During the winter study break I took a three-week Build program to study at the Sun Yat-Sen University in Guangzhou, China. Here, I took Mandarin classes as well as Chinese Politics and Culture classes at one of the region’s most respected universities. Going into the program, I had some expectations about what a Chinese university would be like. This was basically formed from my experiences with Chinese students in my high school and university classes, media representations of Chinese institutions and teaching style (aka. “Tiger Mum”), as well as my own experiences travelling in China.
Whilst some of my expectations were confirmed, many were proven inaccurate.
I was pleasantly surprised to hear our lecturers asking us to voice any questions or critiques we may have about what we were learning, or about Chinese business and politics in general, during our classroom discussions. I had expected the learning to be very rigid with little room for questioning or critique due to the Chinese Communist Party’s tight censorship regulations. But we were encouraged to voice our criticisms and listen to any counter-arguments, in order to foster deeper awareness and create a balanced, informed opinion on topical matters. I really respected the institution for having this approach, which reflects the region’s close ties with democratic Hong Kong and its history of foreign engagement.
The trip was also an opportunity to develop Mandarin language skills. I was really interested to learn some phrases and apply them in real life, and although most of Guangzhou’s residents are Cantonese speakers, my basic Mandarin got me through three weeks! I found the people I interacted with were very welcoming and friendly, and they appreciated any attempts I made to communicate in Mandarin (however bad!). That said, the universal language of hand gestures and a smile went a long way too- Mandarin is a difficult language to master!
All up, my Build program experience was a memorable one. I made great friends from China and all over the world, I learnt new language skills that I can apply in real life, and I gained a deeper appreciation and understanding of a country I had visited several times before, but only ever got a superficial encounter with. As a Global Studies student looking to work in the international sphere, this has been a really valuable experience and has inspired me to consider employment opportunities in China.