The driver told me we had arrived. So soon?
Perhaps I had not prepared myself enough for the moment when I would actually begin this semester of study abroad. After talking about it for months and being in Shanghai for two weeks, studying at NYU in Shanghai through East China Normal University (ECNU) seemed but a fact in the horizon.
But when we drove up to the imposing entrance with 华东师范大学 (ECNU) inscribed in the tall, grey stone arch, I realized that study abroad had officially begun. As we continued to drive through the campus, with streets lined with trees and roads filled with students, I was thrilled. For after all my years of education, I had finally arrived at a campus.
I was finally in a dorm, not an apartment or house. Here I had more closet space than I had ever had in my whole life. The bathroom was large; the air conditioner quiet and powerful, not like the noisy units I’d had before.
In comparison with the cramped, airconditionless living conditions most Chinese college students face, I felt that these international student dorms at ECNU were luxury. I almost felt bad that we, the Americans, could enjoy such good treatment. If we were really going to study abroad, perhaps we should experience firsthand how the locals live.
We had a sampling of challenges, however. A massive thunderstorm pommelled the campus soon after I moved in and the water stopped running. The internet also needed some configuration to access American websites. But the internet was soon settled, and the rain soon stopped.
I stepped outside into the rest of the campus and fell into the idyllic world of the Chinese school grounds found in Chinese dramas and movies.
The tree-lined roads, the narrow paths angling off to the side, the white bridges over the dark rivers, the stone tables and chairs by the waterside, the outdoor fields, the students walking and chatting together, and the academic buildings scattered here and there conjured up scenes from 我们一起去看流星雨 (Let’s Go Watch Meteor Shower). In that drama the main actress is ecstatic on her first day at college. Although the students here do not have the classy uniforms she and her classmates had, I could now understand her thrill of excitement.
The electronics company Suning 苏宁易购 was hosting an outdoor games event in one of the main fields. Students in colored t-shirts ran about while the host exuberantly called out directions through the speakerphone. Across from the field was a line of small shops, including a hair salon and a eyeglass store.
ECNU’s campus is large and overwhelming. But as many of the older structures have been preserved, the grounds are beautiful. Perhaps Chinese filmmakers and novelists aren’t to blame for the myriads of school love stories they produce. What could be more romantic than standing together by the bridge at dusk?