As I dragged my suitcase, which had somehow lost all its wheels on its journey from New York, through Beijing International Airport, I began to wonder what exactly had I signed up for. Being a “wing-it” type of gal, my preparation for coming to a country that had limited English and serious internet-browsing restrictions involved printing some Stern emails and a photo of the hotel. As I searched the airport for an ATM at 2am, I mentally berated myself for not converting any dollars into yuan prior to arriving. I had remembered after landing that the taxis only took cash. I got my yuan, handed the driver my photo of the Crowne Plaza, and prayed that I was headed to the right place. Fortunately, that was the last self-directing I had to do on that trip. DBi China was so well-organized that despite being on Mainland China, I felt like I was on a school trip. Oh wait…
That first morning, 28 Sternies and Sandy Gelinas, our amazing DBi coordinator, gathered in the hotel lobby waiting to meet our Peking University’s (PKU) Guanghua School of Management coordinator and TAs. It was then that we met the wonderful Eleanor Han, who not only works for the university but was finishing her MBA there. She informed us then that “being on time is late” and we were expected in the lobby every morning ten minutes prior to departure time. For the record, that only lasted a week. There were always the few stragglers that hit the bus 3-5 minutes late. A few threatening messages were sent but the bus never actually left anyone behind and the stragglers were always received on the bus with a round of applause…to Eleanor’s dismay. That first day we were whisked off to PKU’s campus for many photos, a scavenger hunt, and our first lectures on Chinese demographics and economy. We were all equally captivated and curious. It was fascinating to hear the perspectives of famous Chinese professors on the trade war, the government’s one, and now, two-child policy, and the slowdown of Chinese gross domestic product. We left PKU that day rivetted…and hungry for hot pot.
As the days went on, we all began to form close bonds. The group was equally divided between full-timers and part-timers. It took a while for us part-timers to infiltrate the cool full-timers “back of the bus” but we did it, and they grew to love us for the employed people that we are. We explored Tiananmen Square and Forbidden City together under the crafty direction of our tour guide, Ping Ping. Ping Ping knew how to manage crowds like no one I had ever met before. She maneuvered us through lines of hundreds of people at lightening speed. However, if you blinked too long, you could lose her. Knowing my plausibility for getting lost, I made sure to race after her at all times.
Beijing was a sprawling city and very modest in appearance in comparison to other capital cities. However, after a Google Maps mishap (the mishap being that Google Maps is outdated due to Chinese restrictions on geographic data), we soon learned how to navigate the city and our affinity for rooftop bars became apparent. WeChat was life and so was Didi. During the day, we had informative classes and corporate visits and at night we explored the city and Chinese culture. We visited the art district, went to an acrobatic show, watched the sunset in Summer Palace Park, walked around Olympic Village, and ate way too much delicious fried food.
The highlight of our time in Beijing for most was The Great Wall. Again, Ping Ping herded the 28 of us and Sandy to the entrance, where we had the option to either hike or take a lift up to the Wall. You see the majesty of The Great Wall in pictures, but nothing really prepares you for how glorious it truly is in person. We walked along it for a few hours and discovered its various nooks and its lack of bathrooms. To my delight, there was the option to toboggan down. We left the Wall that day saying “it was a great day at The Great Wall” and thrilled about some quality content for our Instagrams.
The second half of our trip brought us to Shanghai. After a four-hour journey on the bullet train, which travels over 200mph (and really does put Amtrak to shame), we arrived. I do not think any of us were prepared for the opulence and beauty of the very modern city, Shanghai. The skyline was dazzling at night and there were countless restaurants and venues to keep us entertained. I may have even overheard a classmate referring to it as a “Vegas on steroids.” PKU’s Guanghua School of Management satellite campus was located near the financial district on the Huangpu River. Our classes and corporate visits in Shanghai concentrated on Chinese marketing and we began to work on our group projects. The project’s purpose was to focus on a business or industry that could be either started or brought to China and how it should cater to the Chinese population. The projects were very entertaining and creative. Groups hypothesized what would be required to bring companies such as Bumble, Teladoc, LinkedIn, Tesla, and craft beer companies to China. Our professor then gave us feedback on why it would or would not be feasible. It was very enlightening and a valuable way to gather insight to the Chinese culture.
In the evenings, the city was our stomping grounds. We explored many of the rooftop bars it had to offer, went on a sunset cruise, strolled through the French Concession and 1933 Old Milfun, haggled at the fake markets, and solidified our friendships. By the end of the two weeks, we had a comfortable familiarity with each other and had even adjusted to the smog. On our last night in Shanghai, we gathered for dinner (on a rooftop of course) and toasted to each other and the incredible experience both NYU and PKU had given us on DBi China. We had come to China to get three credits but each of us had left with 27 new friends.