Despite the early advice first-year students get from the university, coupled with their own research, the settling-in period in Shanghai can be quite daunting, and the way things work in this most international of China’s cities does not always meet their initial expectations. Although students eventually get used to the lifestyle, it is a challenging experience for 18-19 year olds during their first few months of college in Shanghai.

As part of studying abroad in a country like China, students are aware that communicating with the locals is going to be challenging and sometimes uncomfortable. A common experience all international students share is that as soon as they open their mouths, they are recognized as foreigners; sometimes they do not even need to utter a word to be categorized.

“Although my experience here has been positive, some of my international friends have been mistreated for being a foreigner, from not being allowed to enter public places to receiving rude comments and stares from the locals,” said Nomin Bayasgalan, a first year from Mongolia.

Along with a different culture and a new language, locals’ perceptions of students due to a different ethnicity is also something international students need to deal with when living in China.

“People are extremely welcoming at NYUSH. But as individuals tend to connect more with people who share the same language as them, you can find a large number of friend circles that comprise either 100% Chinese students or 100% international students,” said Ken Saengkla, a sophomore from Thailand.

This formation of groups based on the level of students’ language skills results in the erection of varying barriers to intercultural contact. Although students communicate inside and outside the class, their language differences do not allow them to connect on anything other than a superficial level outside class.

With a history of cultural exchange, and currently a home base for people from more than 50 countries, Shanghai is the most international city in mainland China. But while it is one of the most advanced and transient cities in the world, aiming to make people’s lives much easier, some drawbacks have been encountered by students.

International students with no Chinese-speaking background when coming to Shanghai may be under the impression that it is a city where they will have few language communication difficulties.

But many have been surprised by the early difficulties they found in communicating with people and negotiating the technology.

“A task most international students could do in less than 5 minutes back in our home country started taking 20 minutes here,” said Ken Saengkla, about his experience in ordering food at restaurants.

Nomin Bayasgalan, a Mongolian first-year student, agreed. “I have to take multiple screenshots and translate all the ingredients before placing an order, so it is not as easy to eat out without the presence of my Chinese friends,” she said.

Students at NYU Shanghai mostly order takeouts from the most common apps, such as Eleme and Meituan.

First-year students heading to Shanghai received a lot of information from NYU introducing them to many aspects of the city. One document aimed at helping familiarize them with the city said: “Eleme is a fast way to get food delivered to you from surrounding restaurants.” But the app is entirely in Chinese and placing an order becomes a not-so-fast and uncomfortable thing for new students due to their limited Chinese proficiency.

“But it is not all bad,” said Poonyisa Chutichetpong a first-year from Thailand who had only a smattering of Chinese language proficiency before arriving. “Baidu translate is almost always accurate, so ordering is not a huge problem.”

NYU’s orientation document did not just include apps, transportation information, and so on but also information regarding restaurants in Shanghai offering cuisines from different parts of the world.

A colorful production, it provided photos of delicious-looking food from restaurant menus. The student body at NYU Shanghai comprises many South Asian students and one of the restaurants in the document was an Indian outlet called “Bollywood,” described as selling authentic food.

However, Bollywood is an Indian restaurant that has adapted its flavor to cater to the taste of the locals of Shanghai. So, for newly arrived students from India, it is not a very authentic Indian restaurant in terms of flavors.

Similar claims could be made about other international cuisine restaurants. “I miss Sri Lankan food,” said Shahama Samsudeen a sophomore from the country’s capital city, Colombo. Not having access to their home country’s food has made students prone to homesickness in their early months.

“I think the expectation of Shanghai as an international city was raised by the university and the students who created the document,” said Ken Saengkla.

Perhaps due to their own social environment, students have encountered fewer English speakers than they expected in Shanghai. And that makes them uncomfortable given their own limited language proficiency.

“Shanghai is not as international as I heard,” said Shirshak Poudel, a first-year international student from Nepal.

Another first-year student, Nomin Bayasgalan from Mongolia, agreed. “Although Shanghai is an international city, most signs and directions are written in Chinese making it challenging for foreigners to understand. Initially, I expected more locals to be able to communicate in English, but I was wrong,” she said.