Comparing Life in Shanghai and New York City

Photo of Yan Liang

A first look into your life in Shanghai

So you hopped off your plane and stretched your legs at the Pudong International Airport, ready to start your life in Shanghai. But before you jump in, there’s a thing or two I’d like to share with you. Here are a few of the things in Shanghai that are similar and different from New York City.

The Language

You just moved to a different country. Almost immediately, you notice that unfamiliar language everyone speaks. Mandarin Chinese can be a tough language to crack, but here are some essentials that’ll help you get by as you ease into the Chinese courses at NYU Shanghai.

For example, “Hello” is nǐhǎo (你好), “I don’t understand” is tīngbùdǒng (听不懂), “Thank you” is xièxie (谢谢), and “No, I don’t want this” is bùyào (不要). Say these and wait to see people’s impressed faces. Check out our article on some of the best Chinese language learning apps if you’re interested in going deeper.

In addition to Mandarin Chinese (common speech), the Shanghainese converse in the local dialect pretty often. With enough time, you may be able to tell the accent and certain ways of speech. As a matter of fact, some words are even borrowed from English, such as “cement” (水门汀), “chance” (枪势), and “dozen” (打).

Just like New York City, Shanghai represents a wide range of nationalities—and many people in the city also speak English. That being said, the locals are always appreciative (and impressed) when you try to communicate with them in Chinese.

No Cash or Card, No Problem

When it comes to paying, I still remember the hassle of running to ATMs to get cash or calling restaurants to see if they have my lost credit card. While services like Apple Pay are gaining popularity in the United States, these embarrassing moments are history in China thanks to mobile paying apps. In Shanghai, Alipay and WeChat Pay will quickly become your best friends—and most Shanghai residents use one or both. With just one scan of your phone, you can pretty much pay for anything. Shopping, eating out, taking the bus, transferring money to your friend—you name it and these apps have you covered.

To use mobile payment, a Chinese bank account is a must. But don’t worry, you can easily set one up on campus with help from professional bank associates.

Subway Is A-OK

New Yorkers’ pride in the city’s accessibility can be largely attributed to the rumbling subway system. So is the pride of the Shanghainese. Every day, 24 million people use the 16 metro lines in Shanghai to commute, connect, and explore. The subway is extremely clean, and each stop is announced in both Chinese and English. In addition, metro stations themselves serve as commercial hubs. Believe it or not, you can easily spend hours at shops and restaurants without exiting the station.

What’s more, the Shanghai metro covers 420 miles and almost every corner of the city. For instance, you can ride line 11 to Disneyland or visit Sheshan, the tallest point of Shanghai, via line 9. Of course, don’t forget to hop on the 2, 4, 6, or 9 line to Century Avenue, where NYU Shanghai’s campus is located.

Gourmet Heaven

Shanghai is a foodie’s dream. A cosmopolitan city that embraces world flavors, Shanghai has something for everyone. Rest assured, we provide all types of world cuisines, plus a wide range of authentic Chinese food to spice up your life in Shanghai. Moreover, there are plenty of opportunities to grab cheap eats so you can experience all the culinary wonders Shanghai has to offer on a student-friendly budget.

If you’re craving a slice of pepperoni pizza, visit Grimaldi’s or Joe’s—they both opened in Shanghai! And don’t forget one of my favorite guilty pleasures: chocolate chip cookies from Strictly Cookies; they’ve got the best taste! Check out this list of some of our students’ favorite restaurants near campus.

That Signature Skyline

Cities are famous for their skyscrapers that seem to come out of the water. Indeed, Shanghai, just like New York City, has one of the most recognizable skylines around the globe. What’s even better, this signature shot sits only two metro stops away from NYU Shanghai. For people who have lived in New York City, Shanghai is definitely a place that causes déjà vu: the French concession has many cute shops and live music venues just like the East Village and the Xuhui riverside has its own “museum mile.” In short, if you love the “campus without walls” vibe in New York City, you will absolutely fall in love with Shanghai.