My exchange trip to Shanghai and why it is so different to the UK

Following up on my first blog post talking about my experiences in first year, I wanted to tell you guys about my exchange trip to Shanghai Maritime University (SMU) in the summer right after. It wast most possibly the craziest month of my student life and the best experience ever. If you come to study in Plymouth, this is something to get involved with - each year 50 places are offered to go for a month to Shanghai and accommodation and food are cared for by SMU.

To be honest, applying for the exchange scheme I was not really aware of how great the opportunity was. I think when enrolled on a business degree, not only getting international exposure is important but setting up links especially to Asia and maybe even learning Chinese is a big plus. It is just simply the most important trading nation nowadays and especially for my degree (Maritime Business and Maritime Law), it is the centre of commercial interest and opportunities. So, just after finishing my first year, I took the plane from Heathrow Airport in June with 49 other students.

The first thing you realise is that it is HOT! If you take the underground from the airport, you will ask yourself why the London tube does not have air conditioning but if you take the bus, you will be sweating and on top of being scared for your life - literally. Shanghai people drive like mad and we took the bus nearly all the time - there seemed to be not many traffic rules. By contrast, in the EU, everything is incredibly regulated. Arriving on the University campus, we were put into on-campus accommodation for international students - with a lot of space and real toilets, not the typical ones that are much different than ours. Everything is on campus and there are huge basketball and football courts, two big cafeterias with local food (that is not always the best) and they even have their own lake. The campus is, however, situated quite outside Shanghai. In fact, studying in Shanghai was quite similar to Plymouth with everything being incredibly close by and both campuses offering a lot of activities.

My studies in Shanghai were lectures on various economical and legal issues as well as some arts and kung fu classes amongst others and, of course, Chinese classes every morning. The schedule was much much tougher than the UK one I have and there was not as much chance for self-study as in Plymouth because we all wanted to discover the area, with Shanghai being about 1 hour 30 mins away by metro. The craziest part was probably the nights out and the trips to Shanghai. A hotel for the weekend in the middle of the city was quite cheap and we got club entries with drinks for free (!). It ended up in a crazy crazy time and it was certainly a very different experience to Plymouth with some clubs that can probably not be found anywhere else.

Coming to the food now, one of the best dishes I have tried was random street food. For example, just next to our campus in Shanghai there was always a lady cooking something like a kebab or burger and it was so good I went there nearly every day - it was just 5 yuan (50p). The University food was good as well and some of the noodle soups were great. What you shouldn’t try is the bread, you will be disappointed.

One problem I had whilst out in Shanghai was that I caught the chickenpox. The medical infrastructure is very different to the EU and the first three hospitals thought it came from animals in my bed or that I had an allergy. However, I found a good doctor in the end who took good care of me and I recovered after one week.

Another issue was of course the language and surprisingly there are not many people speaking English. So we had to fight our way through with a few words of Chinese, which was not always easy. I would not say I have learned a lot of Chinese given the fact that I was in a group of British people and of course all the Chinese students taking care of us wanted to speak English.

In the end, it was an incredible adventure and we were taken to the lakes of Hangzhou as well as some remote and incredibly beautiful mountains. All in all, I would recommend anyone to go. The main difference to the UK is probably that more hard work is necessary and the campus is very remote but the night life is a big plus.