A Month in China – Max Van Wyk de Vries

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During my summer break I wanted to do something a little different and widen my horizons beyond Europe. I have studied a little Mandarin Chinese in Edinburgh, and wanted to test my language skills and better understand the Chinese culture. Thus the opportunity to attend a summer programme at one of China’s best universities as well as an international conference was a perfect combination. My course mostly took place in Shanghai, a very busy modern city. I took the photo below looking across a river towards the business district at night.

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I was mostly worried about the culture shock and how well my Chinese language would cope. China is obviously very different to the UK in many ways and people are often quite shy and reserved. Nonetheless people are very friendly and willing to help, even though I was obviously not a native speaker. I had some great conversations with people who were very surprised a foreigner wanted to learn Chinese. For instance the man here (Liu Zhang) has been travelling around different Chinese provinces learning traditional painting techniques for the last 30 years.

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I was able to improve both my confidence in speaking and my understanding of Chinese culture, while a lot of it seems very strange from a western perspective it actually shares many similarities with our way of life. By attending an international conference on Volcanoes (did you know China had active volcanoes?) I was able to present some of my research and meet up with specialists from China and the rest of the world. The conference was not only very academically engaging, but was also a lot of fun; everyone was very friendly and the atmosphere was relaxed. Overall I feel that I now better understand China, but also the way things work in Europe as I have more external points of reference to compare it to. China’s rapid development has left modern buildings alongside traditional areas; 10 minutes’ walk from Shanghai tower (the world’s second tallest building) you can find small side streets with old houses. All in all there was never a dull moment in my summer, and I am very grateful to the principal’s go abroad fund for helping me spend it this way!

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Traditional water streets in Suzhou city near Shanghai

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View from a less touristy section of the great wall, visited on my way to the conference in Changchun, North China

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