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The Next Level

Thanks to a reference from my professor it took a half-hour job interview with the guys from Elmos Semiconductor and I found myself on a plane to China. Obviously, living in central Shanghai stood in fairly stark contrast to living in a small town in Germany, but was an experience I feel richer for having experienced. On the whole, China was a very pleasant and horribly flawed experience at the same time. That's why three months time was the ideal period, long enough to soak up the unknown culture, while still not being too long, no matter how challenging it would be. I mean it's just three months. And you can survive anything for three months, right? The alternative would have been idling away my valuable time, following the daily routine in my safe nest at home. No practicable alternative for me.

Travel makes life so much more vivid, so much more real, as we humans perceive changing sensations far more intensely than constant ones. Arriving in a foreign place not understanding anything or anyone makes you feel like a little child again. You are forced to start from scratch. There is transport to find, accommodation to be located, and money to be changed. You need to find places to eat or buy groceries at, need to find your way to work, and overcome cultural barriers. All these things you have to do intentionally, since there is no behavioural pattern you can rely on. The awareness this arrival process requires lets you notice the little things. Things you may have never noticed and thought about in your known habitat. Things that have always felt right but suddenly you start to question them. Whether you change your established ways of thinking, amend it to a certain extent or keep them as they are does't matter. The point is that you rise out of the fog of habitual behaviour and unconscious activity into a state of conscious awareness. However, I think travel causes an unavoidable swaying in opinion, ideally with a long-term convergence towards your own, leaving a well-rounded worldview with a maximum of confidence in it.

Apes like us are equipped with an innate longing for more. I consider this biologically based auto-craving one of the reasons why many of us have all the comforts and conveniences that make daily life easier. However, most of us do not value but instead take for granted the great privilege of health care, shelter, enjoyable food at our disposal, as well as time and energy to do what we love and enjoy. Plus, when the sole goal is having an ever easier life we will inevitably reach a point of saturation, a point where it cannot be nicer and easier anymore. So, in order to stay fulfilled, instead of wallowing in our comfort zone craving for more, we might take a step back more often, live in a different, less comfortable environment for instance, and recalibrate accordingly. As for me personally, the more I travel, the more I appreciate the incredible well-being I have at home.

Nevertheless, Shanghai undoubtedly had some really beautiful spots in store where one can lead a very Western, untroubled life if one desires to do so and if one's budget allows for it. Although I think you may be able to understand the gist of what is going on around you, a lot of information about the culture stays hidden from an overly touristic perspective. Frankly, even I did have a burger sometimes and consumed one or another pint as well but avoided Western food when possible and instead ate the cheap local food. One has to get used to it, but you wouldn’t visit China and look for the first hamburger joint, would you?

The fhocus research magazine of the Münster University of Applied Sciences published an article about my stay, albeit only in German.