My time in China was, as a whole, a wonderful experience and I would certainly do it again.
I think that Shanghai is probably the best choice for anyone looking to study in China(although I suppose I'm rather biased in that regard); I’ve never loved a city like I love Shanghai. It is extremely vast and full of life, you could spend a lifetime exploring there.
China is not for the faint of heart. The food, the people, the architecture, the political system, even the air is all different from that of the West. I would thus definitely recommend going if you’re someone who is looking to be a little bit uncomfortable in their time abroad, and wants to experience a culture that differs in a significant number of ways. I personally went in with this mindset, and it helped me adjust rather quickly with minimal culture shock.
The staff at the IES center were all very good, they could always help if we ever had any issues. I was assigned an resident assistant who was a Chinese student at the University I attended, and he was very helpful relaying information or even just helping us get where we needed to be. I also found my IES language courses to be very well taught, my language skills improve and my desire to use those skills at every opportunity increased.
I think the largest challenge I encountered was with regards to my engineering courses. The courses are taught in a way that was very different from my home university. The focus was much more theoretical, and the pace was very accelerated. This proved to be challenging and time-consuming. I would do a lot of planning prior to going to compare the syllabi on their website with your home university’s syllabi to see how much they might differ. Even with that preparation, I would recommend taking block courses and/or easier engineering courses.
The language barrier in China is substantial. Most people on the street don’t speak English, and taxi drivers will not. This is a bonus for anyone looking to really improve their Chinese language skills, but if you haven’t studied Chinese before, it can be a challenge getting to know locals and travelling outside the city. However, most infrastructure, at least in Shanghai, has English labeling, which makes travel within the city much easier.
Technology, among other things, is censored rather heavily in China. You’ll likely get a new set of apps that have exclusively Chinese uses, so it may be helpful to get familiar with some of the online landscape of China. I would definitely recommend getting a VPN(Virtual Private Network) for your phone and computer. It will allow you to use websites and apps that are normally inaccessible in China, such as Google(and all its services), Facebook, Wikipedia, among other things.
Overall, my time in China was the experience of a lifetime, and I would totally recommend it!