Brita Preus - 2014 Program Participant

Study abroad student hiking the Great Wall in China

Taking a hike up the Great Wall – it was a beautiful day!

Why did you choose to apply for a study abroad program in China?

As a management major, I thought that learning about Chinese business and culture would be very relevant to my major and useful for my future. I didn’t know any Mandarin before I went, but I was excited to live in a place where English was not the dominant language and I could improve my language skills. Shanghai interested me because of its key role in international business and abundant opportunities for food, fun, and new experiences.

Where did you stay in Shanghai?

We got to stay in an extended living hotel, which was a lot nicer than any college living arrangement I'd experienced. The apartments were spacious, with three bedrooms, two bathrooms, a kitchen, and a common room. Our bathrooms were cleaned twice a week and the entire room once a week, which was much more generous than I was expecting. The apartment was in a great location just outside of the center of Shanghai with many restaurants nearby and a subway stop less than five minutes away.

What was student life like in Shanghai?

On weekdays, we would take the subway to Shanghai Jiao Tong University, which was about half an hour away from our apartment. Every afternoon, we had an intensive Mandarin class, with our other classes being held in the morning or in the night at the IES office in our hotel. After we finished class, we would get a bite to eat somewhere around campus and maybe explore parts of Shanghai we hadn’t seen before. At night, we would go back to our apartments and study for the next day’s classes. We had three day weekends, which we sometimes used to travel to different parts of China.

A view of Shanghai, China at night from the Huangpu River

A view of Shanghai at night, taken from a cruise on the Huangpu River.

What was your favorite experience while studying in China?

I took a week-long trip with four of my friends in the program to Beijing and Xi’an, where I was able to see many attractions that I had long dreamed of seeing, some of which include the Great Wall, the Terracotta Army, and the Forbidden City.

What was the biggest challenge you faced in China?

The biggest challenge for me was the language barrier. Although Shanghai has the largest international presence in China, most people cannot speak English. Since I hadn’t studied Mandarin prior to arrival, there were a lot of times where it was difficult to communicate with locals. My Chinese language class really helped with this, since we focused on things like ordering food, taking a taxi, and asking for help right away.

If you could, what are the top reasons you'd go back to Shanghai?

Shanghai is such a fun city. It has a great transportation system, exciting nightlife, and endless things to do. The shopping is some of the best I’ve ever seen and with the frequency of bargaining, you can find some amazing deals on clothes, electronics, and souvenirs. Local food in Shanghai is delicious and very cheap (I recommend trying xiaolongbao!)

A garden in Suzhou, China

A beautiful garden in Suzhou, a city neighboring Shanghai.

How has studying abroad changed your life?

I am a more independent person and confident to go after whatever I am interested in pursuing. My study abroad experience made me less afraid to communicate with strangers (if I can do it in Mandarin, I can do it in English!). I became more aware of my cultural values and biases, and I can better connect with people from different backgrounds than me. My business courses in China have given me a more international perspective on management that I would not have gotten from my home college.

Would you recommend your IES Abroad program to others?

I would definitely recommend this program to others. As I mentioned earlier, Shanghai is a very exciting place to be and the on-site staff made it a great experience for me. They were very helpful and set up a number of trips and cultural activities which I really enjoyed. They were almost always available and really seemed to care about making each one of us have the best experience possible.

What important tips do you have for future participants of your program?

Although it can get a little expensive, I would recommend traveling around China as much as you can. The program is set up to make it very easy for us to travel and it’s much easier to do as a student. Most places accept bargaining, so don’t be afraid to fight for a lower price! Eating Chinese food and street food is much cheaper than eating at Western establishments all the time, so you should keep that to a minimum. Lastly, I recommend downloading the app Pleco for your phone. It’s free and is a great way to work on your Chinese language skills!