International Studies Abroad ®est. 1987


Culture Corner

Chinese Culture

Mandarin, spoken by over 1.4 billion people, is considered the lingua franca of mainland China. Putonghua is the official national spoken language. However, keep in mind that there are 292 languages spoken in China and numerous ethnic groups that make up the country. Therefore, in cities like Shanghai and Chengdu, it is common for people to speak both their local language and Mandarin.

In China, Spring Festival (known in the US as Chinese New Year) is the most celebrated holiday of the year. Spring Festival is a time of renewal, especially of renewing bonds with family. It is often the busiest travel season in China, as many people travel back to their hometowns to visit their parents. Before families arrive and food is prepared, people say goodbye to the old year by cleaning thoroughly, getting haircuts and buying new clothes. By New Year's Eve all of the food is prepared, and people eat large amounts of dumplings, nian gao, oranges, and fish. Spring Festival ends with hanging many traditional red paper lanterns or carrying them through the streets.

Monuments & Must-Sees

Yuyuan Gardens & Bazaar
One of the most bustling and scenic areas of Shanghai, the Yuyuan Gardens have beautiful gardens where you can take walks or modern shops in traditional-style buildings for the avid shopper. You can spend the whole day there enjoying the street performers and restaurants with a group of friends!

Huxingting Teahouse
The Huxingting has been around since 1784 and is easily the most famous teahouse in Shanghai. Its unique style brings more tourists to it every year. The zigzag shape of the bridge is suppose to keep evil spirits away.

Oriental Pearl Tower
Completed in 1994, this TV tower is central to the skyline of Shanghai and has become symbolic of the city. You can peruse the Shanghai History Museum on the basement floor of the tower where you can learn all about the history of Shanghai. The tower was the tallest building in China from 1994-2007 until it was surpassed by the Shanghai World Financial Center.

The Shanghai Science and Technology Museum is not only an architectural masterpiece, but also is a showcase for the city's rapid industrialization. The largest park in the city, Century Park, is next to the museum, where people of all ages can be found flying kites on pleasant days.

Cultural Activity Suggestions

The Bund
While in Shanghai, participants will undoubtedly spend much of their free time exploring the Bund. Beyond the wonderful shopping, restaurants, and view of Pudong and the river, there are a multitude of historically important buildings in this area that will help students to place Shanghai within a larger historical context.

Pudong District
The Pudong area of Shanghai is one of China's proudest accomplishments. Not only are the skyscrapers here beautiful to look at and explore, the contrast between this ultra-modern business center against the historic buildings clearly visible across the river help to illustrate the speed at which Shanghai has grown.

City God Temple
The area around the City God Temple is an ideal place for participants to experience Shanghai culture. Traditional puppet theatre, street performers, local and traditional artists, and a variety of small shops will give students a wealth of opportunity to take in the local atmosphere.

Cultural Immersion

While there is no structured volunteer program offered, any student truly interested in volunteering while in Shanghai can work with our on-site staff to find different opportunities. Students simply present different organizations or areas that interest them and our on-site staff can help you figure out how to get involved.

ISA Student Blog

Stay connected while you're abroad and share your experience with your peers back home on the ISA Student Blog, one of WordPress' top 23 recommended travel blogs! Each summer and semester the ISA Student Blog features current ISA students as bloggers, photo bloggers, and video bloggers who document their time abroad to share with their friends, family, prospective students, advisers, and more. If sharing your study abroad experience through writing, photos, videos and other media while receiving professional guidance and feedback appeals to you, consider applying to be an ISA Featured Blogger, Photo Blogger, or Video Blogger. The Site Specialist for your program will email all accepted students to notify you when ISA is accepting applications for all ISA Featured Blogger programs. Please contact the ISA Blog Team at if you have any questions.

Cultural Blogs
We also suggest you check out the plethora of other cultural blogs available on the web to learn more about others' experiences in Shanghai, cultural happenings, and expat lives.

Language Resources

Helpful Phrases
ni hao ma? How are you?
xie xie Thank you
bu ke qi You are welcome
dui bu qi Sorry
zai jian bye
shi yes
bu shi no
mei guo ren US citizen
zhong guo ren Chinese
shuo ying yu speak English
shuo han yu speak Chinese
xue sheng student
wo yao I want
wo bu dong I don't understand
duo shao qian How much is it?

On-line Dictionary Resource

Verb Conjugation: While there are no verb tenses in Mandarin, you can learn about aspect and time markers here. We suggest you look up some helpful websites dedicated to aspect and time in Mandarin.

Listening & Speaking: Check out some different Mandarin podcasts available to practice your verbal and listening skills. There are numerous resources for learning Mandarin online.

Beware of translation websites...much can be lost in translation!