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I didn’t realize how distinctly American I was until I began my study abroad experience in China. I knew I was an outsider when I was walking through YuYuan Garden and was met with deadlock stares. I was aware that going crazy in arcades garnered the stares of people who did not realize that the avid arcade culture is something that is unique to China. However, this became especially apparent when I began my classes at Fudan University. There is something unique about the way that American students perceive their presence within a classroom that can be categorized under the characteristics that seems to define all Americans abroad: loud and obnoxious.

YuYuan garden during the day (left), when entry costs around five dollars a person. The same garden area during the annual lantern festival, this year in celebration of the Year of the Pig. Pig decor and memorabilia are especially common in Shanghai this year!

On my first day of class my friends and I arrived at Fudan University fifty minutes before class began, purely driven by first day nerves. What could barely be defined as a crowd of American students, three or four at best, had now become the sole source of noise in the hallway outside the classroom. We complained about the commute, passionately expressed our interest in acquiring breakfast, and constantly messed with the touch screen tablet that is stationed outside every classroom. Putting it not so delicately, we were being loud and obnoxious. Enter another foreign exchange student, headphones in, eyes averted to the ground, clearly not in the mood to talk. Naturally, we asked her what her name was and where she was from. When she responded that she was from the Netherlands and returned the question, four scattered and equally jarring voices responded “America!” She then did what most people do when they see a crowd of loud and obnoxious foreigners: she smirked, nodded mockingly, and said, “yeah I figured.”

Fudan University in Shanghai. This is one of Fudan’s two campuses, were most of my classes take place. Students enjoy many locations to relax within the traditional campus setting.

That was an interesting experience for me, to say the least. I had never identified myself as an American. According to my passport, I am not. However, there is a level solidarity that I now feel with my classmates. Regardless of our own cultural backgrounds, we had all been somehow influenced by our time in America; it effected our behavior, our mindsets, and the way we viewed our responsibilities as students. American students are more rambunctious, both in their behavior and their academic ideas.

(From left to right) A Chinese vintage store in Tianzifang, Shanghai. One of the many gigantic arcades located around the city, this one was also in Tianzifang. “Fried Ice-Cream” from a small fried foods stall across the street from our apartments. These turned out to be fried deep purple balls of custard and not ice-cream at all. They were still absolutely delicious!

This became clear to me in my business class. When asked to pitch a technological innovation that would improve student life, there was a clear division of groups: Americans and other foreign exchange students. The American students went wild, we pitched a cafeteria app that would eliminate language barriers, account for dietary restrictions, and even tell students how busy the cafeteria was before they got there. Ambitious, as expected, but also, as our teacher  explained to us, very difficult to implement and coordinate. The other group came up with a feasible library cataloguing database for which the technology was readily available. The teacher loved it.

This made me question whether or not this blind ambition was beneficial to us as students. Perhaps it would be better to stick to safer options. I have come to the conclusion that neither option is superior, they are just starkly different. They are reflections of the diversity of human thought, traditions, and culture. My academic experience has been opening me up to facets of educational practice, student culture, and social etiquette that differ drastically from what I am used to. I am very excited to dive into this new type of student life and gain different perspectives on what I had previously understood as the accepted order of things.

Two incredible views of Shanghai. The first is from my apartment (left) and the second if from the YuYuan Garden metro stop (left) which is the starting point of our forty-five minute commute to Fudan University.

The first thing you notice when you touch down in Shanghai is the complete lack of personal space. I say this as someone who is usually comfortable cramming into a packed subway car in Manhattan. We were warned of this cultural difference before we left for the semester, but there is nothing quite like experiencing it for yourself. What I’ve come to realize, however, in the last few days that I have been in China, is that this cultural difference is actually one that forces you headfirst into the local community. The people in Shanghai live in a level of comfort with each other that I have never experienced in any of my travels. There is unique a sense of camaraderie and tradition that the entire community adheres to. The ancient cultures and practices that are the foundations of Chinese life are clearly ingrained in every individual I have come across in my short time in Shanghai.

On our scavenger hunt we came across an adorable woman leading a board game in People’s Park and we were all enamored by her charisma. Although we didn’t understand the game, we were positive she was winning.

