Shanghai Surprise – Lucy Cavendish students and fellows inspired by summer school experience

by Jeanette Ariano, Marketing Manager on 3 December 2014

Students on the SUFEShanghai is one of China’s biggest and most vibrant cities, described by Lonely Planet as a funky blend of art-deco architecture, bullet-fast Maglevs, skyrocketing buildings and charming 19th century lǐlòng (alleys).

Earlier this year, students and fellows from Lucy Cavendish gained a fascinating insight into Shanghai life as participants in a summer school at the Shanghai University of Finance and Economics (SUFE).

SUFE provided a limited number of free places for Cambridge University students and Lucy Cavendish College invited interested students to apply for funding to assist with their travel costs. One of the students who received a travel grant, Dana Usher, reflects on her ‘eye-opening’ Shanghai experience here …

“This summer I was lucky to receive a travel grant from Lucy Cavendish College, which enabled me to afford flights to Shanghai. Spread over three weeks, the programme included classes on Chinese culture and history, an introduction to the Chinese economy and even some basic Mandarin.

Most lecturers were Chinese but there was an American lecturer who exposed us to the fascinating world of real estate, especially the unique nature of developing areas in Shanghai. Overall, the programme was eye-opening and introduced me to a whole new world. It made me want to find out more about Chinese culture and also proved to me that learning Chinese is possible.

During the first weekend we travelled to an ancient water town and visited a market and temple in Shanghai. In the afternoons we had free time to explore the city on our own. Shanghai is a huge city and contains extremely modern areas and skyscrapers, as well as highly dense poverty neighbourhoods.  

I particularly enjoyed the cartoons in the Shanghai Propaganda Museum. Mainly from the 1950s, the cartoons concerned China's approach towards the West and the Soviet Union. We also enjoyed some delicious food, although it was quite challenging to get anything vegetarian!

The most unique aspect of the programme was the chance to meet and personally get to know Chinese students. The opportunity to talk students whose daily life is so similar to mine, yet so different on the other side of the world, made the whole experience much more meaningful.

During the last week we completed a project in which we had to work in groups including Chinese and Cambridge students. It was interesting to see how differently everyone approached the task we had in our group. I am glad we overcame some gaps and managed to give a decent presentation.

Attending the Summer School was also a great opportunity to meet other students from Cambridge, from a variety of colleges, studying different degrees. I felt fortunate to be part of a diverse group of people, of many different nationalities and religions.

I am deeply thankful for the unique experience I had in Shanghai this summer and I look forward to meeting some of the Chinese students in the near future and of course, for the reunion with the rest of the Cambridge group.”

The SUFE summer school also provided exciting opportunities for academics to share their expertise internationally. Two Lucy Cavendish fellows, Dr Susanne Hakenbeck and Dr Claire Fenton-Glynn were invited to lead aspects of the three-week long programme.

Dr Susanne Hakenbeck, University Lecturer in Historical Archeology taught a module on the relationship between China and the Western world. She reflects that:

“SUFE currently have plans to introduce a Liberal Arts curriculum, so they were very happy for a summer school to prepare the ground. I taught a module that began with links between the Roman and Han empires and ended with archaeological evidence for Chinese immigrants to the US in the 19th century.

The teaching timetable was quite intense (16 hours in four days), so I mixed it up with seminars and practical classes. I very much enjoyed interacting with the SUFE students. They were bright and motivated and I learnt a lot about student life in China from our seminar discussions.

Highlights from the visit include the enthusiasm that followed the general bemusement when I told students to smash up ceramic bowls and glue the fragments back together again. My students invited me to a meal on the last day, which was also wonderful. They were very kind hosts. I really spent a lovely four days at SUFE.”

Dr Claire Fenton-Glynn explains how the experience of teaching Law to Chinese students was particularly rewarding:

“I taught a class on the English legal system, which covered everything from constitutional law, to criminal law, contract law, family law and human rights law. I also discussed the role European law and international law within England.

I had a great class with about 10 students, all of whom really engaged well with the new legal ideas, and we had some fantastic discussions. The final assessment took the form of a presentation on a topic chosen by the individual student and the quality of the presentations was first class.

The highlight of my trip was the students themselves – particularly how enthusiastic they were to explore new areas of study and legal or moral questions they had never before thought about. While the students were of varying levels of English, every single one was keen to participate in the discussions.

I would highly recommend this experience to other fellows in the future.”

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Agata Kurczynska

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