Travel Journal #3 – A Dream Deferred

I’ve been in Shanghai for a few weeks and just like a familiar roommate, routine is starting to settle into my life. Each day pretty much begins the same; the sun rises at 5 a.m. and I roll out of bed by 6:30. I shower, dress, eat street vendor food, go to classes, and eat again. I could almost believe that I’m back at Danville if there weren’t 2.2 million people doing the same things all around me. All of my classes have begun and shockingly they’re pretty intense. Not finals-week-at-Centre intense, but definitely challenging. I’m already studying well into the night.
mao When I arrived in Shanghai, the city seemed like a dream to me. The Metro, a mythical dragon snaking its way through the city swallowing people whole; Tongji, a bustling village of scholars; and the lights of the Pearl Tower shining in the distance were all a dream come true. I’m not ashamed to admit that I expected this semester to be easy. I was going to breeze through this term, travel all over, and come back a sophisticated traveler who has seen and done it all. However, reality has set in quickly. For one thing, as cheap as things are here, it doesn’t mean that I have money to waste. Budgeting is my very good friend right now. Also contrary to first-year belief, while abroad you do have to schedule and go to class, which is a little more nerve-wracking because my adviser isn’t readily available for a quick office chat.
What’s more, “Southern hospitality” is not something that translates here. When you’re away from friends no one really cares for—or about—you; you have to make your own way. I’m glad I’m seeing this now rather than later. Furthermore, like any city, beyond the glittering skyline Shanghai has the normal pitfalls. Traffic laws are mere suggestions most of the time. People will try to cheat you just because you’re a foreigner. It’s nearly impossible to ignore all the homeless people sleeping on the corners, the overcrowding on the subway, the laughably difficult system for traveling anywhere, the smells that seems to permeate anytime you step away from a main road, and worse… It’s not nice and definitely not honest, but it’s real life.
Taking stock of everything, I think my dreams deferred about Shanghai were kind of a disguised blessing. I came to China to live and study. And life, believe it or not, is not always a dream come true. Shanghai is like any city—gritty and disgusting at times. Yet every day begins pretty much the same; the sun still rises at 5 a.m. and I’m out of bed by 6:30 and ready to meet the day again.
by Morgan Whitehead ’15, currently participating in the Centre-in-China study abroad program. Learn more about study abroad in China.
PHOTOS: An international market near a Metro stop (top of page); statue of Mao on Tongji’s campus (above right).

By |2013-09-27T14:18:39-04:00September 27th, 2013|News, Study Abroad, Travel Journals - China|