20 September 2012
Tomasz Kocjan, a BSc student at the Bartlett School of Planning who won a place on the Study China scheme, has now returned from China.
Tomasz says: "If I had to stick to only one expression to define the Study China scheme which I was privileged to participate in, I would clearly define it as a once in a lifetime experience, and one I will never forget.
After having completed a long three week journey from Europe to China with the Trans-Siberian railway, thankfully the jet lag and culture shock were not issues anymore, allowing me to fully enjoy the programme from its earliest moments.
Yet there was one significant challenge remaining which each of us encountered during this programme – to get the most out of the tightly packed, highly interesting schedule, whilst at the same time finding enough time to explore Shanghai with its surroundings and also to socialize with all our newly met friends!
However, from beginning to end, everyone – including the Study China and the East China Normal University staff, as well as the Chinese student volunteers – made tremendous efforts to make the whole experience as enjoyable and rewarding as we could ever imagine, helping us to overcome any obstacles we faced during our time in Shanghai.
Mandarin Chinese language classes formed the basis of the entire scheme, allowing us to learn how to speak basic Chinese quicker than anyone would think. Arriving in China, I could barely say anything more than a simple “ni hao!” (hello), not to mention my numerous failures to order the food I liked in the restaurants. Now, after completing the programme, not only are my restaurant trips no longer a challenge, but I am also able to have a nice basic conversation with my newly met Chinese friends and almost anyone on the street – something which was almost unimaginable three weeks before!
In addition to that, the course in the Political Development of Modern China provided me with a quick yet comprehensive and interesting immersion in recent Chinese history with a strong political context, allowing me to better understand the current domestic and international challenges China has to face nowadays.
The cultural activities, such as martial arts and calligraphy classes, family visits, acrobat shows or weekend trips to the ancient water town or Xi Tang – all these formed a great part of the Study China scheme, allowing us to experience some of the most fascinating aspects of Chinese culture, society and heritage. I will definitely not forget our class struggling hard to perform the sequence of Shaolin Kung Fu movements or holding our breath during the insane acrobatic performances!
Talking about Shanghai itself – it is virtually impossible to describe its size, splendour and diversity, as well as the range of cultural and entertainment opportunities in this massive metropolis within one short paragraph. The amount of things to do is probably as high as the number of skyscrapers dominating the skyline of Pudong district. Following its colonial legacy, Shanghai remains the city where the East truly meets the West, with multiple cultural and historical influences finding their reflections in the enchanting, rich cityscape. And the pace of Shanghai's development could possibly only be compared to the speeds reached by the world's fastest commercially operating train service – the Shanghai Maglev. Apparently it seems that Shanghai has enough room to accommodate everything – everything but boredom.
If I had to give a word of advice for anyone from UCL thinking about applying for the Study China scheme, I would simply say – do not hesitate for a moment, just go for it! Even if you do not think that China is at the top of the list of countries you would like to experience in the near future, after completing the Study China scheme you will probably be surprised how much you want to stay for more in "The Middle Country", just as I do now!
And finally one short tip for Bartlett School of Planning students – do not miss Shanghai's Urban Planning Exhibition Hall and allow plenty of time for this magnificent place!"