In the warm spring days from April 6 to April 15, 2019, six students from Queen Mary University of London (QMUL) visited Queen Mary University of London Engineering School, Northwestern Polytechnical University (QMES) in Xi’an, China. During this period, they participated in various activities like visiting NPU history museum, treasure hunting on campus, appreciating Peking Opera class, making Chinese knots, etc., and developed an understanding of QMES in NPU and experienced the charm of Chinese culture. The student ambassadors studied with QMES students, and got familiar with them just like close friends, helping each other and making progress together.
Visiting NPU History Museum
The ambassadors’ wonderful journey started from visiting NPU History Museum. In the afternoon of April 8, 2019, five volunteers showed the sand table model of NPU Chang’an campus first and introduced the important iconic buildings to them. The professional English guide of the museum together with the volunteers gave the ambassadors a detailed introduction and explanation about the development history of NPU, achievements and talent cultivation of NPU, and "the spirit of the university". In particular, they were greatly impressed by the contributions that NPU made to China’s aeronautics, astronautics and marine industries.
Appreciating Peking Opera
Peking Opera class is a distinctive elective module open to QMES students, aiming to provide students a channel to learn and appreciate traditional Chinese culture and build their cultural confidence. Upon hearing that there would be a chance to get involved in the Peking Opera class, all the exchange students got excited. In the afternoon of April 9, after having the specialized class with the students, the ambassadors enjoyed their Peking Opera class with the interpretation provided by volunteers Zhang Chenyang, Ge Yuchong, Zhang Yuxiang, Liu Taiyufei and Wen Fangyi.
After got an idea of the costumes, the moves and how to sing the Opera, the exchange students were encouraged to try on the costumes. Matteo and Jesus put on the general costumes, holding double-edged sword and broadsword, very impressive. The girls wore the female Peking Opera garment with the cyan cloth and imitated the moves of the teacher to learn the manner of ancient Chinese young lady in Peking Opera. What’s more, Maria and Gabriel, the teachers who were accompanying the ambassadors, could not help trying the costumes on and experienced the Opera too.
Campus Treasure Hunt
In order to deepen the student ambassadors’ understanding of the features of NPU campus, on April 10, "Campus Treasure Hunt" activity was held by QMES volunteers.
Student ambassadors and volunteers were divided into two teams to compete to decide which team will take less time to find landmark buildings on the campus. During the activity, volunteers guided the student ambassadors to visit school gymnasium, library, Hezun Sculpture Group, ARJ21 Airplane, Aircraft Cemetery, etc., and explained the application and history of each place in detail at the same time. The ambassadors carefully studied the military traditional history of NPU and developed an understanding of the style of Chinese architecture. They were also surprised by the contribution of NPU to the development of China's national defense and aviation industry.
Focus Group Discussion
Group discussion of “How Are We Different” is an important way for ambassadors to learn about Chinese culture and students’ lifestyle, and it is also an effective way for Chinese students to communicate with their peers from London. This activity would contribute to the study of the differences between Chinese and English education system too.
Students were randomly divided into six groups. Each group had a student ambassador, leading the discussion. Students exchanged their ideas on the differences of teaching modes and performance evaluation between China and the UK. The discussion was increasingly extended from simple system differences to cultural differences, and to differences between passive learning and initiative learning. They kept looking for strengths from each other to make up for their weak points. Time passed quickly and students like old friends were all reluctant to finish their talk.
Doing Chinese Calligraphy and Making Friendship Knots
In the afternoon of April 11, B&Ridge volunteers invited student ambassadors to appreciate the beauty of calligraphy and Chinese knots. In the beginning, volunteer Xiao Zihan vividly presented the history of Chinese characters. Then Li Kaoqi introduced many famous Chinese calligraphers like Liu Gongquan, Ouyang Xiu, Zhao Mengfu and so on. Their masterpieces had also been shown to the exchange students to let them know the different styles of each calligrapher. After that, Zhang Chenyang showed the way to hold the brush pen and to write some strokes like dot, straight line and vertical line. As soon as the presentation was finished, student ambassadors could not wait to have a try. Though they couldn’t manage to imitate very well, , they practiced a lot with a serious and lovely learning attitude. Finally, Lin Wanran, as the volunteer leader, wrote down the Chinese name of each student ambassador and presented them as gifts.
