On our second day in Shanghai, we went to visit Donghua University, which specializes in business and fashion design. There we heard a lecture by a Professor who was originally from Togo, but who came to China to work with businesses there. It was interesting hearing about the experiences of expats in china; it’s very different from the immigrant experience that’s typical in the United States. It’s not a country that foreigners can truly immigrate to—citizenship is something you’re born into, and there’s no real process for gaining it later in life. This means that while expats may reside there for a time, few plan to stay there for life. This is definitely different from the United States, where an integral part of our national identity is the idea that no matter where you come from, you can pursue the American Dream and start a new life here. In addition, while many immigrants to the United States initially start out on the lower tier of the economic ladder before climbing their way up, in China almost all foreigners come in at the top. This is due mostly to the fact that they serve as in intermediary between Chinese businesses and the rest of the world, and are seen as playing an important role by their employers. It definitely made me realize how the immigrant experience in the United States is truly unique, and isn’t really found in many parts of the world.
After the lecture, we were paired up with students and given a tour of campus. It was interesting hearing about their experiences with university, as the system is set up differently than in the United States. While here you can apply to many schools, and end up writing many different essays to each one, in China your fate is determined by your results on a national exam, which is administered once a year. In addition, it isn’t easy to switch majors, let alone to transfer between universities. Although this places more pressure on students early on, the tradeoff is that tuition is almost entirely free, which probably helps them a lot post-graduation. As with the universities I we visited in Beijing, I was surprised with how globally aware all the students were. Many of them had studied abroad, and they also were fans of American music and movies. It definitely showed how especially the younger generation in China is focused not only on what happens in their own country, but with the way their country interacts with the rest of the world.