Deshawn Peterson - 2016 Program Participant

What inspired you to go abroad?

I always wanted to travel, not only as a tourist; I wanted the local experience. I felt If I didn't do it now, I would never go.

Why did you choose Mandarin Spring?

I chose Mandarin Spring for two main reasons: I attended one of their Chinese corner events and had a wonderful experience and I was referred to them for their one-on-one lessons.

What was your favorite part about living in Shanghai?

Shanghai is a busy city and always has a lot going on. I think China is such a hot topic in the global news and economy, but to be here and see all the development and growth is truly amazing. Also, traveling to local cities that are a bit smaller and have tons of history is so refreshing.

The Bund, Shanghai, China
The Bund

What made your experience abroad unique?

As my first time moving abroad, every experience is unique. I came here with some ideas and expectations of my own and got something completely different. It's a bit overwhelming at first, given most people don't speak English. Just give it time and you'll have a great experience.

What surprised you most about Shanghai?

How busy the city is was the biggest surprise, especially with the amount of people and size of the city. Twenty-five million people live in Shanghai, and it never stops. I like to call it organized chaos.

What is one thing every participant should know before participating in your program?

Everyone should just relax; don't get frustrated with yourself. Learning Mandarin is not easy, AT ALL, especially if you're a native English speaker. Everything is different, from the pronunciation and tones to grammar. Be patient with yourself.

How did local staff support you throughout your program?

The local staff is very fun and friendly. They are always one chat message or phone call away if you need help with translations, and they also give great recommendations for things to do.

Qibao, Shanghai, China

What was the hardest part about studying a foreign language abroad?

The hardest part of studying Mandarin is the tones. Mandarin is completely different than English. There isn't an alphabet and it's all based on tones. If you say something in the first tone, which should of been the third, it can mean a completely different sentence.

Describe a typical day in the life of your program.

I took private lessons during the week for about four months, so I had one-on-one lessons every morning from 7:30 a.m. to 9 a.m. I know it's a bit early, but Mandarin Spring was very flexible. We would review grammar, listening, and speaking. I'm preparing for the HSK, so the lessons were geared toward test prep.

What did you enjoy doing in your free time?

I traveled, ate a lot, and just enjoyed life in the city. Sometimes I looked up and couldn’t believe I was living in Shanghai. Day trips are always good; nearby cities, like Hangzhou, Suzhou, and Ningbo, are worth the train ride.

How difficult was it to communicate with locals?

At first it was impossible. I always had to use the translator app Pleco for everyday activities, like grocery shopping or ordering food. Even though there are people in Shanghai who are learning English, there's still a larger amount of people who don't speak anything outside of “Hello".

What was your accommodation like? What did you like best about it?

I lived in an apartment in Xujiahui, which is in the Inner Ring (very similar to the Loop in Chicago is regards of location). It's a brand new place and in the middle of the city. I was near a major metro so I never had problems getting around. There was a mall next door so my area was always busy.

Do you have any packing tips for individuals headed to Shanghai?

Toiletries are the most important things to bring. I had a buddy visit and he brought me a big pack of Degree deodorant and I had my mom send me a 12 pack of colgate toothpaste.

What is one thing you wish you would have known before arriving in China?

I wish I knew they didn't have a Target or Walmart, or that Amazon doesn't deliver as quickly. The small things that you never consider are important until you need them, like a hair brush, dry deodorant, or clean tap water, were hard to find.

What's one thing you wish you would have done differently?

I wish I would have brought more traditional accessories, like deodorant, hair clippers, and aspirin, with me. But the small things are the things you miss the most.

Man with someone dressed in a Panda costume in Shanghai, China
Panda, Panda, Panda!

What do you feel the biggest benefit of studying a foreign language abroad is?

The overall experience of being completely uncomfortable and being fine with that. Being in China, you stand out like a sore thumb and everyone knows it, but that's a part of the experience. You learn to be fine with being different and still love most days.

Would you recommend Mandarin Spring to others? Why?

I would recommend Mandarin Spring to anyone who's interested in learning Mandarin and wants to live in the city. The staff is completely helpful and professional with their lessons. I felt such a huge jump in my Mandarin level by the time I finished the semester. I'm more confident and able to speak with more locals, and I plan on enrolling again for the fall.

If you could go abroad again, where would you go?

I would choose China again, but maybe a smaller city, like Wuxi or Nanjing. Shanghai is great for opportunity, but the feel is very international. I would like the most traditional experience if I were to do it again. Plus, I would be forced to speak more Mandarin with a lot less foreigners to speak English with everyday.