Amanda Robyn Maclean
Amanda Robyn Maclean, or 马敏达, an Australian student at Shanghai University of Finance and Economics (SUFE)
Remember when you stood at the airport, waiting with baited breath for your flight to be announced? The flight that would take you to China. To Shanghai. To SUFE. You said goodbye to your parents, your family, your friends, to start a journey that would span a month, six months, a year. The anticipation gushes over inside of you, mixed in with the fear. “What if I hate China? What if China hates me?” “It’s an adventure, just waiting to begin!” These thoughts swirl through your mind as you step on the plane to begin your new life.
Remember when you arrived at SUFE? That warm autumn afternoon — or was it the bitter cold of a Shanghai winter? A hundred flags flank your path. You search for your country’s flag, for that semblance of home that you’ve just left. You follow the flags, as they guide you to where it all begins…
There. Behind a row of small desks sit a gaggle of teachers. ‘Gaggle,’ that’s right! You’ve never heard so many people speaking so many different languages at once. You try to count them. Here is a man speaking English, there sits a woman conversing in Japanese. Is that Russian you hear from that corner? Nervously, you hand over your papers, blindly unaware that these same teachers will be guiding you through what is undoubtedly the best few months of your life.
Remember when you took your classes as … a class? It’s weird — nostalgic, even. You struggle to get used to it. You meet in the morning, go to class together, eat jelly sandwiches during breaks together. “Actually, who wants to run and buy some Chinese buns from the man across the street?” You’ll split the costs and share the benefits. “Grab me a chashao bun if there have any left!” You yell as he runs off clenching a ten yuan note. Before long, this is your home and family. Karaoke and bowling are just down the road, and within a month you and your bestie have perfected Chinese karaoke classic: “The Night I Think of You.”
Remember when you travelled across China? Was it with the school, with your friends or by yourself? Either way, remember the wonder as you strolled through the water towns skirting Shanghai? Remember exhausting yourself climbing Yellow Mountain, and the strange mix of grandeur and insignificance at the top? Remember holding a panda cub in Chengdu? A panda! Do you remember the taste of stinky tofu? It’s better than you think! Especially with sauce. All the teachers loved it!
Months fly by. It’s time to go home. You try to reflect on a whirlwind of an adventure. But what do you say? Your friends are waiting back home to hear your stories of China! You think and think. “How do I describe SUFE to you?” Is it the food? No. Is it your classes? No. Is it your friends? No. What is it? What is the SUFE experience?!
And then it hits you. It’s everything! It’s too different! It’s too exciting!
You tell your friends, “You’ll just have to experience it yourself!”