Conversations on Studying Abroad

The 5 Most Impactful Aspects of a Summer Abroad in Shanghai

Aug 19, 2019 10:40:00 AM / by Absa Samba

Absa shares the reality of her multicultural experience in Shanghai. From getting used to Chinese food to sharing what it's like to be a black person abroad, she tells us how she navigated her study abroad and internship in Shanghai and what it all means to her. As she steps out of China, read on about the 5 things that's made the most impact for Absa.

This is my final blog post and I am happy to share and reflect on my experience in Shanghai. It has been an eye-opening and fun learning experience. Shanghai challenged and pushed me in many ways but especially on how to be a better person and to reflect on who I am on my role and position in this world.

Champlain College Students on the Shanghai Internship with CAPA Shanghai Director, Colin SpeakmanChamplain College students in the Shanghai Internship class with CAPA Shanghai Director Colin Speakman.

I would summarize the experience as follows:

1. Food

A CAPA funded lunch on our last day in BeijingA family style lunch organized and funded by CAPA on our last day in Beijing.

When I first came to Vermont from the Gambia I would carry a hot sauce in my bag everywhere I went because the food in Vermont was not hot enough for me. The good thing is, I didn’t have to do that in Shanghai. The food was always very spicy and there is a lot of hot sauce on the side to add to it. I never added any because I had already adjusted to the spice level of the food in Vermont. I enjoyed exploring the local cuisine. I often ate Chinese only when I ate out. My favorite Chinese foods are dumplings, stir fry, fried rice and any type of noodles. I was lucky to learn how to make dumplings with the help of the CAPA staff in Shanghai.

Beef curry with white riceBeef curry with white rice.

I'm a picky eater and I had moments of struggle with food in Shanghai but I tried to push myself every once in a while. Generally, I have become more open minded with food—and Shanghai helped make that happen for me. I also enjoyed eating family style like the Chinese, sharing with everyone and having a taste of all the foods ordered on the table.

2. Internship

A woodblock print made by me at the Studio of Atelier QaoiMai made by meA woodblock print made by me at the Studio of Atelier QaoiMai.

Of all the key reasons for my trip to China, interning with a Chinese company was at the top of the agenda. I was excited for the opportunity and what and how much I would learn. I mentioned my internship and what I was doing in previous posts. I had experiences that were very insightful. It gave me some exposure to how business is done in China—the emphasis and investment on relationships ‘Guānxì’ and respect for authority and among colleagues. I learned from some of the best practices and hope to use it in my career.

3. Internship Class and Mandarin course

One of the topics covered in the Internship CourseOne of the topics covered in our internship workshop.

I took two classes while I was in China. One was a class focused on our internships. It serves more like a cultural immersion class covering the business culture and helping students with context to our experiences both at our internship and everyday life in China. This class was mostly taught by Carol Ma, the CAPA Shanghai Program Manager. Carol helped us make sense of our experiences and covered topics that are insightful and enlightening to our experience while we learned about the business culture in China. Examples of such topics are Teamwork and Business in China. The class was US- and China-focused and as a result it didn’t create room for other comparisons to be drawn for students like me who are from neither of those countries.

Final day of Mandarin class with one of our teachers, XiaolingFinal day of Mandarin class with one of our teachers, Xiaoling.

The other class I took was the Mandarin course. Before this class, I didn’t know a single word of Mandarin. After nine weeks of class, I can introduce myself and say some basic phrases in Mandarin. With China becoming a global power hub, knowing Mandarin is definitely a plus. I hope to keep learning the language and hopefully I’ll be fluent some day.

4. CAPA Trips and Excursions

Lauren and I at Yuyuan Garden on one of CAPA tripsLauren and I at Yuyuan Garden on one of CAPA's field trips.

One of the things I enjoyed the most during this experience is the field trips and excursions with CAPA. These trips allowed me to get to know the society and the culture better. They were filled with visits to museums, historical and cultural sites like the “Date Market” (where parents go to find dates for their adult children), the Great Wall of China, Art District, and the Propaganda Museum.

This museum featured exaggerated art and media use during the time of Mao. I enjoyed my time there, unfortunately photos are not allowed inside the museumThis museum featured exaggerated art and media used during the time of Mao.
I enjoyed my time there, but unfortunately photos are not allowed inside the museum.

These visits gave me an opportunity to develop an understanding of the society in a different perspective from my everyday experience in China. They were educational and fun.

5. Experience as a Black Person

The toughest part of my experience was being a black person in China. I got a lot of attention everywhere I went with people taking photos and videos of me without my permission. Oftentimes, I’m just trying to be present and enjoy the experience of being in those places like everyone else, but this was really hard for me because of the uninvited attention I attracted. I understand what it takes to be different, but nothing had prepared me for this experience. Twice I had people walk up to me and touch my skin, perhaps to check if my skin was real. This wasn’t a pleasant experience. I thought such reactions to my black skin is perhaps due to people’s lack of exposure to the racial diversity of the world. In the moment, this experience wasn’t great, but I came to the realization of how much the people are missing in the world, how much they are isolated from the diversity of the modern world, considering that popular social media sites like Facebook and others blocked. This aspect made my experience less enjoyable.

Generally, going to China allowed me the opportunity to learn from the society and compare my experience with my culture and other cultures I have experienced. For example, in The Gambia people drink freezing cold water when it’s hot, but in Shanghai people drink hot water when it’s hot and yet both are right in their context.

Shanghai has the most beautiful infrastructure I have seenShanghai has the most beautiful infrastructure I have seen.

It was tough navigating through the cultural and language barriers and getting sick in an unfamiliar environment, but it allowed me to overcome my fears and I became more confident and comfortable with time.

Biking in ShanghaiBiking in Shanghai.

Going to Shanghai and pushing myself out of my comfort has helped me reflect on who I am as a person and what my role and place is in this world—as a more empathetic and purposeful person. It has helped shape my outlook of the world; I continue to grow in my quest to be a better person.

5G in China5G in China.

I am a better person because of these experiences—they are provocative, challenging, enlightening, and empowering. Studying in Shanghai was really worth it, and I hope to visit again someday.

Thanks, Absa!

Absa Samba


Absa Samba is an official CAPA blogger for summer 2019, sharing her story in recurring posts on CAPA World. A Social Work major at Champlain College, she is studying abroad in Shanghai on a custom program with CAPA and Champlain College this semester.

See more of Absa's journey in Shanghai.

Learn More about the CAPA Shanghai Program

Topics: Shanghai, China, Why Study Abroad