Story by participants of our Summer School in China, as part of our student life series.
Beihang University is located in the North-Western quadrant of Beijing (Haidian District). The aim of this experience was to spark international connections and technological/scientific explorations; improving students’ collaboration with colleagues of various backgrounds whilst exchanging cultures and knowledge. The International Summer School offers a range of courses focusing on science, technology, culture and communication. Participating students received free accommodation and breakfast at the Beihang Training Centre on-campus whilst studying, as well as organised trips and events (The Great Wall, Summer Palace, Capital Museum, Musical Performance, etc.).
The main focus of the courses was to exchange knowledge and/or cultures of class participants whilst bolstering communication and collaboration skills. Most of the UOW students took the Chinese Culture class which delved into different mediums, like presentation and art, to teach participants about Chinese history, culture and landscape.
Other classes taken by UOW students included Particle Physics, Thermodynamics, Civil Structural Analysis and System Optimisation and Decision-making under Uncertainty. As well as teaching new and reinforcing old concepts many of the classes incorporated groupwork, especially between foreigners and Chinese mainland students, providing invaluable experience in global collaboration. When English is not everyone’s first language, others must often reword and breakdown their thinking to convey ideas which again helps reinforce learning. Similarly when teachers did not have English as their first language, this coaxed students to be resourceful in their learning – UOW students improved in asking targeted questions, gained confidence to admit when they are struggling and ask for help from peers and/or teachers, and look for alternative or supplementary resources to explain key concepts.
Outside the class room is where most of the growth occurred over the trip. During our stay, we lived in the Training Centre which at the time was five storeys of ISS students from all over the globe – Russia, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Korea, Australia, Pakistan, Malaysia, Philippines, Egypt, Chile, Mexico, Greece, Portugal, Czech, Slovakia, Spain, Sweden, Poland, America, Canada, France, Italy, UK, Denmark, Ireland and Columbia! Eating breakfast together, classes and Beihang University’s organised events encouraged daily mingling between all the ISS students, helping to build a friendly, multicultural atmosphere. Living so close to a vast array of cultures was intense and daunting at times but introducing yourself to others and doing things with them is the best way to make new friends and soak in all the cultures. Most of the people there were multilingual which was fascinating coming from a majority unilingual nation and making friends with a Mandarin-speaker made life in China a lot smoother sailing – Google and WeChat translate can get you by but nothing beats a human translator!
The organised events by Beihang University included three excursions to The Great Wall, Summer Palace and Capital Museum. Although we went during peak tourism season and to the most touristy parts of each location, the architecture and landscapes seen were worth weaving through the hordes of domestic tourists. Jeremy, Tori, Georgia and Tyson booked a private tour to a more remote section of The Great Wall which they highly rated due to the serenity. Being foreign in China is very photoworthy too so many of our UOW students had to shine them pearly whites for a queue of Chinese children – future students should be prepared for the attention too.
Having the option to do one to three classes offered great flexibility in study (BEWARE: more study means less time to explore) and the amount of time spent overseas (three weeks optimal to enjoy a week break and recharge before the UOW Spring session). When you are not studying or at one of Beihang University’s organised events, students were free to explore Beijing and beyond if you planned your days right. The metro and corresponding app made covering Beijing a breeze (especially if you had the travel card) with trains came every five minutes.
Top sights to see/try within Beijing include:
- Gardens/parks – Temple of Heaven, Olympic Park, Jingshan Park, Zhongshan Park, Beihai Park: tranquil and offering good views of the surrounding city
- Markets – Pearl Market, Silk Market, Nanlouguxiang: hagglers-delight with a variety of stalls and products
- Forbidden City: big, set aside a day for this
- Tiananmen Square and surrounding buildings
- Art District: Nightlife – Wudaokou, Vics, Mix: If you go out to the clubs with a group under a promoter (especially foreigners; better on Fridays and Saturdays) a table and free drinks are provided.
All these places are better to go to with friends, especially ISS students from other countries!
Interstate railway lines were relatively easy to use (best with a Mandarin-speaker) and offered efficient travel for weekend getaways via bullet and sleeper trains – hard and soft overnight sleepers are both great options but DO NOT try a seated overnight train (terrible night’s sleep); should book tickets a minimum of a week in advance and must be picked up before departure. Datong, Tianjin, Xi’an and Shanghai were popular getaway destinations that offered more sights and slightly different (either more traditional or modern) cultural experiences. Here are some of the popular sights:
- Datong – Yungang Grottoes, Hanging Temple
- Tianjin – Tianjin Eye, Italian-style Town, Ancient Culture Street, Huangya Pass
- Xi’an – Terracotta Warriors, City Wall, Small Goose Pagoda
- Shanghai – Oriental Pearl Tower, Bund, Disney Resort, Shanghai Tower.
Food is another big part of Chinese and Asian culture which formed another memorable part of the journey. Again going out and trying new foods is a lot easier and entertaining with Mandarin- speakers – our UOW group tried some spicy food with a bunch of Malaysians. There are supermarkets near the Beihang Training Centre which we frequented but eating out is cheap in China so future students should look to do so as well as another form of cultural experience. Make sure to try hot pots (Haidilao was the best – food- and service-wise), Peking Duck, Stinky Tofu and whatever else takes your fancy but beware Asian spice is a fair bit hotter than what we Australians are used to!
- Carry a 1.5L water bottle with you everywhere (especially for the Chinese summer) as clean drinking water is not available from taps; boil or buy your water.
- Have multiple VPNs installed on all your devices before leaving Australia; paid and free VPNs both struggled at times in China so you will find yourself alternating between the ones you have.
- WeChat is the best messenger and translator app.
- Sim cards are available cheap from the China Mobile store opposite the Training Centre and basketball courts.
- Meet as many international students as you can.
- Be diligent in class and you should not have to do much extra work outside class, aka more time to explore!
- The NCP grant ($2700 AUD) sustained our student that went for four weeks so do not be afraid to make the most of the trip and spend a bit.
The Beihang ISS trip is a once in a lifetime opportunity! With the funding from the Australian Government’s NCP and the support Beihang University provides with accommodation, food and planned events there is no reason not to apply for this trip if you are eligible. The multicultural accommodation is the ideal place for cultural and knowledge exchanges whilst making new international friends. Between study there is so much potential to explore due to the railway infrastructure, so soak up as much of China as you can – in and out of Beijing!
The 2019 UOW group would like to pay special thanks to the Australian Government NCP, UOW and Beihang University for making this trip possible.