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September 23, 2009

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Students write their own guide to help others

FOREIGN students can find their first days in Shanghai a lonely and confusing time. But two who have been through the mill share their advice with others to help them make the most of the city, Jantine Vos reports. Foreign students coming to Shanghai could learn a lot from what other people in the same situation have already gone through.

To provide these students with the emotional encouragement that they would have liked themselves, Sabrina Sabino, 26, and Elvina Trixie, 22, are compiling a book with informational, interesting and also funny stories - "Shanghai Kaleidoscope."

Five years ago, Sabino and Trixie came to Shanghai from the Seychelles and Indonesia, respectively. After both having studied Chinese for a year, they became friends while studying art and design.

Being young and alone in China, they couldn't identify with guidebooks aimed at older expatriates, who often bring their families with them.

"We have a voice as well, we are the future!" the duo say. So they decided to write a guidebook themselves.

"Shanghai Kaleidoscope" has four main goals - sharing experiences, providing reference, building bridges and coloring lives.

The book aims at providing a platform for foreign students to learn from each other and to help newcomers by giving them tips and tricks.

To break down stereotypes that often exist among Chinese students about their foreign counterparts, the book tries to make a contribution to build bridges between the different cultures.

This explains why the project is aimed at students who study Mandarin or have already completed a degree at a Chinese university.

After all, both sides have to make an effort to build a bridge and, according to Sabino and Trixie, learning Mandarin is the first step to take for foreign students.

To further increase understanding among Chinese students about the situations their foreign colleagues face, the book will be bilingual.

Besides reaching a broader group, this could also be good language practice for those who are still learning Mandarin.

The two authors stress that by helping other people, you do not only color their lives but also your own. Because of this philosophy, a large part of the profits of this project will be donated to a charity organization with educational purposes.

Stories published in the book might sound familiar to foreigners in Shanghai, like language misunderstandings that sometimes turn into funny situations.

Sabino recalls a tale: While still learning Mandarin, she wanted to wish everyone a merry Christmas, and when leaving the class she called out: "Shengri kuaile (happy birthday)."

She was proud of her Mandarin knowledge until the tutor pointed out that she had actually just wished everyone a very happy birthday.

Sabino and Trixie are willing to share a few dos and don'ts in the book.

According to them, newcomers should be aware of taxi regulations. When, for example, a taxi driver is smoking a cigarette or the meter is still running while he cannot find the way, you are not obliged to pay.

However, the two young women stress that it's good to take public transport to get familiar with Chinese culture as well as language.

Foreign students should also be careful and cynical about the quality of goods they are offered.

"They give you the taste of wine, but sell you the vinegar," is one piece of advice they offer.

Like a kaleidoscope, the book will showcase the story of foreign students in Shanghai from different perspectives.

The fact that people from various nationalities can contribute to the project and that the authors come from an African-Asian background might give this book a twist, making it different from those written from a Western perspective.

The authors are seeking people's contributions in the form of articles, photographs, poems and even music.

What can't be printed in the book will be published on the duo's Website.

They aim to publish the book at the beginning of next year, preferably before the World Expo 2010 opens in May, since this might help students who are exploring Shanghai at that time.

Contributions can be submitted until mid-October at More information on the project, the format of contributions and opportunities for sponsors can be found on the Website


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