Welcome to Shanghai
At CET, our goal is to make study abroad accessible for all. We believe that learning happens best when your class reflects the world around us—complex and diverse. So we work hard to create and maintain programs that support students of all races, religions, abilities, gender identities, and sexual orientations. No matter where you are coming from, we want you to have a successful study abroad experience.
CET makes every effort to offer accommodations comparable to those of your home institution. Disclosing early helps us to make proper preparations and work with you to determine if a program will be a good fit. We recommend that you use the following details to inform your decisions and conversations with your Student Services Coordinator.
Race & Ethnicity
The average Chinese person is not surrounded by the racial diversity that exists in the US and as a result racism in China manifests differently than in the United States. You may hear racially insensitive comments or notice some staring, but these instances can mostly be attributed to the lack of knowledge about and/or exposure to people of other races and ethnicities. Students have reported being approached by strangers for photos, questions, and other interactions born of their perceived foreign identity.
In contrast, heritage students and others who may be mistaken for a local sometimes feel less welcomed than their peers with more obviously foreign features. Interactions with locals are typically initiated in Chinese and their language skills may be held to a higher standard. However, past students have reported this to be beneficial to their language learning and provide a living experience more similar to that of a local.
Though only heterosexual marriages are recognized by the government at this time, Shanghai locals (especially educated young people) have been the most open to LGBTQ issues and individuals within contemporary China. As an example, ShanghaiPRIDE festival has been celebrated annually since 2009, drawing crowds from both local and expat communities–including many students.
With a traditional patriarchal society, male favoritism still subtly permeates Chinese culture in many ways. But in metropolitan areas like Shanghai, progress towards gender equality has become a mainstream issue due to economic development and CCP-led government policies.
Regarding non-binary genders, the local cultural climate is still in its beginning stages of exposure and acceptance. Efforts (e.g., moving toward gender-neutral bathrooms) are gaining some traction as public policy issues, but actual progress for genderqueer-friendly spaces is still limited to specific communities in Shanghai—specifically to neighborhoods with high concentrations of young foreigners.
There are five religions officially recognized in China: Protestantism, Catholicism, Islam, Taoism, and Buddhism. There is little knowledge of or exposure to other religions in China. Chinese people—while not usually religious themselves—are on the whole very open to religion and generally interested to learn about different faiths. It is a fairly common occurrence for foreigners to be asked about their religions. Proselytizing is illegal in China, but personal religious observance and practice is fine for foreign students. Worship services are available for most major religions in Shanghai, but the majority are open exclusively to holders of foreign passports (non-Chinese citizens), and students will be expected to present their passports in order to participate in organized religious events/services.
Cost of Living
Day-to-day cost of living in Shanghai is generally cheaper than that of most cities in the United States—specifically for meals, public transportation, clothing, and other daily supplies. However as with any major Chinese city, this can vary greatly depending on your lifestyle. Imported food, personal care, cosmetics, and medication is often more expensive than they are in the US. Check out a budget sheet to get an idea of what life in Shanghai might look like financially for a semester or summer.
ACCESS in ACADEMICS
You typically spend 1 to 4 hours sitting in a classroom on weekdays. If a student’s schedule has two electives on the same day, it’s possible that they would have 7 hours of class on some days (including Chinese language class). Class size ranges from 5-10 students on average, with language classes on the smaller end and electives on the higher end (max of 30/class). Students are expected to complete an average of 1 hour of homework for every hour in class.
Available for students with documented need: low-distraction test environment; extra time on exams; modified deadlines and seating; exam reader; a computer to take exams; braille signage around the program; large-print texts; mobility orientation to campus; term syllabi, readings, and assignments in advance.
Classrooms & Campus
Classrooms and staff offices are located on the upper floors of an academic building on campus, but classes could be set up on the first floor with advanced notice. The restrooms on some floors, including the first floor, only have squat toilets on 4-inch raised platforms. Other buildings on campus may have steps to the entrance and may or may not have elevators.
Internships are optional and offer varied work environments and require that students perform a variety of tasks. Interns typically work 3 to 4 hours in the afternoons 3 days/week. Distances and modes of transportation to internship sites vary. Private transportation to and from internship sites can be arranged for a student with documented need.
CET occasionally plans mandatory academic activities and optional trips to nearby sites and other cities after class and on weekends. Excursions may involve urban walking, rural hiking, use of public transportation, and/or ascending and descending stairs.
Itinerary modifications and accommodations can be made for students with documented need. Transportation can be arranged as necessary, and excused absences are provided for mandatory excursions that are inaccessible due to a disability.
ACCESS IN HOUSING
Your Home Abroad
The dormitories are located on campus, about 50 meters from the classrooms. Most students are housed in a low-rise dormitory, though some may be housed in the neighboring high-rise dormitory. Both buildings have elevator access. The only wheelchair accessible dorm rooms are on the first floor and may be available to students with documented need if requested in advance. There are mini fridges in each shared dorm room. The dormitory buildings also offer a communal kitchen, laundry facilities, and study spaces.
