Back in March an email made its rounds about this little opportunity to spend your summer in China, most people ignore their emails and just read the essentials, but myself and a few other students read this email and decided to apply for the summer school program, after all, what’s the worst that can happen? Fast forward over the weekend to another email essentially saying “You’re going to China!”, and you can see why it’s a good idea to check your mailbox thoroughly!
From this point on it was full steam ahead organising flights, getting my visa approved, preparing for the culture shock all the while preparing my portfolio for assessment and submission. That whole period seems to be a bit of a blur now but I made it through it to my 20-hour flight with multiple stopovers only worth it because I knew I was going to have the best 8 weeks of my life! And that I did!
As one of the first to arrive on a campus that’s eight times the size of Dundee’s, it was really sink or swim for a while. Thankfully, it wasn’t long before more and more Dundee students started arriving daily – making the situation of being on the other side of the planet in a city of 24 million a little bit more comfortable. Before long there was a mini village of Dundee students taking up residence in the Chen Yuan International student’s building at the East China University of Science and Technology making it our home away from home for the next eight weeks.
In our first week, because people were arriving at all times, those that were there early got the chance to venture off into the city centre and do what really matters, exploring! One of the most memorable journeys was one of our first – experiencing the raw heat of Shanghai (up to 40ºC), the busy streets and our soon to be best friend, the Shanghai metro. With prices ranging from ¥3- ¥6 roughly 50p and services every 2 minutes, it was hard not to love.
We traveled from campus 16km into the city centre and financial district with the ultimate aim of climbing the Shanghai Tower. The tower is the worlds second tallest building to the architectural top but tallest to the usable floor and also boasts the fastest elevators (18mps) and highest observation deck in the world. We arrived at the top with just enough time to experience the city in daylight, sunset and night, the view from the top of the world alone was reason enough to be here. We would later learn about the towers unique engineering aspects and features that make it a prime example of a “green” skyscraper.
As incredible as the views were these weren’t the only reason we were in China. We were there on a unique summer school experience with the opportunity to learn about the culture and history of China, as well as contribute to some shared learning with Chinese students on some truly compelling science and engineering projects. In our first two weeks, we eased into things learning some basic Mandarin, calligraphy, paper cutting, and Kung Fu by day while venturing into the city’s many nooks and crannies by night.
After everyone had arrived and gotten settled in we went on a group trip to Nanjing for a few days to experience Hohai University, a school that specialises in water engineering. Our time there passed as quickly as the time spent on the high-speed train we took to get there. While there we visited many interesting locations related to water engineering, the universities world leading laboratories and some places throughout Nanjing. One of these places is the Mausoleum of Dr. Sun Yat-sen nested deep in the purple mountain national park. Learning about the history of modern China and one of it’s founders proved to be interesting.
Week 4 came and with it, we got to meet our fellow Chinese students all studying various subjects ranging from mechanical engineering, physics and more. Our first project consisted of an introduction to the use of ultrasound in its many applications. Our group studied and presented High-Intensity Focused Ultrasound and its future application as a non-invasive surgery.
While learning about the future of medicine and surgeries through visits to various medical device manufacturers such as United Imaging and iRay we also had a day learning about the application of TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) and in some cases even got to try procedures such as acupuncture and cupping, both forms of TCM which are widely used in hospitals across China.
Roll on the next trip flying from Pudong Shanghai to Shenyang and experiencing China’s notorious flight delays for ‘low priority’ flights. On the way there we only had to wait an hour or so while on the flight, a standard delay the way home was a different story. Once we arrived in Shenyang we had arrived in the lap of luxury – from student accommodation to a hotel, we made the most of everything, yes even and especially the bath robes and slippers!
Shenyang was my personal favourite place, while there the food had a more familiar taste, the beds were softer (I was unlucky in Shanghai) and the temperature was more survivable. When not in our hotel we spent our time at Northeastern University and on their campus further exploring ultrasound technology and the physics behind it. Working with students from NEU this time we explored ultrasound’s application to targeted drug delivery later presenting to other groups.
While in Shenyang all the students from Dundee decided we really wanted to visit Dandong, China’s largest border city with North Korea and the closest point to the Great Wall. While 250km away, that’s only an hour on the high-speed train, so, we decided as a group to go. While there we got to experience the Yalu river broken bridge, Yalu river boat tour, traditional Korean barbecue and the highlight of my trip the Hushan section of the Great Wall which was a climb and a half! This marked our last full day in the northeast and after climbing the wall, I mean climbing, we were all worn out for a full nights sleep before our flight the next day.
The next day came and we arrived at the airport early – 6 hours after our supposed take off time with the board still saying delayed by 1h and the flight attendant saying there was no guarantee we’d be taking off that day we were all at our wits end when they silently announced we were boarding. Filled with a cocktail of emotions but mostly overcome with joy we all made it on to the flight and back to ECUST exhausted from our day trapped in the airport.
In our final 2 weeks, we undertook a self-motivated research project working with PHD student mentors in order to create a scientific poster representing the outcomes of their experiments. At the same time, we also got to learn about China’s unique global engineering projects. As a student who comes from neither a science or engineering background this experience has taught me so many valuable lessons (more than I can cover in this post) and has introduced me to many dedicated and brilliant student from China and Dundee that I wouldn’t have met otherwise.
For anyone looking in to doing something similar, a summer school, going to a new country or living abroad – my best advice would be to do it. I grew in so many unexpected ways this summer from going outside of my comfort zone. For me, that was in another country, continent, time zone, and subject but it doesn’t have to be on that scale we have the opportunity to this every day and grow from our small decisions as much as we do from our larger ones. This was a once in a lifetime opportunity, one that I’m so great full to have had.
In conclusion 上海很好.
You can read some of my biggest lessons from the whole experience here