As a 3rd year student undertaking a dual degree in a Bachelor of Commerce/Economics, as well as Mandarin Chinese as part of an Undergraduate Diploma in Languages, what better city to study in than Shanghai? The bustling financial hub of the world’s most populated country presented many great challenges that allowed me to grow as a person and state with confidence that the exchange was the greatest five months of my life.

ESSCA is a private French university specialising in international business management with its main campus based in Angers, France. Besides their international studies campus in Shanghai (the one I attended) the university also has a campus in Paris and Budapest, Hungary. Their Shanghai campus is actually only 2 floors of a building located very close to Shanghai’s famous and historically significant Bund area. ESSCA Shanghai’s role as an international exchange school meant only a small number of students attend the school each semester (around 50 students when I was there). The intimate class settings resulted in my peers being regarded more as family instead of friends and classmates.

While the syllabus was undoubtedly original and unique, the courses weren’t particularly challenging. Instead of attending a few classes for different courses each week as we do at UQ, ESSCA Shanghai arranges for an intensive study of one course everyday for two weeks, at the end of which you take an exam for that course and begin a different course the following week. The head of one course in particular – Asian Business Research Project – organised a school trip to the nearby city of Hangzhou and various company visits and sightseeing opportunities for the entire class. This was one of the major highlights of my exchange experience.

For students considering attending ESSCA Shanghai, make sure you are extra careful with your study plan. The school offers some very helpful documents online outlining the structure of the semester but ensure the information is updated for the semester you plan to attend. I experienced some difficulties earning credits for some courses as their website was not updated with the latest courses and their respective summaries.

Shanghai, the city itself, is simply breathtaking. Its vastness and futuristic skyline is at times unfathomable. Thanks to both the city’s prominent international community and the diversity of my class at ESSCA, I was fortunate enough to forge friendships with internationals from Central America to Scandinavia. The city is also arguably the culinary capital and party capital of China. Shanghai boasts internationally-famed nightclubs such as M1nt and five-star fusion restaurants like ‘M on the Bund’. Commonly labelled as the ‘Paris of the East’, Shanghai is also littered with Parisian-style cafes. But there’s no point in travelling to China without soaking up the local culture. Different areas and provinces within China specialise in different types of food. Shanghai’s specialty is ‘sweet and oily’ cuisine. No trip to Shanghai would be complete without trying their pork/chicken soup dumplings or ‘xiao long bao’.

While Shanghai is China’s most expensive city, with regards to living expenses it’s generally quite cheap when to Brisbane. However, your budget is entirely dependent on your personal preferences. You can eat street food everyday and drink Tsingtao from local supermarkets and only spend AU$10-$20 per day, or eat in western cafes and drink at upscale bars and spend significantly more. An important thing to note though is that healthy food such as organic fruits and vegetables are not as easily available in Shanghai and are generally more expensive than in Brisbane. Gyms are also much more expensive and the equipment is usually a little outdated. However, if you’re willing to splurge on an amazing boutique gym (by China’s standards), head to One Wellness in Jing’An Temple. It’s arguably Shanghai’s best and most expensive gym, filled with expats.

5 top tips

  • BEFORE YOU LEAVE, sort out your VPN. Many websites including Facebook, Twitter and YouTube are all blocked in China. Make sure you plan for this and set up your VPN before you head to Shanghai. UQ offers a VPN platform for your computer and also the iPhone and iPad.
  • Pick an apartment in a convenient area with room-mates. Shanghai is a huge city (bigger than Paris and New York put together) and you don’t want to waste half of your semester on the Shanghai metro! Best place to live: People’s Square. The prices are quite high but affordable with room-mates. Don’t pay more than RMB3500 per month for an average apartment, you’re being ripped off.
  • Sort out your visa issues ASAP! You don’t want to be stuck in Shanghai while all your friends travel because you didn’t apply for more entries on your visa. If you plan to frequently travel in and out of the country, ask the ESSCA staff to help you apply for a permanent residence permit. This gives you unlimited entries in and out of China and means you don’t have to register with the police each time your return from travelling. The downside of this is you have to spend half a day travelling to the medical centre near Hongqiao Airport to get a government-organised health check up.
  • Visit and download the application for your iPhone – it’s an incredibly useful tool.
  • Enjoy Shanghai’s amazing nightlife. Head to clubs like ‘bashiba club (club 88)’, M1NT, Bar Rouge, Zappatas. Also, check Smart Shanghai for upcoming events such as the Formula 1 GP. But don’t forget to balance your social life with your school life!


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