First semester was exhausting. Don’t get me wrong, the first few months in China were great, but I definitely felt a huge relief after submitting my final essay on 7th January. That said, I also felt (feel) frustrated. It’s bittersweet submitting essays which you know are not using your full potential. I admit that for many reasons, I struggled throughout the semester. Everything was new, every course had weekly reading lists far longer than I could manage, and I had the constant feeling of being an imposter in class (much like in my first semester in Paris). This, combined with the struggle of adapting to Chinese university life, a new social life, a new climate, meant that the semester flew by but I felt like I achieved very little academically. It makes me optimistic, however, to remember that in Paris the second semester was completely different because I had already gone through the settling-in process, I knew what was expected of me, and I was slowly gaining confidence in my own knowledge.
The next step is my thesis, which will occupy the next 5 weeks until the start of the second semester. I do feel quite proud that I got through the stress of finding an advisor, a thesis topic and defending my research proposal without melting down. Although I’m nervous, because I don’t expect writing my thesis to be easy, I feel really lucky to have the opportunity to finally do some original research.
So, overall, I’m optimistic.
Last semester may have been a struggle at times, for academic and personal reasons, but I had a lot of good experiences. In Golden Week (October), my friend and I went to Hong Kong. We ate a lot of dim sum, took a boat out to Sharp Island, went up to Victoria Peak, shopped, melted in the sun, and ate pineapple buns for breakfast. A perfect break.
One very bleak day in November, two of my friends and I went on a day-trip organised by our university department. They took us to Fengjing, one of the ancient water towns near Shanghai. It was a fun little touristy experience, and we even had a short boat ride along the canals. It’s a unique ancient town in that people still live in it, and I suppose they reap the benefits of the bus-loads of tourists coming in every day (though I think relatively few foreigners, since it’s a bit outside of the usual tourist route).
I also got to know a lot of the people who came to Shanghai from the same university as me last year, as well as quite a few new friends. Some of them are coming back for the second semester, some of them aren’t. Either way, I think I’ve made a few friends for life. Oh, and we ate a lot. Often. Especially when it started to get cold and hot pot (steamboat/huoguo) became more appealing.
Of course we also had a few evenings out in the city centre in restaurants, bars and clubs. It usually takes a good hour to get from my dorms to the centre, but the metro is extremely cheap (50p each way) and taxis are relatively cheap (a 30-40 minute drive usually costs around £7-8), so when we have the time, it’s a nice way to spend an evening.
I went to a few galleries and museums this semester with my Japanese/Austrian friend. This was at the Long museum by the bund, a private collection of modern art and sculptures, as well as old-style paintings by modern artists. That was certainly an odd but interesting collection.
One of our courses even took us on a weekend to Tokyo in December. I stayed in Asakusa (the photo below was taken looking out from Senso-ji temple), and it was lovely to wander around for a couple of days once we had finished the workshop. I ate some great food and drank sake with my friends, walked around a lot on my own taking in the (nostalgic) Japan vibes, and went to Yokohama with a Tokyo-based friend I met in Ehime several years ago.
I certainly had a lot of wonderful experiences with my friends here in Shanghai, in Hong Kong and in Tokyo. Of course it’s not all about the good times: when I received bad news from home, and when I was struggling academically, they were there for me, as were friends and family at home. For that I couldn’t be more thankful, and they made me realise that no matter what, it’s going to be ok.
That said, I need to re-engage my brain and actually start studying now. OK, GO!