In July 2019, I attended the INCiTE Summer School in Suzhou, China. Prior to the trip, I took part in an online Intercultural Competence and Entrepreneurship course. I then spent two weeks in Suzhou learning about design thinking, social innovation and entrepreneurship in the face of global sustainability issues. I worked alongside students from other universities in Australia, China, Singapore and the Netherlands to formulate and pitch a solution to academics, local and higher-level corporate and community leaders. I was allocated the global social challenge of food security, within which my team decided to specialise on tackling the issue of food waste.
By attending the Summer School, I was able to more deeply explore higher-tier business and governmental policy approaches to tackling sustainability problems. It was especially interesting to consider how different political and social contexts present different challenges in implementing sustainability policies. For instance, our team’s strategy to tackling food waste included a political campaign to lobby the Australian government to remove the legal requirement for date labelling on fresh produce. We discussed at length how our political approach, though suitable for the Australian context, would have to be adapted for use in other political climates such as China. Given that my political education thus far has been Western liberal democratic-centric, it was refreshing to learn about different political cultures from the first-hand experience of Chinese students.
I applied for this summer school because I am interested in intercultural competence and social innovation, particularly in sustainability. In February 2019, I travelled across Gujarat and Maharashtra (India) with the University of Edinburgh following the cotton supply chain, from farmers and artisans to high-fashion houses. We explored the threat that cotton poses to water, land, cultural and economic sustainability. I am interested in radio and documentary-making, and I am currently working on a podcast series featuring footage from India. Thus far, I have considered these issues from an in-depth, local perspective. By focussing on my preferred social challenge in the summer school, I hoped to explore textile sustainability on an international scale, to assess what has been and what can feasibly be done. I also hoped to explore the issue of water sustainability in the Suzhou/Chinese textile industry, as well as Chinese business practices more broadly.
Unfortunately, I was not allocated my first preference challenge, and so the opportunities to research and record footage for my podcast were more limited than I had anticipated. Furthermore, the language barrier often proved difficult to overcome when sourcing my own interview opportunities. However, I was able to work with many students from the other schools to collect footage in my free time. I am incredibly grateful to the friends that I made (especially the Mandarin-speaking ones!) who helped me to organise interviews, translate discussions, and make the most of my time in Suzhou. The most valuable lessons I learned were certainly in the intercultural and interdisciplinary exchanges I shared with my fellow international students.