The world is smaller than it used to be, thanks to cheaper international travel, but China still seems mysterious and even a bit scary. So, when the chance to visit Harbin University came up last year I was in two minds about applying. However, encouraged by friends, I applied and luckily was accepted. It was fantastic – and not as daunting as I’d expected.
The summer school was a four-week Process Control and Dynamics course at Harbin Engineering University, north east China. With six friends from my course, we decided to extend our trip to see other parts of China and Asia. We started off in Xian with a trip to see the Terracotta Army and our first pagoda; a short flight took us to Shanghai where we spent a few days exploring the city and adjusting to the heat and local cuisine.
After our stint as tourists, we arrived in Harbin and the very large university campus – all of the buildings were very similar, multi-storey, concrete blocks – a bit of a change from King’s Buildings. Most students live on the expansive campus with multiple shops, cafeterias and restaurants. The first two weeks were based on language and cultural classes: reading, pronouncing and writing Mandarin was great fun, if challenging. In the calligraphy class, we attempted some symbols with paintbrushes and ink. Next up, was some music lessons on traditional instruments: the Hulusi, a bit like a whistle and the Guzheng, a stringed instrument – I was definitely better at the calligraphy.
It wasn’t all fun and games and, in the second fortnight, we focussed on three experiments. In the first, we programmed a smart car, finishing with the inevitable race. The second looked at a Siemens PLC and, after the theory, we experimented with automatic control. Finally, the course ended with programming a Rockwell system to operate lights from a touch screen.
The university kindly organised trips: the central shopping area, the river, parks, and a tiger park. They also set up a day with a Chinese family. That was amazing – being shown round the city by a local family. They took me to a new modern theatre, the beach and, in the evening, we went to a friend’s house and the grandparents showed me how to make dumplings – which were delicious. It was tricky trying to understand all of the cultural ‘rules’ but they were very kind and welcoming.
Our trip was far from over – after finishing at the university, an overnight train took us to Beijing where we visited the Forbidden City, the Bird’s Nest stadium and took a day trip to the Great Wall – that was great! After Beijing, we headed to Hong Kong, Kuala Lumpar and Singapore to complete our trip. As you can tell, I thoroughly enjoyed my trip to China and beyond. The funding from Santander was a fantastic help and I am very grateful to the university for making this available to students.