An amazing example of this sense of community is the Shanghai marriage market in People’s Park. We experienced this practice firsthand on one of our initial activities as a cohort. The Shanghai marriage market is a tradition that has been going on for generations. Essentially, parents gather around in the “blind corner” of the central People’s Park, and hold a sort of showcasing for their unwed sons and daughters. On opened umbrellas, advertisements can be seen boasting good looks and successful careers, as the actual bachelors and bachelorettes are nowhere to be seen. This practice is a clear indicator of the tradition and culture surrounding marriage in China. Parents see it as their duty and right to make sure that their children find the perfect match. This is a very traditional practice that makes me thing of the way marriage is viewed in India as well. I find it so interesting that ancient cultures can bring their value systems into the 21st century unbothered by the global culture of the modern era and pass these traditions down to their children. This is very clear in Chinese culture and I look forward to discovering more of Shanghai’s hidden cultural gems in the months to come!

The Shanghai Marriage market was such an interesting event to walk through. Parents swarmed us to find out if we wanted to marry their children and even pulled out pictures to show us and convince us to say yes. It was definitely a memorable sight.

By Deah Dushyanth

I have always defined myself as a global citizen. Yes, I grew up in New York and sound distinctly American, but my passport will always display the trio of lions that make up the State Emblem of India. In fact, until very recently, I was a complete foreigner in the place I’d called my home my entire life. After twelve years of waiting, I received my Green Card a few days after my 17th birthday in 2016. Officially receiving that small piece of plastic meant that I was finally entitled to most of the same rights as any American citizen. In my mind, it meant that I had as much a reason to be here as any one of my friends. Still, did this finally make me American? But even more importantly, did I even want to be American?

If there’s one thing the immigration process taught me, it's that there are certain passports you want to have, and others that will result in waiting. A lot of waiting. Growing up, I likely spent just as much time at the USCIS building in Manhattan as I did on the playground with my friends. I’m not here to spin a sob story about my lost childhood in my family’s pursuit of the American dream, because that would be a lie. Yes, I missed out on a lot of the carefree aspects of being a child that my peers were able to enjoy, but growing up immigration office-hopping was actually an incredibly rewarding experience for a kid. I learned how to tell where a person was from based on the color of their passport, which helped when I trying to decipher people’s conversations in every language I would hear in the waiting room, consumed by boredom. Even then I was incessantly nosy and annoyingly friendly. I learned the importance of patience, protocol and attention to detail, watching my parents fill out every form in the known universe, and failing, on many occasions, to do so correctly. Most importantly, I learned resiliency and the art of getting through to people who only see you as another face in a sea of individuals who want the same thing. My particularly unique childhood was simultaneously foreign and inherently American, something that every immigrant child grapples with.

My identity has always been something that seemed to be working against me. I festered over it all: my cultural identity, my identity within my family, and my duty as a member of a global community. For a long time, I was ashamed of the fact that I didn’t have roots in the place I called home. I often found myself wishing I’d won the geographic lottery and stuck the landing in New York instead of Bangalore, India. Conversely, I wished that my parents had never left India, saving me the energy of understanding how to grow up in a completely new country. I came to understand, however, that my cultural bipolarity is an integral part of my identity. The Indian side of me helps me understand things on a global scale, and see beyond the idyllic cultural bubble of the northern hemisphere. I understand that people lead different lives in every part of the world because, for a time, my life wasn’t what it is now. But I would be lying if I said there isn’t a big part of me that is completely American. I credit my sense of agency and often bull-headed inability to accept failure to the country that I grew up in. The combination of these value systems is what makes me believe that everybody should be a global citizen. In an effort to not sound like a broken record, I urge people to take the advice of those PSA’s on getting little kids to eat vegetables: you won’t know what its like till you try it. It's exactly that approach that leads millions of people to immigrate to the United States and millions of others to set out around the world to explore how they can be members of a global community beyond geographic and cultural borders. Its why I cherish my annual summer visits to India, and why I am skeptical of forfeiting my Indian passport when I am up for American citizenship in a few years (don’t worry this hasn’t all just been a ploy to get India to offer dual citizenship). Finally, it is why I made a conscious decision to make studying abroad a key component of my college education. What better way to learn how to be a universal thinker than by exploring the way people think all around the world?