Students share double occupancy rooms with a local university student. Each dorm room includes a private bathroom. CET relies on both the student’s legal sex, as listed on their passport, in addition to the student’s gender identity, as self-disclosed in the CET Housing Questionnaire. CET works individually with gender diverse students to ensure that each student’s housing setup is appropriate and conducive to student success on the program.
Most Shanghai subways stops offer escalator and/or elevator access, but some may be under-maintained, and buses are not equipped with facilities for passengers with mobility issues. Sidewalks are usually crowded and often uneven, and some streets may not have sidewalks. Most street intersections and buildings provide curb cuts, though it’s still possible to find some without. Some major intersections can only be crossed by pedestrian bridge (footbridge), many of which do not have elevator or escalator access. In general, public facilities designed to help those with disabilities are few in number and often not well-maintained.
Health & Diet
Health & Medicine
There are a variety of health facilities available to students in Shanghai, including many English-service options. During orientation, on-site staff provide students with basic information and recommendations for seeing a doctor and buying medicine. There are some prescription medications that are not accessible in China—students should do their research beforehand and ensure they bring their prescription and the necessary amount if in-country refills won’t be possible. For example, birth control pill brands in China differ from those in the US.
Keeping Fit in Shanghai
Students have reduced-fee access to Donghua University’s athletic facilities, including an indoor and outdoor track, and facilities for basketball, soccer, table tennis, weight training, and badminton. There are also excellent outdoor tennis, basketball, and soccer facilities located near the student dorm. The area surrounding Donghua University is filled with beautiful tree-lined streets great for walking, and membership-only health clubs that students can join for a monthly fee of around 75 USD.
Managing Mental Health
Quality mental health services are available in Shanghai from a variety of English-speaking professionals. We’ve had multiple students seek out these services in the past and can provide contact information upon request.
Most medications for mental health disorders (anti-depressants, anti-anxiety medication) can be brought from the US without issues at customs. These medications are often more difficult to obtain in China and students should plan to bring these with them. Generally speaking, seeking mental health care is not the norm for college students in China, and it’s possible that students may experience some cultural misunderstandings from locals when it comes to mental health awareness and support.
Special dietary needs can be accommodated in China, but require patience and persistence as many local people are not used to the idea of dietary restrictions or severe food allergies.
Vegetarian students have found Halal restaurants to be more receptive to requests like not adding meat. Vegan, soy-free, and gluten-free students must be patient and clear when ordering food in China. Many Chinese and western restaurants around campus serve a variety of foods that can accommodate different dietary needs.
Resources from Alumni
This is a curated list of blog posts chosen specifically to provide context for life abroad in China. Posts here may cover culture shock, diversity, daily life and workload, etc. To see all posts from students in Greater China, head to the Student Voices blog.
- What I Wish I Knew Before I Came to Beijing
By Kaylee Henderson, Kalamazoo College | CET Beijing, Fall 2019
- Navigating the 餐馆 (School Canteen)
By Nina Udagawa, The George Washington University | CET Shanghai, Fall 2019
- A Few Firsts in China: The Language Pledge as an Absolute Beginner & Meeting my Family
By Mercedes Chen, The George Washington University | CET Beijing, Fall 2019
By Melodie Vuong, University of Texas at Austin | CET Shanghai, Summer 2019
- On Belonging: Studying Abroad in Asia as an Asian American/Heritage Learner
By Kyla Aiko Smith, Scripps College | Fall 2018
These are alumni-written essays that reflect upon how their own identity affected their time abroad in China (both good and bad) and what it was like to navigate another culture in their position. We encourage you to read these to better understand what studying abroad in China could be like for you or your future peers.
- Navigating China as a Black Woman: The Blacker the Berry the Sweeter the Juice
by Denise Jackson, CET Beijing | Fall 2019 & Janterm 2020
For “Students of color”
- CET Shanghai: Heritage Essay
by Anonymous Contributor, CET Shanghai | Summer 2019
- Support at CET Harbin
by Tatiana Wade, CET Harbin | Fall 2018
For “Students of color, low-income students, and those who want to go to China”
- Black in Beijing
by Minnie Norgaisse, CET Beijing | Spring 2018
- Japanese-American Experience in Shanghai/China
by Anonymous Contributor, CET Shanghai | Summer 2018
For “Japanese (Japanese/American) in China”
CHINA Alumni Insight
In final evaluations, we ask students how their identities affected their experience abroad. The following are a few select quotes from recent program evaluations to help you understand what life in China may be like for you or your future peers.
Christian Keith | Howard University | CET Shanghai | Spring 2018
TALK TO ALUMNI
Chat with alumni about their experiences abroad. Once you start an application, your online CET account will give you access to the following resources:
- Alumni Support List: A directory of students who have volunteered to chat about their experiences abroad in Greater China.
- Identity Abroad Support Network: A group of students who have volunteered to discuss their identity-related experiences in Greater China. This is a volunteer-based program that started in 2019. Volunteers can also opt to have their contact information kept privately by CET staff and only shared when certain lived experiences are asked about.
Don’t see anyone listed for the Identity Abroad Support Network? Call CET for more information and resources. Consider joining after your program to support other minority students abroad.