Mandarin | Shanghai University of Political Science and Law
Over the 2017 academic year, I studied Mandarin at Shanghai University of Political Science and Law as Deakin’s Chinese Government Scholarship recipient. I was originally very hesitant about transplanting my life for an entire year, but I’m incredibly glad I took the leap. I took classes 5 days a week in Chinese reading, speaking, listening and reading, as well as a Tai Chi class, all in Mandarin. Classes aside, a large part of my cohort hailed from non-English speaking countries, so Chinese was often the only language we shared. This really forced me to come out of my shell and use my language skill every single day, either orally or via WeChat, China’s leading social media app.
My university’s international students office was really dedicated to exposing their students to every facet of Chinese culture. From celebrating public holidays to travelling to cities around the country, I felt I got a really holistic experience while I was in Shanghai.
WeChat is also full of social groups, so you are able to find people from all walks of life online. Shanghai is China’s top city for international students and Chinese natives to converge, so the population around you is very colourful and diverse.
Shanghai is such a huge, booming city that you can really find anything there. Whatever your niche, you will find it in some corner of the city. So If you ever find yourself in Shanghai, do some googling (or search on Baidu, China’s equivalent) and you will definitely find what you’re looking for.
But here are some of my highlights:
Check out the Starbucks Roastery- the largest one until the New York version opens. It opened a few weeks before I was due to leave, so the lines were out the door! But I managed to sneak one visit in and it’s definitely worth the hype. It was home to more teas and coffees than I could ever try in a lifetime.
It’s apparently a little known fact that Shanghai is home to a Disneyland, but let the record show that if you want a complete Disney pilgrimage, Shanghai should be on your itinerary. The most entertaining thing was the inconsistencies in languages used; Captain America spoke English and Spiderman spoke Chinese.
There’s also a café inspired by the TV show ‘Friends,’ complete with the iconic couch, episodes constantly streaming, and dishes inspired by the characters and notable moments from the show. So an essential stop for any self-respecting ‘Friend’ fan.
Mandarin is a notoriously hard language to master, and this year just cemented that fact for me. It was a constant battle between coming to terms with my shortcomings and realizing my aptitude. I would take entire classes with no problem but trip up when conversing with wait staff.
My path to proficiency is still a long one, but I’m grateful for my year in Shanghai, as it made my mind that more agile. I attend my Chinese classes at Deakin now and I notice my reading as gotten that much smoother, my pronunciation that much clearer and listening that much better. One year wasn’t going to get me fluent, but it made a substantial difference.
If you’re trying to acquire another language, I would highly recommend spending an extended amount of time in that country. It exposes you to the language every single day, and you start to learn it as a real form of communication, rather than a dictionary of translated English words. There’s nothing quite as sobering or rewarding as learning to survive in your second language.