Embarking on a journey to Shanghai, China as my first abroad experience has changed the way I travel. Not only have I become more intrigued by traveling out of the country, I have changed the way I experience travel overall.
Since traveling to China, I have gone abroad twice more, and both times I have been more open and eager to experience the countries on a local level. When I studied abroad in Shanghai, I felt like I was a part of the community, as I lived in an apartment with local Shanghainese people. Although I was there for a short period of time, six weeks, I genuinely felt as though I had lived there my whole life. I got to know the local store owners and people that I saw on a daily basis. Having this experience made me stray away from staying in hotels when traveling. I found that hotels offer a very distant feel from the various communities they inhabit.
The summer following my study abroad to Shanghai, I spent a week in Cancun, Quintana Roo, Mexico. When planning this trip, I completely avoided the “typical” Cancun experience and stayed in a local Airbnb away from the Hotel Zone. I strongly desired the local experience and stayed with a family that welcomed my friend and I with open arms. The home owner felt much like a “host-mom”, offering tips for local adventures and overall safety in the community. I highly doubt that I would have had as great of an experience without her direction and genuine concern.
When reflecting on all my experiences abroad, I am most grateful that my first time out of the country was in China, where I was forcibly immersed in the culture and surrounding community. Without that experience, I would not have learned the value of a local perspective. In my opinion, that is how you truly learn about the culture, the hidden gems in the community, and the authentic feel for the people. I am now dedicated to taking the road less traveled for all future adventures abroad and that would not be the case without my life-changing experience in Shanghai, China.