Living and studying abroad is a wonderful life changing experience but it also comes with its own set of difficulties. As part of our weekly series, Living and Studying Abroad, PaGaLGuY spoke to Sumedh Lokhande who is currently pursuing a PhD in Political Science from Shanghai International Studies University.
Lokhande, who moved to China in September 2016, found it very difficult to go about his normal
routine on account of not being conversant in Chinese. “In China, English is not used in one’s day- to-day conversation. I was lucky to meet a fellow Indian in the hotel I’m staying, who did his graduation in Chinese. He was my translator for the first few days till I learnt the basics of the language,” he said.
He also had an interesting anecdote to share on this. Upon reaching China for the first time in September last year, Lokhande faced a lot of trouble trying to communicate to the Chinese staff members of the hotel that he wanted to call his parents. Narrating the incident, he said, “My flight got delayed because of which I reached the hotel very late. I was to inform my parents upon reaching but couldn’t connect to the hotel Wi-Fi. What added to my frustration was the communication gap that ensued between the hotel staff and Ime. They failed to understand the urgency of the situation as I spoke in English and kept repeating the same thing over and over again,” he said, adding that it is very difficult for an outsider to get anything done in the country without knowing Chinese.“I was saved by an Italian girl who came to my rescue. She offered to let me use the Wifi in her room. That was perhaps the best moment of my life as I was finally able to contact my parents. Surprisingly, the girl and I were in the same college and after that day, we have become very good friends,” said the 26-year-old student.
Having spent four months in Shanghai already, Lokhande doesn’t feel the city is any different from a typical metropolitan city. ;“Shanghai is not less than 30 years ahead of Mumbai. That’s the level of modernisation incorporated in the infrastructure and urban planning of the city. It comes across as any other metropolitan city in the West,” he said.
He also said that Chinese is one of the toughest languages to learn in the world. Elaborating on it he said, “The language doesn’t have alphabets but characters and each of these characters has a different meaning. The tone in which the characters are spoken and their usage in a sentence determine the meaning of the character. If you utter the same word but in a different tone, the person you’re conversing with may not understand.”
Lokhande, also finds the food in Shanghai quite unpalatable, because of which he prefers cooking to consuming authentic Chinese dishes. “In China, the taste of the food, differs depending on the province you’re in. I particularly don’t like the food in Shanghai as it is sweet and thus keep trying out food from different provinces. However if you were to ask me what I prefer, it would be eating home-made food,” he said.
According to Lokhande, how promptly one adjusts to a foreign country depends on how quickly one befriends its residents. Speaking about them, he said, “The Chinese are very clannish in nature and thus breaking the ice with them is never easy,” he said. In a famous park, near the vicinity of his hotel, he often finds a group of Chinese people gathered together in the mornings and evenings to play cards, chess and the likes. As a part of a cultural exchange exercise, Sumedh’s University also organises an international carnival every year in the month of November, which has students from different countries participate in it.
“Students from almost 35 countries participated in the competition last year. It is a brilliant platform for students from different countries to meet and get to know one another,”, he said. When one lives away from home, life is comparatively difficult, but it becomes a lot easier when one has friends around.
This international carnival was the push that Lokhande needed to interact with other students and get to know them. He said that such festivals must be organised by every college to help students break the ice and befriend one another.