Keeping Your Cool in Shanghai

During the Monday commute this week I saw a very familiar scene. A crowded subway car, people getting on and off, barely enough room to even stand up. Another expat got onto the train and I watched as he got into a huge argument with a local woman. This tense situation became comical to all of us on the subway car as he screamed at her in English (I’m assuming his Chinese was good enough) and she screamed at him in Chinese (I’m assuming her English wasn’t good enough). Though eventually they both got off the train and my fellow passengers and I exchanged little chuckles and cheeky smiles, it reminded me just how stressed out people get in this city and how it can often manifest in anger.

Many times anger or lashing out at people around us can be rooted in feelings of insignificance, smallness and incompetence. We feel small; therefore we make ourselves big via angry outbursts. And if there was ever a place to make outsiders feel small or out of their element, Shanghai is it!

I’ve been living in China for over 10 years, and I feel like the first few years I could have easily been that guy on the subway. If you’re going through culture shock or wrestling with your emotions, here are a few tips I learned along the way to ease your transition into China:


1. Set up some kind of routine

If you pick a few places and commit to going there every week at the same time people will begin to remember you and Shanghai starts to feel more like home. For example, my first year in China there was one restaurant I went to several times a week during my lunch break. I ended up becoming friends with the owner (she ended up becoming a great friend, and also taught me a lot of Chinese!)


2. Give yourself opportunities to have fun and educational experiences with the local culture

Don’t be afraid to take a risk and learn more about China. There are so many awesome opportunities to connect. Take a cooking class, study Chinese, visit a local museum, or even just talk to the dancing old ladies in the park (I guarantee they’ll love you).


3. Give yourself opportunities to reconnect with your home culture

Number 2 being said, let’s be honest, you don’t want to eat hot pot or fish head soup every night of the week. When you feel yourself getting overwhelmed, sometimes the best medicine is a bacon cheeseburger and watching some baseball at the local pub.


4. Be kind to yourself

While Shanghai presents unlimited possibilities for growth and learning, there are many pitfalls as well. Take time to slow down. Are you tired and stressed out? Feeling a little under the weather? Well then maybe going to YET ANOTHER post work happy hour session isn’t the best idea. Head to gym, go to the park, or better yet go home early and sleep.


5. If you need help, reach out

Living in Shanghai is an amazing journey best experienced in community. Don’t be afraid to reach out for help and depend on others around you. They say that friendships here develop faster and go deeper than many friendships back home.  

Finally, if you ever want to reach out and process with myself or any of the other counselors at Community Center Shanghai, we are always available to offer you professional counseling at an affordable rate.