As far as living arrangements are concerned, this semester is turning out to be much simpler than last. By midterms last semester I had already moved out of the home of two host families and was attempting to settle disagreements with a third. Now I am completely moved in to a flat, along with three roommates, paying my own rent on my first real home in this country. However in the beginning it wasn't quite so easy.
The process for Western students who aren't fluent in Chinese to find an apartment is not an easy one. My roommates and I looked at around twelve apartments before finding one that suited us, being shown everything from three room apartments in which they suggested one of us take the storage closet as a fourth room, to two-roomers where they told us they asked us to envision the walls they could put in to construct two more tiny rooms in the then living room area. At one point we thought we had settled on the perfect apartment, a 15 minute walk from school with a fully living area, dining area, and kitchen with an oven (a surprisingly rare commodity here!), only to find that the owner, upon learning we were foreigners, proceeded to jack up prices, demand triple in deposit money (which among the Xpat community we know we will not get back) and only allow us contracts for no less than six months (two of my roommates would only be back in the city for five). So we continued our search, growing more desperate as the start of the semester grew closer. Until finally we found this place, the perfect four bedroom flat with a full kitchen (minus the oven of course), two bathrooms, a washing machine and a completely furnished living area complete with a very strange angel painting hanging over the couch that we have been instructed not to remove. The place even had a landlord who, despite not speaking the same language as we did, was incredibly patient with our low level attempts at Chinese and didn't once try to raise prices or take advantage of us not being in our home countries.
So we moved in! Two days before the new semester started the four of us found ourselves making Ikea runs and filling closets with suitcases and finally, officially living on our own in an apartment we were paying for in Shanghai. And with that we thought the home struggle was over...which unfortunately was completely untrue.
By the second night in the apartment we had to inform the landlord of our first issue; a lack of hot water. And while the current 35° weather (about 95° Fahrenheit) meant that this wasn't an immediate catastrophe, we were concerned about getting it fixed as soon as possible, else we would be freezing every morning in the winter. What we expected was a quick fix. Maybe a check of the water heater or even something that didn't come into our apartment. What we got was two weeks of construction, with workers coming and going as they pleased. A day and a half later neither of the bathrooms had ceilings and they were drilling holes in the living room walls. It wasn't uncommon for one of us to walk into the apartment after school to find three or four construction workers camped out in our living room, sometimes napping on the couch, usually lighting up cigarettes in the living area. In a house of non-smokers this was completely unacceptable.
After about a week of this we got concerned. With the language barrier it was extremely difficult to know what exactly they were doing or when they would be finished. After a week in a half of even colder showers, continually stepping on screws or wires in the living room and a general smell of stale smoke hanging around the apartment we got frustrated. And then suddenly, after nearly 14 days of constant jackhammering noises from the wash room, it was done. The workers stopped showing up, the smoke smell drifted away, and finally we could settle down into our simple student lives in the city.