When Kantaphat Leelakunwet came to China by plane and landed at Shanghai Hongqiao International Airport in September last year, he fell in love with the metropolitan city at the first sight. Leelakunwet, a sophomore student from Thailand, had been admitted to the University of Michigan – Shanghai Jiao Tong University (UM-SJTU JI, JI hereafter) in 2021. Due to pandemic-related travel restrictions, his first trip to China as a JI student was delayed by a year. Despite the challenges of adjusting to a new environment, Leelakunwet has found his student life on the SJTU campus to be nothing short of memorable, and he feels a strong sense of belonging. He is eager to continue exploring his life in China in the coming years.  

 The Thai student has shared the below story about his personal experience as a JI student studying abroad in the city of Shanghai.

JI Life in Shanghai: A Thai Student’s Story

Last September, I arrived in China and set foot on the breathtaking metropolitan city of Shanghai. After landing at the Shanghai Hongqiao International Airport, my friends and I took a taxi to our dormitory on the SJTU campus. As we drove towards the dorm, I was captivated by the sights outside the car window. The city boasts numerous stunning modern buildings and magnificent highways, and every sidewalk or street is impeccably kept clean. At that moment, I realized that I was falling in love with Shanghai.

Photo of Shanghai taken by Leelakunwet on the day of his arrival

My journey as a student at JI began on October 24th, 2022. On the first day of our university life, my friends and I struggled to find the right classroom for our first offline class at Dongzhong Yuan (East Middle Hall) due to the size of the campus. Although we arrived at the building on time, we encountered difficulties locating the correct room as the hall is comprised of five buildings, each with numerous rooms. What I find most fascinating about SJTU is the vast number of canteens on campus. During my Chinese class, I learned a phrase called “人山人海” which means a lot of people at a particular place. I previously believed that this phrase could only be used for tourist hotspots, but now I can confidently suggest that it also applies to a SJTU canteen, especially the Second Canteen. Despite its high levels of foot traffic, there are always a few magical seats for me, and it’s always intriguing to see how quickly people gobble up their food. When I don’t have classes, I would go to explore new study locations with my friends. We have discovered that the best place for us is a JI discussion room, which allows me to connect with international students from other years. Our group of friends even have a WeChat group named after the room number.

I have been working to overcome my fear of networking and communication by actively participating in events and joining organizations. I enrolled in the Technical Department as JI is renowned for having a diverse range of departments to cater to students’ interests. During my time here, I have had the opportunity to meet many talented individuals with impressive backgrounds, and I am eager to learn from their technical expertise. Additionally, I hold a position as a minister in the JI International Student Association. Our club successfully hosted two events during my first semester on campus, including a welcoming party and a Thanksgiving celebration.

Leelakunwet attends dinner parties hosted by SJTU and JI with fellow students

Since my arrival, I have built up friendships with both local and international students and have relished every moment of my time here. When the two-month winter break came around in December, I opted to stay in China despite the fact that many of my friends returned to their hometowns. The day after my friends left for Thailand, JI hosted a Chinese New Year dinner party for all international students on campus, which was held at the Long Bin Building. It was an incredible experience, as I finally got to meet friends I had only interacted with online for the past year. A week later, SJTU also organized a dinner gala to celebrate the new year, which was open to all on-campus students. The event not only featured delicious traditional Chinese cuisine but also had a lucky draw. Although I wasn’t lucky enough to win a prize, I was glad I no longer had to spend Chinese New Year alone!

The JI life experience on the campus of SJTU offers both enjoyment and challenges.  It’s common to feel overwhelmed by the amount of assignments, activities, or relationship issues that come up in life. Remember, it’s okay to reach out to supportive individuals for assistance. When stress starts to build up, consider taking a trip, getting some delicious waimai (takeout food), and spending time with friends as ways to relax. You have to admit, Shanghai has everything you need.