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The Alliance in Shanghai: 21st Century City

Overall Rating

10/ 10

  • Academics

    10

  • Living Situation

    10

  • Cultural Immersion

    10

  • Program Administration

    10

  • Health and Safety

    10

  • Social Life

    10

Excellent program for language acquisition, enough time for a social life while abroad, and opportunities to travel during the program

Top notch program. I was in Shanghai in the fall of 2012 and was shocked at how quickly my Mandarin improved. There were a range of skill levels and your classes will be broken up into those skill levels, with opportunity to move up or down if the placement isn't a good fit. The other students were all high achievers and motivated students, but there was no lack of social life with them. Each week you'll have between 12 and 20 hours of classroom Chinese lessons, as well as other elective courses if you don't choose the intensive language track.

The living situation is better than I've ever seen at an American university and within a block you can find almost everything you'll need to buy for your entire trip, at reasonable prices. My roommates and I never cooked because all of the Chinese food around you can be bought for 2-5 dollars and is at least as good as what you'd get in a restaurant here. Combine that with the opportunity to use your language skills while out and about and it's a winning combination.

Each semester the program organizes a week to 10-day long trip to another region of China complete with lodging and activities paid for with your tuition, as well as an additional week (call it a "fall break") for independent travel. If you want to you can take the train to another city after class on Friday and be back late Sunday night to visit most regions in China if you take the initiative to plan for weekend trips.

The support staff is helpful and knowledgable, and has experience helping students with just about any problem you can imagine. They want you to succeed and to grow as a person, and believe me, you will. I'm sure there are other amazing study abroad programs, but I would recommend this one to anyone who asked, regardless of your level of proficiency in Mandarin.

Overall Rating

8/ 10

  • Academics

    7

  • Living Situation

    8

  • Cultural Immersion

    8

  • Program Administration

    7

  • Health and Safety

    10

  • Social Life

    9

What You Make Of It

Although I could go on and on about what makes this particular program so great in some ways and so terrible in others (of which there honestly aren't many), I think it's important to begin with the disclaimer that studying abroad is absolutely what you make of it. Alliance gives you the opportunities and tools you need to immerse yourself - in culture, language, etc. - but it doesn't force you to do any of it. You have to do that yourself; you have to take control of your experience and take away from it what you want.

I spent two semesters in the 21st Century City program, and here's a list of my favorite and least favorite things about Alliance that may be worth considering as a prospective student:

+ Yingyi, the administrative assistant. While the administration has its quirks (they're small! They get overwhelmed easily), they do their absolute best and Yingyi is that best. She is the sweetest human you will ever meet. She rides her child's bicycle around the district to take class attendance in person and knows everyone's name before they even arrive. Say hello to her every morning and her smile will never fade. Take care of this precious woman.

+ The study group trips. I was fortunate enough to go to both Qinghai and Sichuan with my Alliance group, and both trips were fantastic (particularly Qinghai). I had been to Sichuan before but still saw new things and didn't feel at all bored.

+ Chinese language teachers. Perhaps most importantly, this program's teachers are all incredible. I can't give them enough love; they will push you but they are also really understanding, most of them extremely caring young mothers just like Yingyi. They will be your friends, but don't take advantage of them. They will always be most valuable to you in the classroom and at Chinese table lunches!

- Chinese roommates. While some students in my semesters had great experiences with their roommates, I was unlucky and got placed with two seniors who had very little time to devote to being my friend or helping me with practical matters. This is a specific case, but I still think it's worth noting that you shouldn't expect to be placed with a new best friend.

- Location. Again, this is really nit-picky and possibly irrelevant (because I don't actually know if any study abroad program in Shanghai is all that centrally located), but I didn't know going into this year just how far I would be from the city center. It took a good 45 minutes to get downtown on a slew of very crowded buses and metros, so it's not something you'll want to do everyday. Still, it's nice to be located far out in the sense that you'll have more opportunities to practice your Chinese with the district locals, most of whom don't speak much or any English. (There's also great street food right outside the apartment complex and the classrooms are literally minutes from the apartments!)