I was privileged to experience culture shock last month when I traveled to Shanghai, China, with the Bradley EMBA class. Shocking, yes, only because it was different and confusing, yet fascinating and beautiful, fun, and only mildly frightening! It was a positive shock to my system because I was in unfamiliar territory, forced to see, hear, touch, taste, and experience life across the world. Not having ventured that far away from Illinois, I felt like I had dropped out of society into a time warp (the feeling enhanced by the 14-hour time difference, of course). I was the foreigner—the one bewildered by the language, food, currency, and customs. I was the peculiar object a small child at a restaurant ran over to, giggled at, ran back to his mother and whispered something in her ear, then ran back to me and continued staring.

While the group’s itinerary took us to many businesses, we also had some time for cultural exploration. Our exploration took us to the Jade Buddha Temple and Shanghai Museum, neighborhood street vendors and modern shopping malls, centuries-old Chinese gardens, and a gondola ride through the canals of Shuzou.

I was shocked to learn everything is negotiable—never pay the marked price. I was mesmerized by the men and women dancing in the streets beginning at 6:30 a.m. Tai Chi, then ballroom dancing, then modern dance. I was impressed with the agility of the Chinese acrobats, whom I learned had been practicing since they were toddlers.

What was most shocking, however, was learning that Shanghai is known as the “Museum of World Architecture,” with houses and buildings of classical Chinese, European, Japanese, and modern styles. I was awed by those magnificent buildings—more than 1,478 buildings of more than 20 stories high, rising from both sides of the Yantze River. Most were built, we were told, in the last decade.

My first thought was, “Who were the architects?” Can such spectacular buildings be built in the U.S.? In Peoria? How can buildings go up so fast? The beautiful skyline of Shanghai was virtually flat a few years ago. Those unique buildings, the colorful neon signs, the flowers everywhere—including lining the highways—are becoming a Shanghai signature.

Upon my return to Peoria, I still admire our beautiful skyline. I thought again about how a spectacular, uniquely designed museum—and other buildings—would complement our Riverfront and become a signature landmark for Peoria. When visitors come to our city, we want them to be positively shocked about our city. Great entertainment, restaurants, architecture, riverfront, park district…we already have the key factors mentioned earlier. A signature landmark identifying Peoria would be the perfect “culture shocker.” AA!