Student guest post: Exchange in Beijing

Student Ambassador and Master of Engineering (Biomedical) student Naomi Sutanto reflects on her exchange trip to Beijing. During her trip, Naomi took part in the Globex Summer Semester, a one-month exchange program at Peking University.

With exams and the winter break coming up soon, I recall that this time last year I was fussing over getting ready for exchange. The Globex summer semester, or Julmester as it is now called, is a one-month exchange program to Peking University in Beijing, China. Students and lecturers from all around the world get together to participate in this ground-breaking engineering program held during the University of Melbourne’s winter break.

I was privileged to be in the first batch of students from our university to go in 2014. My family had migrated from China to Indonesia 3 or 4 generations back, so needless to say I was delighted to finally set foot on Chinese soil and thankful for the opportunity. This was my first time travelling alone and not knowing anyone at the airport on the other side, so surviving and even thriving at the end was an empowering experience on so many different levels.

Starting with the 3-day Beijing tour, our physical abilities were put to the test. Coming at a very hot time, being surrounded by smog, and not being able to communicate in Mandarin proved to be quite taxing, though somewhat comedic. (Read: pack lots of water bottles or be prepared to pay for water in the tourist areas, wear a mask, and download some translating or dictionary apps like Pleco).

Naomi visits the Great Wall of China
Naomi visits the Great Wall of China

The Globex program was challenging from the start. On a normal weekday, evenings were pretty much filled with study, because 6 intense hours of lectures is a lot to take in every day. There were also assignments every week, so keeping up was crucial. Working in groups for projects and presentations was also slightly challenging due to all the different cultural and engineering backgrounds in the group, but it was extremely rewarding in the end. When working with my Australian National University and Yokohama University colleagues for our Finite Element Modelling project, I felt like a true engineer. It was a proud moment!

Naomi's Biomaterials class
Naomi’s Biomaterials class

Weekends were a slightly different story. We tried exploring different areas of Beijing, ate greasy mouth-watering Peking Duck more than once, and even went to a Chinese Opera where we had trouble keeping up with the English subtitles of the storyline, but it was a wonder to behold.

Even now, nearly one year later, I often think about this exchange experience packed with fond memories. I met so many inspiring and hard-working students, experienced the culture I might have been part of had my ancestors been averse to sea-travel, and even managed to brush up on my Mandarin enough to hold a conversation with the taxi driver, expressing my perplexity as to why my maternal grandfather, who taught his children Dutch, English and German, somehow never learnt Mandarin.

Fellow students get ready for a rickshaw ride
Fellow students get ready for a rickshaw ride

Speaking of Europe, I arrived back in Melbourne with feet itching for another adventure. Thankfully it was time for my Dutch exchange trip, but that’s a story for another time.

Find out more about study abroad and exchange opportunities for Engineering and IT students here.