Sitting on a slow train from Luoyang to Xi’an may not seem like the most obvious place to write about Peking University, some 1,200 km from where I am now. It does, however, speak to the incredible opportunity that studying in China brings to travel this vast and varied country. While the high speed train would have quartered my travel time, the slow train was a chance to experience something a bit more local. As for the two cities I’m traveling between, Luoyang and Xi’an were both ancient capitals of China, major stops on the silk road, and important destinations to broaden my understanding of this country. And in the grand scheme of things, I’m still not that far from Beijing.
The Guanghua School of Management has done it’s share of helping expose us to China, mostly through school sponsored trips and events. Guanghua offers exchange students the chance to sign up for cultural trips for a very reasonable price, although spaces are limited so one needs to act fast. I joined a trip to the Great Wall, listened to traditional music at a tea house, and went to the neighboring city of Tianjin which included a company visit to a family owned bakery. Sadly, I was unable to go on a five day trip to Chengdu at the beginning of term, but have heard several times what a great time it was. The trips not only provided insights into Chinese culture but also provided valuable opportunities to socialize and network with fellow exchange students outside of class.
There was also a company trip to Beijing’s Hyundai factory, where we got to tour the production line and enjoy a presentation about the innovations Hyundai is currently developing. Sadly, I couldn’t attend the second company visit, which was to Percent Information Technology, focusing on the effect of new information technology on China’s economy.
Unfortunately, despite the numerous clubs available at Peking University, the Chinese school calendar means that few of them make sense to join. The Chinese term technically runs until Chinese New Year in January or early February, depending on the year. While the class schedule is such that exchange students should not have any issues finishing by December, there isn’t really much time to embed oneself in a club, especially since clubs only start their activities a few weeks into the term. It’s unfortunate, since this would be a great way of meeting local students.
What Guanghua does do which should, in theory, facilitate meeting local students is assign buddy groups. Specifically, two local students are assigned as buddies to two exchange students, forming a four person buddy group. Sadly, many buddies don’t make contact, and among those who do it isn’t uncommon for contact to drop soon after arrival. I personally encourage putting in the extra effort to both get in touch and stay in touch. My buddies have been among the most valuable contacts I made in China, helping me with Chinese apps, showing me the best places to eat, and even putting me in touch with business contacts for a class assignment.
Life outside the classroom in China has proved to be rich and varied, and studying at Peking University has played no small part in facilitating that. For me, coming here for exchange was as much about learning more about China as it was about learning business and management, and it is safe to say that I have achieved my objectives on both fronts. It’s strange to think that, in January, I’ll be back in London instead of eating shaokao with friends, dodging scooters while cycling to class, and riding slow trains to ancient cities. What I do know is that my understanding of Chinese business and culture have been greatly expanded, and that the people I’ve met here are not only important contacts but also new friends.