week how digitized China is. The lecturers created a WeChat group for each course and all information from the organizers came via the app. It was also not uncommon to see delivery service employees knocking on the door of the classroom on the fifth floor of the university bringing take-away food. We were able to have food and drink delivered to the classroom within 30 minutes which is completely normal in Shanghai.
What is also taken for granted in Shanghai, and in China more generally, is the sheer number of surveillance cameras. It really took some time getting used to it, because there was barely a corner without CCTV. Each moving car is photographed every few 100 meters by the cameras. But as long as you obey the rules, you do not need to worry about the cameras and after a few weeks I forgot about them. However, there is a silver lining of all this surveillance: security. In Shanghai, no matter what time it is, you do not have to worry about your safety. Due to the widespread surveillance, the crime rate is very low.
Since the residence I stayed in only housed international students, I got to know people from all over the world during my time in China. Thanks to the semester, I now have friends in the US, Mexico, Spain, France, the Netherlands, Sweden, Russia, Tajikistan, Singapore, and many other countries. I was allowed to learn from different cultures and people in an astonishing megacity in a fully digitized country. All in all: The best decision of my life. 谢谢! Thank you!