Summer school, Yantai style
The students and staff of the Africa, China and Europe (ACE) Intensive Programme in Development Studies summer school are still emerging from their jet lag after two weeks spent in China. The programme focused on development in the rural Chinese province of Henan, but the group also spent time in Yantai, the city where the RUG hopes to start a branch campus.
Sandra Knoop, a 23-year-old from Groningen studying Environmental and Infrastructure Planning who took part, says in an email correspondence with the UK that while Yantai is a beautiful city, her time in China left her with some questions about the RUG’s plans.
UK: What was your first impression?
Sandra Knoop: This was the first time I’ve been to China, and I had many impressions: there are many differences with Europe. China is a very diverse country, but in many aspects – like certain ideas and general views about gender equality – you can see that it’s still a country in transition and not a developed country.
UK: What are the aspects of development that are unique to China, or how does China address them differently?
Knoop: China really lives in ‘today’ and doesn’t think much about the future. Many new buildings are being built, but in a city like Beijing, you can see hundreds of buildings that are not being maintained. They may look good for about 30 years, but what about after that? Is Yantai going to face the same problems? They are investing a lot in promotion of their city planning, though. At the Centre of City Planning, there was even a whole floor where the entire city of Yantai was created on a small scale with lights, sounds, traffic and a promotion video.
UK: Were there any topics that were handled differently than you are accustomed to?
Knoop: On many topics, only the bright side was highlighted, like the amazing architecture, the beautiful buildings and the great facilities at the campus. It was like this was the only thing they cared about, like they weren’t thinking any further. Take climate change, for example: if you have a city like Yantai with so many new opportunities and new buildings, I think it’s very important to take things like that into account, not just beauty or modernity.
On many topics, only the bright side was highlighted
UK: Was the location of the course integrated into the curriculum?
Knoop: Well actually, we knew we’d go there with the university campus as the ‘main reason’, but that was all. We didn’t get information about why is it in the interest of the RUG to start a campus in Yantai, and we didn’t hear anything about the city of Yantai itself. Yantai is a beautiful city, I think, but the only focus was the university campus and the plans. It was very one-sided.
UK: How was the infrastructure?
Knoop: Infrastructure was good, I think, although the city centre of Yantai was like 40 minutes by taxi. The campus was also closed because it’s summer time, so maybe during the semesters, the city centre is better accessible. And we only were there for like two days and did everything with our ‘own’ bus.
UK: Was everything conducted in English, or were there translators?
Knoop: Most of it was conducted in English, but I have to say that the level of English really wasn’t good. If the RUG wants to invest in this campus, this level [of English] really needs to be upgraded. International students wouldn’t be able to understand lectures or professors if the level of English stays like this. Sometimes translators were used for those who couldn’t speak English properly.
UK: What was internet access like?
Knoop: China has blocked everything from Google including Gmail and YouTube, and Facebook wasn’t accessible. If you downloaded a VPN, you had access to this, but it works slower. I did have some difficulties with this ‘system’ because when I tried to find academic articles online, many sites were blocked.
UK: As the first students there, did you feel like it was a valuable programme, or did it feel like a sales pitch at times?
Knoop: It really did feel like a sales pitch. It wasn’t about the level of education, the courses you could follow there or the opportunities that could arise from going to Yantai. I think a lot has to change to the mindset of the Chinese people who have much to do to the campus to make it interesting on an international level.
I think it’s very interesting for the RUG to open a campus in China, but a lot has to change
UK: Having spent some time studying at the campus, what do you think of the RUG’s plans?
Knoop: I think it’s very interesting for the RUG to open a campus in China, but a lot has to change. The mindset is completely different: they see your study time as the time you’re only studying, but in Europe, it’s very important to do many activities besides your studies, like joining associations, making trips or doing some activities besides your studies to broaden your view. Yantai has to be a place that adds something to not only your knowledge, but also to your life experience. On the other hand, the facilities they promised us did really look very nice, modern and ‘Western’. This may attract some people, but your studies aren’t only about the beauty of the campus: it’s more.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.