Today marks the start of my fifth month in China as an exchange student. In that time, I’ve made huge strides in my Mandarin fluency, found a second home in Shanghai, and enjoyed the opportunity to travel extensively throughout China and Asia as a whole.
Once you become a Trojan, the phrase “studying abroad was the best decision I made in college” will become all too familiar to you. In my eyes, though, the decision isn’t whether or not to study abroad—it’s where you choose to go. Your education at USC isn’t self-contained. It does not stop when you leave Downtown Los Angeles or Southern California. And in a globalized world shrinking at an increasingly fast rate, it shouldn’t. What separates USC students from others is our enormous degree of international experience. You’d be hard-pressed to find a Trojan who has not, in some capacity, traveled internationally during their time as an undergraduate. There’s a reason for this: it’s no longer enough to just study at your home institution. In the pursuit of creating graduates who are global citizens and culturally aware, the University puts incredible amounts of resources into international opportunities. These options for international travel are innumerable—from week-long to year-long programs, from Shanghai to São Paulo, the list of choices is long enough to satiate even the hungriest globetrotter.
As a Chinese and Business double major, my choice was clear. Shanghai offers me the ability to not only speak solely in Mandarin throughout daily life, but to do so in a bustling financial hub and world city. Our academic program emphasizes Mandarin immersion and aims to leverage our location outside of downtown Shanghai to encourage students to put into practice the skills they learn in the classroom throughout their daily life. The result is 2 hours of Mandarin class each morning followed by elective courses in the afternoon—half of which are taught in Mandarin. These classes provide vital structure to our progression towards fluency, but it’s outside of class that most of our learning is done. Between Chinese roommates, a requirement to speak Mandarin only in the dorm and classrooms, and daily 1-on-1 sessions with private tutors, the process of fine-tuning new words and concepts is greatly accelerated in this environment.
In addition to the “study” aspect of study abroad, another crucial component is cultural immersion. Thanks to China’s expansive network of bullet trains and handful of budget airlines (if you think Spirit Air is bad, you’re in for a surprise), I’ve had the chance to travel extensively within the country. Since arriving in China in December, I’ve spent time in Beijing, Harbin, Xi’an, Hong Kong, Guilin, Qingdao, Qufu, Tai’An, Wolong, Chengdu, Shangli, Lijiang, and Kunming. Fending for myself during solo treks to rural areas and exploring the intensely varied culture of this enormous country have given way to some of my favorite memories from this semester. In addition to the opportunity to tour many different corners of China’s vast geography, living in Shanghai has provided a rewarding amount of opportunity for international travel. Over the last four months, I donned red, white & blue and headed to Pyeongchang, South Korea for the Winter Olympics, visited fellow Trojans studying in Singapore, and trekked through Vietnam and Thailand. The opportunity for travel throughout the region is everywhere, and whether by plane, train, car, or boat, each experience has enriched my study abroad experience immensely.
My semester spent in Shanghai has been a defining part of my USC career thus far. I’ve jumped closer to achieving a lifelong goal of Mandarin fluency, seen corners of the world completely foreign to me, and made friendships with students from around the globe. When you find yourself considering studying abroad, remember: the only decision you need to make is “Where do I want to go?