Junior Owen Goebel has far more worldly experiences than most his age– he spent two years living in China. Looking back on it as a life-changing experience, Owen gained the experience of learning about unfamiliar cultures and life in a radically different place.
“It was back in 2011; my dad got offered a promotion and an opportunity to live in China. The company he works for branched out to Shanghai, and they came up to him [with that proposition],” Owen said. “He accepted and came up to us like “Hey, we’re going to China!a�� It was hard. I worried about going away from all of my friends [in Michigan].”
Shanghai is the most populous city in the world with a population of a little over 24 million, and the largest city in China. Shanghai is vital to China’s economy and is one of the most popular cities in the world for expats like Owen’s family. Expats are usually able to make a good living quite easily with incomes much higher than a Shanghai native.
“It was like being thrown into another world,” Owen said. “When I got off the plane, the first thing I noticed was the haze. It was everywhere. Shanghai- even on the clearest days- will still be hazy. Imagine someone is always holding a burning cigarette right next to you; that’s what Shanghai smells like.”
Owen spent most of his time in the city, moving into an apartment right near the center at first. He later moved slightly farther out into something more like an actual house but still spent his time in the city. Owen says that the culture was shockingly different, and people reacted very oddly to seeing him.
“Oh my god. Living there at first was so different. It was crazy,” Owen said. “Strangers were super grabby. I was this little American kid, and they would just reach out and touch me like they had to make sure I was real. People hear about this and aren’t sure if it’s true or not. Trust me, it is. I was like a living tourist attraction but for the locals instead.”
Though his initial social experiences in Shanghai weren’t the most conventionally fun, Owen found he quickly grew to appreciate the city and life there. He was able to socialize with other Americans and people who spoke English, and even people from all over the world. His school offered an opportunity to make friends and meet new people, a different experience than what he dealt with outside of school.
“Schooling was crazy,” Owen said. “In Shanghai, they have these schools for expats [who are] the people like me who are living there temporarily. Those schools are English-speaking, and they were pretty cool. Funny story about how I had to switch schools after a year – we found out that the teachers weren’t getting paid. They continued to run that school for a year, but it shut down after that. That’s the kind of thing that could only happen in Shanghai.”
His time spent in China was a great learning experience for Owen, helping him become more aware of what life is truly like in other countries and how different cultures change people’s lives. People act differently on the streets, family dynamics are wildly different, and society sees the world in a different light.
“The culture there is so wildly different from what we have [in the United States],” Owen said. “The culture’s a lot more cutthroat. The term “tiger parenting” is used over there because many parents push their kids really hard when it comes to education. They overwork their kids, and strict parenting is really big in China.”
Owen has fond memories of wandering through the city’s countless markets, small and large alike. These markets are often saturated with fake products like phones, CDs, DVDs, and more. Poorly replicated copies of movies such as The Incredibles and Megamind are simply comedic, though dirt cheap.
“If you’re out on the streets in Shanghai, you’re most likely looking at people using fake iPhones. They also try to jack up the prices if you’re American, so you have to haggle with them to get the price back down,” Owen said. “If you ever find yourself in one of those markets, keep lowering the price until they stop talking to you. It’s kinda scary how much they try to rip you off for.”
Spending those two years in China affected Owen positively in nearly every way, and he says that he’s incredibly glad that he was able to have that experience.
“I really did enjoy my experience there, but I’m not sure if I’d go back again. I look back on it sometimes and think that I would like to revisit, but I think that if I really did I wouldn’t like it that much. I’d probably do things a bit differently and take up more opportunities.”