I attended a summer school programme at the Nanjing University of Astronautics (NUAA) in Nanjing, China, which through The University of Edinburgh’s links was open to application from Engineering students of all sub disciplines. This consisted of two weeks of language and cultural classes followed by more intensive Engineering product design over the same period. China’s great economic, industrial influence and presence at the forefront of research and development in areas covered in my Chemical Engineering programme, as well as a less defined desire to explore potentially work and travel opportunities greatly attracted me.
My inexperience traveling, particularly independently, produced anxiety as to how I would cope with a potentially very foreign culture for a relatively long period. This was contrasted with my excitement, curiosity, and particularly my resolve to take full advantage of this opportunity in my last year of eligibility. The Principle’s Go Abroad Fund greatly helped to fund this travel, and considering my doubts made the lesser personal costs incurred more justifiable.
As I began to recover from an often bed bound first fortnight plagued by stomach problems, the midpoint weekend trip to Yellow Mountain (Huangshan), that would prove to be the highlight of my time in china approached. Despite our misjudgment in not traveling during the day, and the resultant lack of sleep on the quite literally named “hard seater” overnight train, spirits were highly upon arrival. The ascent proved greatly enjoyable if quite eventful, with an unplanned detour adding around three hours to our arrival at the mountaintop hotel in often torrential but warm rain. Any adversities or exhaustion was more than made up for by the numerous stunning views and group camaraderie as we climbed.
I was struck by the locals who made their living carrying up the mountain supplies to support the burgeoning hotel and tourism industry. These men carried what appeared to be around 50 kg per ascent, with each round trip likely averaging a little over five hours. Ordinarily two of these were completed per day, reportedly earning between £1- £1.5 per delivery, which shockingly seemed feasible as a cable car was available to tourists for £8 per person.
This was greatly contrasted with the following morning’s enjoyment of a luxurious hot spring spa, available in a variety of flavours, claiming medicinal benefits such as liver healing and apparently desirable skin whiting. Although perhaps not immediately apparent, on reflection I believe this experience has proved irreplicable to my awareness and worldview.
I am immensely grateful to have experienced such a distinct but (perhaps unsurprisingly) in many ways similar culture as China first hand. The Chinese people were exceptionally kind and welcoming, often going out of their way to help, particularly the staff and students of NUAA. Other highlights include close friendships formed quickly in this exotic setting and learning of local’s everyday life through both our lessons and general observation. I would highly recommend rewarding travel to students and commend the University’s support.