Living Abroad (Shanghai): Get to know your Jia
Wednesday September 12, 2012
In mandarin Chinese the word Jia has two meanings: house and family. With that in mind, I have spent the past eight days exploring my new Jia, in every way possible. Every moment has been devoted to learning about my new house, my new neighborhood, and most importantly the 34 other Pepperdine students who are my new family.
The Pepperdine Jia is a beautiful compound on the Puxi side of the river. It has four buildings which house classrooms, dorms, lounges, a kitchen, offices, and a laundry area. The rooms are luxurious with plush carpets, dark wood furnishings, and large sparkling chandeliers. The ceilings have ornate crown moldings. Overall the house is an interesting mix of western and traditional Chinese architecture. I found this excerpt from the program manual describing the history of the Jia particularly interesting.
“Constructed in 1937 (the same year that George Pepperdine College was founded), the original facility was built toward the end of the foreign concession period of Shanghai’s history when the city was still divided in control by foreign colonial powers. The facility was built to house the Chinese owners of a German-affiliated paint company and reflects a European “garden-villa” style residence. During the rise of the Communist party, the house, along with many other residences of its size, was controlled by the government and made a home for multiple families in order to “redistribute wealth” amongst the working classes. In the 1970’s and 80’s, when China began opening up to more economic development, the property served as offices for several businesses. The facilities and property were renovated and expanded in the late 1990’s, adding two additional buildings. The Jia is in one of the most historic and convenient locations in the city.” (Shanghai Program Manuel 2012-2013)
The dorm sections of the building would be a bit cramped if the program was totally full to capacity, but (thankfully) this semester there are a few open spots. This means that some of the beds in each room are empty and we all have a little more space. A strong sense of community and familiarity permeates the jia. Everyone leaves their doors open so that guests can wander in and out. No one uses keys nor bothers to lock their doors. Everyone does have a small, personal safe for storing valuables though.
The girl’s rooms are on the second floor of the main building. There are four rooms. Two four-person rooms, one six person room, and one five person room; each named after a different Chinese city or region. I live in a four-person room called Shanxi. Right now only three of the beds are filled, which gives us a little more space for our things. I am particularly fond of the large picture windows in our room, which overlook the courtyard.
My favorite part of the Jia is the downstairs lobby of the main building. It has two computers, a few books, and several pieces of overstuffed furniture. The program staff facetiously refers to this area as “the library” although there are less than fifty volumes on the shelves. There is always someone there- working, reading, or sometimes sleeping. Already some wonderful memories have been made.
Though I certainly love my new house- it’s my new family that has stolen my heart. 34 Pepperdine sophomores are now residing together at the Jia. I couldn’t have asked for a better group of people to live, study, and travel with. Everyone has a unique background and skill set to bring to the table. Already I have learned so much about my Jia. Because we are one of the smaller programs there will be an opportunity to make real, lasting relationships with everyone in the house. Together we will brave language gaffes, bridge cultural differences, and create a life together in Shanghai.
Already we have overcome some challenges- getting run over by crazy Shanghai scooter drivers, shooing rodents out of the Jia, and searching for seemingly lost members of the group during night time outings- and emerged stronger and more confident than before. I know that as the year goes on our relationships will grow even stronger as we explore this beautiful country together.
Today was our last day of the orientation period. Classes start first thing tomorrow morning. I’ll send you an update as soon as possible. For now Zai Jian from Shanghai!