Kati Durkin studied abroad in Shanghai, China for a year. Hear how Kati was pushed out of her comfort zone, learned Chinese, and grew during her time in China.
Why did you choose to study abroad in Shanghai?
I chose to study abroad in Shanghai primarily because of the opportunities available in such a big city. I’d traveled to China and Shanghai, before, and I felt like I didn’t even begin to grasp what the city had to offer in the few days I’d been there. Even though the program had a majority of business classes, I feel that the opportunities in the city as a whole were worth being there. And I was so right!
What surprised you about Shanghai?
What surprised me the most about Shanghai was how global of a city it was. I didn’t just meet Shanghainese and Chinese people, but I got to meet people from Africa, Europe, and so many other places I’d never been before. This was one of my favorite things about Shanghai too- I was exposed to Chinese culture, but also the world as a whole.
Why did you choose to study abroad a year?
I chose to go abroad for a yearlong program because of my family’s past exchange students. We hosted a student from Denmark and a student from Italy while I was in high school, and if they had left after a semester, they wouldn’t have the same experiences they did. I really feel like a year gives you far more than a semester does, and if I’d left in December, I would have never left the same person I did.
If I had left after one semester, I would’ve missed out on so many opportunities and relationships in Shanghai. During my second semester, I made even more friends, strengthened my Chinese skills significantly, traveled to new places, and overall became much more confident living in Shanghai. Thanks to that, it feels like a home to me now, rather than just a place I visited. I think that overall, studying abroad for a year strengthens your ties with a place and a people far more than just a semester does, and because of that, it’s absolutely worth spending the extra time.
How did you budget for a year abroad?
I created a budget plan with my parents, where they gave me 350-500 dollars a month for food and living expenses. I also worked for the summer before my year abroad to save a few thousand dollars to use for traveling and other fun stuff. Shanghai was great too because I could do some small jobs to earn a little extra money- I tutored English, modeled for a painting class, and posed for facial recognition software, among other things. It did get tight towards the end of the second semester, so I’d definitely recommend planning out a portion of your savings to keep until the last few months instead of doing everything in the beginning.
What were some of your fears about studying abroad for a year? How did you overcome them while abroad?
My biggest fear studying abroad for a year was missing big events and experiences back home. I had a friend get married, friends move, big family events happen, and so much else that I didn’t get to be a part of. While it was definitely sad to not get to be a part of these things, I realized that I was having my own huge life experiences that were just as significant for me. Getting past the whole “what’s happening in America” mentality was hard, but once I did, I got to focus on living in the moment and enjoying my time in Shanghai.
How did you manage homesickness?
I never got too homesick while I was abroad, which was really lucky. However, I did miss American food like crazy sometimes, so I let myself spend a little extra on food to make a western style meal in our dorm kitchen sometimes. I also made regular FaceTime plans with my family and best friend, so I got to see and talk to the people I missed the most. I was also lucky enough to have my dad come visit in January, and he brought tons of stuff I missed from home. Overall, I think that semi-regular contact with your closest friends and family is the most helpful way to alleviate homesickness- it keeps you grounded where you are but also helps you remember home.
In what ways were you pushed out of your comfort zone and how did that help you grow as a person?
I feel like my time in Shanghai was like being thrown out of my comfort zone at full force. While it was such a great time, moving to a city of 24 million people from Boise, Idaho was jarring, to say the least. Living in a huge city where I didn’t understand most of what was said to me was so different from home, and at first I was pretty uncomfortable whenever I left my dorm. I just kept going out though, and I think when I began to feel more comfortable in Shanghai, I felt more comfortable as myself as well. Learning how to live in Shanghai taught me how to live more confidently every day, and also forced me to be more outgoing. Being uncomfortable helped me to grow incredibly, and now I feel like I could move anywhere and still feel the same way.
What did you learn about yourself during your time abroad?
During my time abroad, the biggest thing I learned about myself was how to live for myself instead of other people. I used to be really obsessed with what other people thought of me and as a result, was really insecure about who I was. In Shanghai, it hit me that I wasn’t there to impress anyone, I was there to learn Chinese, grow as a person, and have my own personal experiences. Shanghai taught me how to be more independent, and generally a more confident person.
What was your favorite class and why?
My favorite class was Chinese Calligraphy. The professor was so fun, and he would practice Chinese with us while we worked on our calligraphy. I feel like I gained so many skills from it, and I found an art form that I can actually do! We got to produce some really beautiful work, and it never felt boring.
Did you live with a host family during your time abroad? If yes, how do you think that impacted your experience?
I did try out some time with a host family while I was in Shanghai, but I decided it wasn’t for me. I loved living in the dorm building because I got to be around my friends and fellow classmates all the time. We would hang out in the kitchen and cook together, and you could always have someone there to hang out with if you were bored. The experiences of being with your fellow students are really unique to a dorm living situation, and I don’t think I would’ve had as good as a time if I’d lived with a family in Shanghai.
What advice do you have for students debating whether to study abroad for a year?
If you’re unsure about spending a year abroad, I’d encourage you to just go ahead and do it! It seems really scary and like a huge commitment, but I promise that you’ll wish you had another year by the time you’re done. If you’re already willing to go to Shanghai for a semester, then it’s not too much of a leap to go for a year instead. It really helps you connect with the language and the people, and you’ll develop even deeper friendships than you could in one semester. One of my best friends in Shanghai even ended up staying for the summer instead of coming home, and I honestly wish I could’ve done that too! It’s a life changing opportunity that absolutely shouldn’t be passed up if you have it!