Travel Journal #5 – Global Citizen

After our great adventure to Hangzhou last week, this week has been considerably quieter. Classes are starting to pick up with homework and quizzes in preparation for our upcoming midterms. It was National Day recently, and it seemed like every person in Shanghai had left their homes and taken to the streets to enjoy some of the festivities. I missed the parade earlier in the day while running errands for our next trip, but you could definitely feel how many people had come out for the celebration. The awe and subsequent disillusionment that I had felt with Shanghai has now settled into a sort of comfort. I know the subway well enough to get around the city, I’ve found a favorite snack shop, and I no longer get lost on Tongji’s campus. I’m actually beginning to feel like a global citizen. Somewhat. Because even though I don’t really feel like a tourist anymore, I know that I stick out like a sore thumb. statue
At 5-feet 9-inches with curly hair and dark skin, I know that I’m not exactly the norm on Centre’s campus, but in Shanghai it’s another beast. It doesn’t matter where I am—buying street food, on the subway, or walking to class—people stare. It’s even worse when all the Centre students are together; we’re practically a walking American circus. People have even stopped and asked to take photos with us. At first all the attention was amusing because I don’t feel or look any different than I did at home and it seemed silly that people would want pictures. I look the way I look and that’s that. However, as I become more acclimated to the city, I don’t want to feel or be different. I want to be treated like everyone else. However, as obviously American as the Centre students are, that is nearly impossible. So we take pictures with tourists, even though we’re barely more than tourists ourselves.
As an African American from Eastern Kentucky, it’s not strange for me to be the minority. It’s not even strange for race relations to be less than stellar, again because I’m used to that in the United States. What is strange is that even I think the differences are sometimes jarring. The general acceptance of the Communist party and hero-worship of Chairman Mao seem strange to me. It’s hard to tell what Chinese people actually think of China because nobody ever talks about it; something very different from the U.S., where people are often very passionate about their political affiliation.
However when I really look at everything that is happening around me, I can hardly believe that our differences are so black and white. There are always kids playing with their parents, students lugging heavy backpacks to their respective classes, and people buying coffee and groceries. There are people praying or simply taking a short rest. They may not be just like me, or my mom, or my friends back home, but the similarities are definitely there. They celebrate holidays and take pride in their nation, which is something that is certainly similar to home. I don’t always understand our connections immediately, but I’m doing my best to truly become a global citizen.
by Morgan Whitehead ’15, currently participating in the Centre-in-China study abroad program. Learn more about study abroad in China.
PHOTOS: A red sign at the gate in Tongji wishing everyone a happy 64th National Day (top of page); statue of a heavenly guardian at the Shanghai Museum which features Chinese works of art (above right).

By |2013-10-07T14:22:57-04:00October 7th, 2013|News, Study Abroad, Travel Journals - China|