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This is a guest blog by Amir Khan, BSc (Hons) Computer Networks.

Group picture outside Chinese pagoda

In July 2019, I was sponsored to attend an ICT summer school in Xi’an, China, alongside four other students from Bournemouth University. We were summer school students of Xidian University for 10 days accompanied by 77 other students from 23 countries. Xidian Unversity is ranked 1st for Electronic Science and Technology nationwide and 5th for Computer Science and Technology. They’ve established cooperative relationships with 134 universities and institutions in 29 countries and regions, however the five of us from Bournemouth University were the only students from the UK.

When we arrived, we were all individually partnered up with an English-speaking Chinese student from Xidian University. We then received our schedule for the next 10 days. Each day consisted of about 8-10 hours of summer school activity, then the evenings as free time.

We received three highly-detailed technological lectures from world-class professors, which were: large space deployable antenna design; technological change leads to the future; and smart sensors for environmental applications. We also received a cultural lecture about the Chinese Dream in the Tang Dynasty. Another aspect of this summer school was to travel and go on cultural trips around Xi’an, to learn more about the Chinese history. We went on a total of nine cultural trips, including visiting the Terracotta Warriors.

When applying to be selected for this opportunity, it was daunting at first. I didn’t know anyone else who had applied, and only met the four other students in China, or just before the flight. However, it was an opportunity that seemed too good to be missed and I would have regretted not applying. I took the application process seriously, giving myself the best chance to be selected and, to beyond my belief, I was. It was an opportunity presented to me from Bournemouth University: to travel across the world, meet people I never would have met otherwise and to learn valuable information from a top-class university which has already benefited me significantly.

The experience as a whole was incredible, and I’ve met some lifelong friends from all over the world now. Being able to study in another university, even for just 10 days was an amazing opportunity to expand my knowledge and perspective. The food was amazing, the people were truly kind and it’s an experience that I will never forget. I thoroughly enjoyed being able to connect with all the people that I met there, the Chinese and foreign students.

Although the trip was unforgettable, challenges were faced. The most difficult challenge, of course, was the language barrier. Xi’an is a city with deep history and is a popular tourist destination for those living further afield in China. This therefore means that the majority of locals I came into contact with spoke zero English and we were the only foreigners around. We had to look at different forms of communication from body language to translators. It really was an eye-opening experience not being able to verbally communicate with almost anyone and was definitely stressful at times. For example, I extended my trip and travelled alone to Beijing, and even there English was sparse. Nevertheless, there were ways around this obstacle definitely with the assistance of modern technology.

This summer school served many purposes. For Xidian University, it was a chance to create relationships with global universities. Their aim was to attract as many foreign students to study at Xidian University as possible, as a way to show the rest of the world their good relations with other countries and universities. This may be due to the perspective that China is secluded to the rest of the world with the “Great Firewall of China” being an example. It was also a chance for them to show us students that they’re developing quickly, for us to relay this information back to our universities. Xi’an is a quickly developing city with a fast growing infrastructure for IoT technologies. For foreign students, it was a chance to visit China, learn about their deep history and also receive lectures from world-class professors. For the local Chinese students, it was a chance to meet foreigners, some for the first time in their lives, and also learn from the lectures that we all had.

I took a lot away from this trip, including refining skills such as soldering, when building radios, and presenting, as I hosted the ending ceremony to all students, staff and professors. I built many friendships and contacts for the future. I gained a lot of knowledge and was provided a valuable insight into another culture. Most importantly, it opened my eyes to the technological infrastructure of China. This has already helped my future employment and will positively impact my studies.

To any students who are considering applying to a summer school, I completely recommend it as it will be turn into an extremely valuable experience that you will remember forever.

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