I have officially been living in Shanghai for over 1 month and time is going by so fast. I am excited at how quickly I have been able to acclimate to the culture, my surroundings and the people. I’ve gone from being a newcomer to the city to a fully-functioning citizen. I’ve become a regular in the neighborhood; the girls at the juice shop always wave over the counter, the man that sells lotto tickets from his lawn chair gives me a pleasant “hello”, and the restaurant owners know our orders as “the usual.” While a majority of the transition has been smooth, there have been rough patches: chopsticks, language barriers and the overall lack of personal space. Just the same, the challenges have made the trip all the more interesting!
I struggled to use chopsticks so much in the beginning my hands cramped with each meal. Using chopsticks made eating a chore rather than an enjoyable experience. Rice never made it up to my mouth, stir fry slipped right through the utensils and dumplings were nearly impossible to tackle. I could’ve asked for a fork, I’m sure, but a) I didn’t know how just yet, b) it wasn’t the best strategy to master chopsticks and c) it’s not culturally sensitive. Only 30 days later, I would consider myself a chopstick expert, laughing at my novice capabilities upon my arrival. I see some potential for an infomercial in my before and after results.
While I was able to overcome that feat, the language barrier is taking longer to conquer. In Shanghai, many students have learned to speak English, so it’s always nice to be somewhere near the campus. I can almost guarantee some student will become a translator victim. The problem is, students become elusive on the weekends and after classes let out. So, for the last month, I have been pouring through the books to be able to communicate for survival in Shanghai. Being in the culture is by far the best way to learn a language, but it can be so frustrating to act out my favorite egg-and-tomato dish, in front of the dinner crowd, when all you want to do is eat.
Personal space in the United States is a luxurious 3 feet. In Shanghai, personal space is nearly non-existent. Standing so close that you are touching someone is not uncommon or even uncomfortable in the Asian culture. This, by far, has been the biggest adjustment for me. As small of a difference as it may seem and even though I knew it before I got here, I didn’t realize how accustomed I was to having my own space. I was used to everyone and their respective personal bubble. I’m beginning to adapt to someone walking so close they could take a shoulder off, breathing on the back of my neck in line and over packing the capacity of virtually everywhere. It really is a major cultural adjustment that is necessary to make. With such a large population, it’s nearly impossible to have giant personal bubbles.
Experiencing this much cultural diversity so quickly has really made me appreciate my involvement with the Office of Multicultural Affairs even more. I was able to develop cultural understanding and an appreciation for other cultures by working with them. Now that I’m in China, I use the things they taught me about cultural adaptation on a daily basis. One thing that stands out in particular is being open to the different ways of people around the world. Kudos to OMA!