Re-visiting China

International campus of ZJU in HainingIt’s the first week of semester 1 of our new Biomedical Sciences degree programme, and the first cohort of students have been through their first few lectures and tutorials. They are wonderful young people, bright, optimistic, maybe a bit anxious, but nonetheless ready to throw themselves into this new adventure. These days, I think a lot of what it was like for me when I was in my first year of undergraduate. And about what I was like.

I think I was a bit like them. Anxious, yet ready for adventure. Case in point: One day, my friend told me about the Austrian-Chinese Summer School for Scientists and Economists, and I immediately decided to apply. The school involved a five-week trip to China and came with a full scholarship. Of course, the application process was accordingly competitive, and they were probably looking for participants with a bit more experience, but I thought I’d give it a try anyway. Because why not? As I was putting together my application, I actually caught my then-boyfriend laughing out loud at one point. “What’s so funny?” I asked. He replied “I am laughing because you actually think you have a chance at getting this, don’t you?” I should add that this was not meant as a put-down – there was not an ounce of malice in this man. He just found it genuinely funny.

Well, yes, I did think I had a chance. Maybe not a big one, but certainly one bigger than zero, which is the chance you have if you don’t apply at all. Such was my thinking as a first-year undergrad. Worried about everything, yet strangely optimistic. Insecure, yet invincible. And certainly ready to take on the world.

The phone call came a few weeks later. “You have been accepted to the programme.” I remember actually jumping up and down in the living room with excitement and joy. And so, that summer I was off to Beijing and Shanghai, with students from other universities across Austria. The course was basically intended to equip us with the basic knowledge and intercultural skills we would need if we ever wanted to do business in or with China. Lectures on Chinese economy, history, and culture, visits to companies, and of course a fair bit of sightseeing. It was fantastic. It was still early days in my studies, so I wasn’t sure whether I would ever be able to use the specific skills I gained there, but as an all-round educational experience, it was invaluable.

I looked around online and am happy to report that the summer school still exists, now under the name of China Know-How Summer School. If you are a student at an Austrian University, please apply! I have only good things to say about the experience. I would post some pictures, but I don’t have them with me.

Why not, you ask? Because I am actually … in China at the moment. 16 years after first visiting China as a bright, hopeful, scared undergraduate, I am now back in China teaching bright, hopeful, scared undergraduates. They are studying Biomedical Sciences at the Zhejiang University/University of Edinburgh Institute. My role as an adjunct professor in the programme means I now divide my time between Edinburgh and Haining, and I could not be more excited. This feels like coming full circle, but at the same time like the start of a great new adventure.


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