My morning routine: I get up, brush my teeth, shower, walk out the door, and head to the train station. The screen on the platform informs me that a train will arrive in two minutes. As I board the crowded train there is a lady to my left fervently playing Candy Crush on her iPhone 6, a man in a pinstripe suit clutching a leather Coach briefcase, and a paranoid elderly lady sitting down wondering who the creeper is next to her.
“We’re not in New York anymore, Toto.” Or are we? I never imagined two bustling global financial centers 8,000 miles away from each other would be so similar. There are stylish divas walking miniature dogs with sweaters, colorful cab drivers, and even street food (although I was advised to steer clear of that). It feels like home! Well, there are, of course, subtle differences. For one, I’m surrounded by millions of Chinese. It doesn’t help that many of them do not speak English. As a result, I quickly learned the essentials: “Where is the bathroom? How much? Too much! Thank you. No. Hello. Waiter! I want a Coca-Cola. Driver, take me to 1077 Xietu Lu.” Those simple phrases got me through my first few weeks.
Now the question that may be on your mind: Do people stare at you? Honestly, in Shanghai I am usually the one doing the staring. Which is surprising, not just because I am one of the only black guys from America in the entire city, but I am usually the tallest and biggest in the room. I attract more attention walking into New York department stores on Fifth Avenue than I do walking into a Shanghai noodle bar and ordering in Chinese. How refreshing! Granted, I must admit this holds true only in Shanghai. I was a movie star during my visit to Southern China: “No, you cannot touch my hair, but of course I’ll take a picture with you and your family.”
Living in China to study in the NYU Law Abroad program has sparked an internal reflection into the cultural norms we take for granted in America. For example, I now understand what it means to have freedom of speech. China is a socialist state with a capitalist economy run by a communist party. I’ll let that sink in for a bit. As I’m sure you’ve heard in the news, the Chinese are seeking to establish legitimacy in their legal system by cracking down on domestic corruption and enforcing the laws on the books. There is no better time to be studying Chinese law in China!
This experience still feels surreal, and I often wake up pinching myself. I have made dozens of Chinese friends and business contacts, partied in some of the hottest clubs in China, and am studying under the best legal scholars China has to offer. Can 2L get any better? Oh, did I mention that I walked the Great Wall, went island-hopping off the coast of Malaysia, and haven’t seen snow since I left the States?