Friday, February 25, 2011

The Shanghai Sojourn

We arrived, settled and started the semester with a lot of enthusiasm- both from the students as well as the university. I can never forget the three-day orientation that Fudan organized for us. The accommodation – Tonghe International Student Village – lived up to its name by proving to be a truly international experience.

The S3 Asia MBA is a very unique course in more ways than one. On one hand is the wealth of knowledge that a student stands to gain from studying in three amazing universities, and on the other is the priceless opportunity to live in places like Shanghai, Seoul and Singapore. I embarked upon this journey with a lot of preparation. I had tried to imagine the various situations that I might land in and how I would deal with them. In retrospect, I was being utterly stupid! For nothing I could ever imagine would have prepared me for what was in store for me.

The first thing I felt upon landing at the Pudong International Airport, Shanghai was a rushing sense of being an Indian. It was my first international travel experience and, as destiny would have it, I was in China. Here, I looked different from everyone else. They spoke a language that was nothing like anything I’ve ever heard before. Everything was built gigantic in proportions, the traffic was right-handed and the food- well, let’s leave that for later.

The route everyday from Tonghe to the School of Business gave us an opportunity to walk past the GuangHua Towers. At least to me, the towers remained an awe-inspiring view throughout the semester. The entire Fudan campus has this amazing energy and sense of purpose about it which is reassuring and humbling at the same time. Then the classes started.

With classes, came group studies, assignments, exploring the surroundings, and of course, parties! Tonghe is the perfect place to live as an international student studying at Fudan. The place is perfect in terms of amenities, location and independence. You can study at anyone’s apartment, meet at Chartre’s Deli for a quick meeting over coffee and party like there’s no tomorrow. If you want to cook, there’s a kitchen in every apartment and if you want to eat out, there are plenty of options around to choose from. I would like to make a special mention of a little joint called Hannah’s near Tonghe run by an angel of a lady called, well, Hannah. In case you are an Indian and want to eat healthy food outside on a regular basis, Hannah’s is just the place for you. The lady, thanks to some of our friends, had become so fond of Indian students that she prepared a separate Indian menu with stuff like vegetable rice and chicken curry rice in case you are selective about what meat, if any you wish to eat.

Shanghai has the reputation of being one of the best cities in the world and it totally lives up to it. The city has everything for everyone, there’s great transport, amazing infrastructure, an exciting nightlife and all that jazz that makes any cosmopolitan worth living. There will be small issues sometimes like communication or cuisine if you are conservative like me in the kind of food you eat but, the overall experience makes up for all that and does so nicely!

Now comes my favourite part – the people. In my experiences, I found the Chinese people to be extremely friendly, approachable and understanding. From the cabbie who sang Awaraa Hoon to professors who offered to conduct the same paper twice because some students were flying earlier; from the total strangers who would approach you and start talking to the nightclubs that would play Himesh Reshamiya’s version of Ek Hasina Thi (!!!), the people of Shanghai came across as a very affable lot. With the students, there were cultural confusions in the beginning of the semester but as time passed, we started understanding each other better thanks to the various cultural days organized by students from each country and Varun’s dance classes the overall group turned out to be extremely coherent.

As I wait for the next semester to start in Seoul, I sometimes wonder if times or going to get better or worse. After a start like this, your expectations start soaring new heights and that is when the pessimist in you also starts questioning everything. I am really not sure how it is going to be. But, I’m glad that I got a chance to study in a city like Shanghai in a university like Fudan; and that’s something that is going to stay with me always.

Piyush Kumar (Indian)
S3 Asia MBA - 3rd Batch, Class of 2012