From Santa Cruz to Shanghai

by UCSC History major Lauren Thomas

November 22, 2011

Lauren Thomas in Shanghai

This Fall I am studying abroad at Fudan University in Shanghai, China. So, what brought me here?

Let’s go back to the beginning: when I first arrived at UCSC I thought I might study molecular biology, perhaps computer science, maybe philosophy or film—nothing in particular struck my fancy. That is, until the day I realized that it was 8 in the morning and I was sitting in “The Making of the Modern Middle East” feeling more excited for class to start than I ever felt as a kid in the car on the way to Disneyland. And so my career as a History major began. 

My concentration is in American history, so “why China?” is a question I am asked with frequency. The best and quickest answer I can give is that China is just where it’s at—it’s a rising power that is becoming more significant on the world stage every day, as well as the home of perhaps one of the longest and richest recorded histories ever. Save for that fact, I made my decision to come to China on a whim, partly despite but mostly because of my complete and utter lack of knowledge of the language, culture, and history.

Because of my ignorance of all things Chinese, I made an excellent decision the spring quarter before I left: taking Professor Hershatter’s course on Recent Chinese History. I gained a strong command of both Chinese history in the 20th century and Chinese geography. And, with that knowledge firmly in hand, I was able to realize how much history matters in day-to-day life. When politics professors make vague references to certain policies I always know what they are, when people tell me where they’re from I can always respond with understanding, when I see something peculiar I can make educated speculations about it, and when I go to museums I can tell what has been exaggerated and what has been left out.

I’ve found that diving in headfirst with an open mind (and having friends who speak the language!) is a great way to learn about a culture. I’ve gone to Hangzhou, Beijing, Xianyang, and Xian and every trip has felt far too short for a fair understanding; even living in Shanghai for a whole semester feels like merely passing through. 

Studying abroad has deepened my interest in history and the intricacies of its sources and forms immeasurably—I can’t wait to learn more.

Lauren Thomas is a History major at University of California, Santa Cruz. Keep up with her travels by visiting her blog (linked below).

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