Written by Luka Smajila, Shanghai Summer School 2018 Alumni
I truly believe that spending four weeks in summer with Shanghai Summer School is probably one of the best things you can do for yourself this year. Let me tell you why.
In life, one thing is for certain, and it is that change is the only constant. So there I was, scrolling through my Facebook feed last March. I stumbled upon an advertisement for a Shanghai Summer School presentation coming up. Being unsure about what I wanted to do with myself and with my life at that time, I thought “why not?” and decided to give it an hour to listen to what they had to say. Three hours later, I emerged from the presentation utterly convinced of the potential Shanghai Summer School held and had just applied for it. As I would later realize, this moment of impulse would be one of the best decisions I would ever make in my life.
Sitting on the plane on my way there, I could not fathom what the weeks ahead would be like. If you choose to join Shanghai Summer School (I hope you do), I recommend that you go with no expectations just like I did. I found that this allowed me to relax and experience things for what they were, and not for what I wanted them to be. This also made my unexpected weekend trip to see The Great Wall of China extra special. I never thought that I would ever get the chance to see it with my own eyes!
A couple of hours later, we touched down. One might think that landing in a foreign country on the other side of the world and not speaking the language might result in complications and difficulties, but you will realize that that is not the case, as China has come a great way in recent decades. These days, many of the signages are also in English, so navigating your way around the airport and the city will not be a problem.
What stood out for me were the people. I did not imagine that Chinese to be a bunch of happy and friendly people. Everywhere you turn, you will see people who are happy to have a chat or to help you with something. Walking in the streets alone in the middle of the night and a stranger approaches you? He or she is probably going to ask you if you need help; Shanghai is and feels incredibly safe. I got the feeling that everyone wanted to help make our stay in Shanghai as good as it can be.
If I were to describe the Shanghai Summer School experience in one sentence, it would have to be “Work hard, play harder”. Your days are packed with both productive and fun activities. A typical day at Shanghai Summer School could look like this – Chinese classes in the morning, attending a seminar on Business in China after lunch, spending the late afternoon exploring the city, meeting people and making contacts, and ending the day with a drink atop one of Shanghai’s many rooftop bars, before partying till the sun comes up. Then you catch a quick snooze, grab a morning coffee, and repeat. None of the extra activities are mandatory of course, but from experience, the four weeks flew by so quickly; I was glad I made every second count.
One of the most important parts of the experience for me was, of course, the food. Leave all impressions of the “Chinese food” you’ve had in Europe behind, thank you very much. Real Chinese food is unbelievable. Many restaurant menus have pictures accompanying it, so all you have to do when you order is to point at something that looks good to you, and more often than not, it will be delicious. Many restaurants also have poorly translated menus, which will make you laugh, but also make for an exciting dining experience. Order the same thing, get something different every time! I’d say that there is no better way to get to know the diverse food culture! 😉
All that said, without a doubt, I feel that all of us who’ve attended Shanghai Summer School are better off because of it. We made friends, created a synergy and took on joint ideas, planned and went on trips to other parts of China, studied together for the Chinese exam, and so much more. While the schedule was packed, we had enough time to go explore the city in search of new sights, food and experiences. I also had time and opportunities to make connections for my personal ventures and projects. I discovered that in this city, new opportunities await you at every corner. At the end of the summer school, I don’t think anyone wanted to leave for home.
End of March, it’s been almost half a year since I’ve returned from Shanghai, and as I’m sitting in my room back home, I still cannot help but think about Shanghai. I guess it’s true, everything they say about Shanghai Summer School being a life-changing experience. I can confidently say that the four weeks I spent in Shanghai over last summer was eye-opening. I made new connections, new friends that I still keep in touch with, and opened new doors. Most importantly, we made countless memories that will be with us all forever.
Here’s to you Shanghai, stay amazing!