After a short break, Jin Yiyang showed the process of making Chinese knots, which was a quite hard work itself. With the detailed explanation and one-on-one help from volunteers, the student ambassadors gradually started to finish every step by themselves. Everyone was happy and proud to see the colorful Chinese knots they made in the end.
Making Dumplings Together
Dumplings (Jiao Zi), as one of the important symbols of Chinese culture, represent family reunion. Therefore, how could our volunteers miss the chance to let the student ambassadors experience “family reunion” in China? Thus, the volunteers actively arranged the activity of making dumplings to welcome their peers from alma mater in the UK in the evening of April 11. The ambassadors learned quickly after they saw the volunteers’ demonstration. Making dumplings brought everyone closely together, and they started to make jokes on the shape of dumplings. Happiness and laughter filled in the whole dining hall.
Later on, when the dumplings were cooked, they started to enjoy the food. “Very good food! I love it!” Jesus exclaimed after wolfed down dozens of dumplings. So did the others. Meanwhile, the volunteers taught the student ambassadors to speak some fashionable Chinese dialects like “Lao Tie” which was the same with bro. Everyone burst into laughter time to time.
Visiting Shaanxi History Museum
On April 13, accompanied by the members of Shaanxi History Museum volunteer group from NPU, the student ambassadors visited the national level Shaanxi History Museum which was characterised as the pearl of Xi’an and treasure of China. Although it was a raining day, the student ambassadors were in a high spirit. During the two-hour visit, the students got to know some knowledge about the skeletons and tools from the Stone Age, bronze products and tableware in West-Zhou Dynasty from 3000 years ago, the Terracotta Army in Qin Dynasty from 2200 years ago, the gold and silver crafts in Tang Dynasty from 1300 years ago, and ceramics from different eras.
In addition, the patient interpretation of museum volunteers made it easier for them to get the idea of the backgrounds for these culture relics. All the six student ambassadors felt amazing and admiring for the precious aesthetic value of the collections, and the achievements in the splendid civilization of ancient China. There was no doubt that this visit would become an unforgettable experience for the ambassadors in Xi’an.
After a week of learning and communication, the student ambassadors for alma mater QMUL and QMES students developed a deep friendship. In order to review the life experiences shared by both students, a farewell party was held for the six student ambassadors.
The party was hosted by the volunteer representative Zhou Zeyu. In the opening, Chen Jun, Vice Dean of QMES, expressed that he was satisfied with this ambassadors activity, which not only deepened the understanding of QMUL student ambassadors about QMES, NPU, and Chinese traditional culture, but also allowed QMES students to know more about their alma mater, British students’ life and British culture. In addition, it promoted the friendship between Chinese and British students. Chen Jun hoped that, in the future, these students could help each other, support each other, and cherish their friendship
Then, Maria, as a representative of QMUL teachers, expressed her appreciation as well. She was very pleased to see that the British student ambassadors got very well with QMES students. Moreover, Maria thanked student volunteers at QMES who worked hardly and together to make this programme carried out successfully. British students also expressed their gratitude to the teachers and volunteers for their efforts to make their stay such a wonderful experience and welcomed all the QMES students come back to the alma mater anytime. After that, all at the party enjoyed a video recalling the exchange students’ study and life in the past week. The party came to an end after game interaction, gift exchange and family photo.
Though both the ambassadors and QMES students cannot understand each other’s history and culture fully through this short visit, we firmly believe that they will exchange ideas, learn from each other, and become open to different cultures and differences, once the bridge is built to connect both parties together. Yet, they cannot live close, they will share the same feelings, just as what one poet put it: “Bosom friends afar bring a distant land near”. We sincerely hope that the friendship between both sides lasts forever.
Author: Li Hang, Yu Xinyu, Zhou Zeyu, Zhao Xin, Li Xiaoyao, Cao Chenguang
Hu Yiyao, Li Xuanchen, Long Yuheng, B&Ridge volunteer group
Editor: Li Yangyang, Qi Yue
Reviewer: Chen Jun