The Illusion of Fear: Reflecting on a Semester in Shanghai

Dec 22, 2016 8:30:00 AM / by Stephanie Sadler

CAPAStudyAbroad_Shanghai_Fall2016_Caleb_Kostreva_Profile.jpgCaleb Kostreva has been an official CAPA blogger for fall 2016, sharing his story in weekly posts on CAPA World. A public policy and civic leadership; social science (global studies emphasis) major at Howard Payne University, he has been studying abroad in Shanghai this term.

This is Caleb's last post as an official CAPA blogger. Thanks for sharing your adventures with us this semester, Caleb. We wish you all the best!


As I write this, I really should be sleeping because it is the middle of the night. That is, if I were still in China. However, it is in fact not an ungodly hour of the night (my body would still like to argue otherwise). Though it was cool to see two sunsets on Saturday because of the way my flight worked, my body is extremely confused at the moment about what time it is, or even what day it is, largely due to the fact that my Saturday was about 40 hours long.

Over the last four months, I have experienced more, learned more, struggled more, seen more, heard more, and discovered more than I could ever learn in a hundred classrooms, and this is the reason why studying abroad is so critical. However, now that my semester is complete, I must return to “real life” in America. In many ways, Shanghai became home to me, and I know that I am going to experience reverse culture shock in many ways.

Photo: My second sunset on Saturday from Los Angeles

My transition to life in Shanghai definitely had its struggles, but for the most part, I felt like it was fairly easy to adjust to the daily differences between my life in America and the habits I had to create in Shanghai. Like I said, Shanghai really became home to me in many ways, and coming back to Colorado is somewhat of a bittersweet return. On the one hand, I can’t wait to spend time with friends and family and have a sense of familiarity, but on the other hand, it was really difficult to bid farewell to the many friends and places I got to know so intimately while I was there. But as a whole, I am ready to return to many things that I grew up knowing, such as access to Facebook and Google, or my mom’s home cooking (story of almost every college student’s life), or even the simple things like having toilet paper in public restrooms and having drinkable tap water.


I don’t think it is possible to be immersed in another country and culture without it changing you. I also believe it is impossible to have your heart broken without it changing you. I have always wanted to be an advocate to those downtrodden by society and the law, and this semester has only reinforced that dream. My heart is wrenched by the knowledge that some orphans have no opportunity to know what “dad” and “mom” mean simply because the government says so. I am broken by witnessing the lack of social mobility among migrants from rural to urban areas and the discriminations by Chinese against other Chinese people simply because of where they were born. But writing words about this makes no difference. Raising awareness about issues can only go so far.

So my advice to anyone thinking about studying abroad (or even in our hometowns, for that matter) is to find some inequality, some problem, and volunteer your time to be a part of the solution. I volunteered at an orphanage in Shanghai, and I learned more about China as a whole simply because I got over my insecurities and fears and got out of my comfort zone to invest my time in something that will make a difference that will have an impact beyond my short time in Shanghai. Life is about more than the momentary thrills; our drive in life needs to be about making a difference that will last far beyond the moments we are here on this earth, because like a flower, we are here today and gone tomorrow. So, live with outward focus. This is what I learned in Shanghai, and it is something I will carry with me until the day that my flower turns to dust.


One thing I found interesting in China is the sometimes random things that are printed on the shirts they wear, but as I walked down the street my second to last day in Shanghai, I saw a person wearing a shirt with a Michael Jordan quote that I believe perfectly sums up my time in Shanghai. It said, “Limits, like fears, are often just an illusion.” I will strive to see through the illusions and live an impactful life. Thanks, Shanghai, for being an excellent teacher!

Thanks Caleb!

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Topics: Shanghai, China, Official Bloggers and Vloggers