When thinking about the BUiLD abroad programme I just completed, I now realise that there are a lot of things I have to reflect upon. A few key memories come to mind at first, from visiting Hangzhou a city nicknamed the city of heaven to sitting around the largest lazy Susan I’ve ever seen with so many new faces. This programme has definitely been one of the most rewarding experiences I’ve ever taken part in. I will never forget my time at Shanghai University’s SILC Summer School.
The first day started out a little rocky; I remember feeling anxious to meet the people I will be spending the next three weeks with and I wasn’t disappointed! Everyone on the trip was kind and interesting, but most importantly, eager to make new friends and explore new experiences, just as I was. We all quickly became acquainted and by the end of the first day, we felt as though we had been friends for a while. We celebrated the end of our first day of class by going to Japanese BBQ where we quickly warmed up to each other over a few (many) bottles of sake!
The classes were interesting and engaging and covered a wide range of topics like Chinese economic policy to Chinese logistics and entrepreneurship. Alongside these practical classes, we had Mandarin language classes which enabled us to meaningfully interact with the cultural setting. I found myself amazed that after only a few lessons I was confidently navigating my way around Shanghai and ordering food and drinks without hesitation.
At the university, we were grouped with local students who acted as our buddies throughout the programme, some of whom we became quite close to by the end of it, forming meaningful friendships that we still maintain even today now that we’re back in Sydney. They joined us on planned events and outings and came with us when we wanted to explore the city. They proved invaluable as guides and as friends.
The academic staff at the university were kind and welcoming to all of us, and over the course of the trip, their official roles became more like the roles of mentors and more maternal. Emma and Fei Fei were the two mentors we had the most contact and interaction with, and I will admit it was hard to say goodbye to them after everything that they had done for us.
The activities we participated in helped to shape my new and informed view of China as a whole. Before this trip, I can now confidently say that my view of China was very superficial. I had been to Hong Kong before with family but that in no way prepared me for an authentic experience of Chinese culture and Chinese people. There was an element of culture shock which I’m sure many of us experienced upon arriving in China. To put it simply, in China… anything goes!
The people we interacted with live a very carefree life, there are many times we would come across whole masses of people dancing in public all seamlessly in time to each other. On street corners, people sat and engaged in many leisure activities. Life looks simple but it looks good, with an emphasis on the small things and not at all caught up in the fast-paced constantly on the go cultural phenomena we’re used to in Sydney.
In the third week of the programme, we had a change of scenery as we ended our classes and headed to Beijing for a week of Chinese cultural immersion. We visited historic sites such as Tiananmen Square, the forbidden city, the great wall, as well as local Hutong communities. Our trip to Beijing is one that I will never forget as it provided us with an insight into a different aspect of life in China. Shanghai and Beijing are polar opposites in terms of international cultural influence, with Shanghai being a global city with many cultures being represented and Beijing being a more traditional Chinese city. The differences between the two are immeasurable but both provided a unique experience for us as cultural observers.
Reflecting upon this experience I can say that I have come out of it a changed person. Interacting with people on the programme from Australia and the UK and USA helped develop my interpersonal skills while engaging with the foreign landscape and culture helped me refine and develop my cross-cultural communication skills and helped me broaden my sense of global citizenship. Skills that I believe I will be able to utilise and demonstrate throughout my life.