Alumni Spotlight: Ysaline Van-Dessel


Ysaline is a Belgian student finishing her Masters Degree in Digital Communications and Marketing in Shanghai. She loves sports and has been playing field hockey since she was six years old - while in Shanghai, she joined the expat hockey team, the Shanghai Dragons.

Why did you pick this program?

I decided to sign up for additional Chinese classes, as I only had one class of Mandarin a week with my University. In my opinion, this was not enough to reach a decent level of Chinese while studying for four months. This led me to enroll in the part-time classes at That's Mandarin. Every Tuesday and Thursday evening I had two hours of Mandarin class with four other students which significantly helped me improve my Mandarin skills.

What do you tell your friends who are thinking about going abroad?

This was the first time I had ever left Europe for such a long time; at first I was really scared as I had never been to Asia before. The idea of arriving in a country where I don't even understand the language didn't appeal to me at all. But hey, it's an adventure so I just went with it. Now that I look back on this amazing experience, I can only think about one thing: why did I never think of doing this before? Going abroad and adapting to a totally different culture is the best thing that ever happened to me. If anyone is hesitant to leave their hometown to explore the world, I will be the first to encourage them. When going abroad you learn so much about so many different cultures, especially in a multi-cultural city as Shanghai. People change here, in a good way. You learn to appreciate little things much more and you realize that there's so much more to see in this amazing world.

What is one piece of advice you'd give to someone going on your program?

When coming to China it's mandatory to learn Chinese, at least that's what I think. The language is so different than any European language, so you will never understand it unless you really take the time to learn it. Honestly, when you get the hang of it, it's really not that difficult. Anyone can learn Chinese! The part-time program that I followed was perfect for me, as I was still attending classes at the university as well. I could easily combine both and make significant progress during the four months I spent in China.

What's your favorite story to tell about your time abroad?

When I tell people where I live in Shanghai, they often don't believe me. This doesn't surprise me, as I live in a shared apartment with 12 people. Yes 12, as in a dozen. It seems totally crazy and overcrowded, but trust me it isn't. Many tenants work late and never eat at home, so we barely see them. Others have become my best friends to whom I could tell anything. Coming all alone to a unknown country is really tough, but I never ever had a moment of regret or a moment of home sickness. The reason I have felt so comfortable here during my stay is thanks to these awesome roommates that have welcomed me with open arms. Someone told me when you visit Shanghai you cry twice: once when you arrive, and once when you leave. I didn't cry upon my arrival, but I'm sure I'll cry twice as hard when I'll leave because I'll miss these people so much!

How easy/difficult is it to adapt to a totally different culture?

I have to be honest, during my first week here I experienced major culture shock. The differences from European culture couldn't be any bigger. I had never ever in my whole life seen that many people in one place. There's the overcrowded subway rides, and the ongoing stares of people making you feel uncomfortable. Since my arrival in Shanghai, I feel like I can now relate to how celebrities feel. I've lost count, but countless Chinese people has asked me to take a picture with them. Every blonde woman in China knows what I'm talking about. Slowly I adapted to all of these situations and differences, and learned to embrace them. Even though it was really hard at first, I learned to live with the major cultural differences and even managed to appreciate them. Well, not all of them of course.