Written by Jonathan Melberg (University of Massachusetts-Amherst), Student Correspondent CET Shanghai, Summer 2016
Fifteen hours into my flight to Shanghai, I am eating ramen noodles and thinking about what I hope to achieve over the next eight weeks. Improving my Chinese quickly comes to mind. I know I’ll receive ample support from my local roommate, Flash, who has texted me enthusiastically about helping with my Chinese studies. I also hope to fully embrace the Chinese culture through eating and doing as the locals do. Before I dozed off for the remainder of the flight, my final thought regarding my intentions for this summer was to break away from my typical routine and move outside of my comfort zone.
The first few days in Shanghai were packed with events geared towards introducing us to the program, the city, and the other students in the program. There were inspiring sentiments given to us by the program director, many delicious meals, and an excursion via high speed train to Hangzhou. They were busy days and by the end of this extended orientation I had made friends with whom I could explore the city, eaten three variations of chicken feet, and been in about forty selfies with my roommate from Xi’an. Come the first day of class, I had just about shaken off jet lag and was ready to start my pre-advanced Chinese course.
Flash forward five days to Friday. I have learned 118 new Chinese characters, had a short presentation in Chinese about my roommate’s opinions of internet usage in China, and had a written and oral test. It was a challenging week that introduced me to the demanding schedule that will be maintained over the next eight weeks.
That night I went to KTV, a very popular karaoke establishment in China, with a mix of several Donghua University and CET students. On route to KTV, the Chinese students insisted we go to a restaurant known for their frog leg soup. Waiting in the busy restaurant, we chatted about school life and our experience thus far in China. This provided a relaxed environment for me and the other CET students to practice new vocab words and grammar structures. The soup came out quickly, it was heaping with frog legs in a rich broth. I tentatively took my first bite as the Donghua University students watched, waiting for a reaction. I was relieved to find that it tasted, as everyone says, like chicken. Once we finished eating, we proceeded to KTV.
KTV is everything karaoke in the U.S. is not. It is a futuristic, surreal experience. Walking down the corridors leading to the karaoke rooms feels like you are walking through an ultra-luxurious space ship. It is awesome. In the room we sang for hours. We sang early 2000’s Britney Spears, a twelve minute Chinese love song, the Chinese national anthem, and ABBA among many others.
At a certain point in the night, while sitting on the couch watching my new friends sing their hearts out, and recognized my goals for the summer were quickly becoming realized. My spoken Chinese was undoubtedly improving, as I had been speaking Chinese the majority of the night. I was doing what the locals do, spending Friday night at KTV and I had pushed outside my comfort zone dining on frog legs. As the song was ending and I was getting up to do my best rendition of the Backstreet Boys “I Want It That Way,” I thought to myself, this was a fine start to my summer with CET in Shanghai.