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DIALOGUE:Students talk after graduation in Nankai University
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Students talk after graduation in Nankai University

By Mike Cormack


INTO China offers students from around the world the opportunity to study in Tianjin's renowned Nankai University. Offering both undergraduate and post-graduate courses, INTO China eases the passage to higher learning abroad. In the future, there will be always be a part of China in their history, and in their heart. Business Tianjin spoke to three students who have recently completed an INTO programme at Nankai to find out how they felt about their time in the university and in Tianjin. Malaka is from Sri Lanka, Ryan is from the United States, and Richard is from the UK.

BT 201508 52 Dialogue Malaka Yattigala

Malaka Yattigala

Where do you come from, and what led you to study in China?
Malaka - I am from Sri Lanka. Having graduated in the UK I was curious to check out the Far East and came across INTO China. Studying is one of the best ways to get to know a new place since you become part of the community and share time, events and feelings with local friends.


Richard - I'm from Durham in the United Kingdom. Before I came to China I worked as the British junior ambassador in Washington D.C., then I headed to The Hague to study international politics. By this point I had graduated and was expecting to continue studying at either Amsterdam or Stockholm. It was by chance that I stumbled across INTO China who offered me the chance to go to China. The way I saw it, China looked far more appealing on a CV and offered far more opportunities than say, the Netherlands or Sweden.


Ryan - I'm from the United States. Before departing to study abroad in Singapore for my undergraduate degree, I was awarded a scholarship to study Mandarin for four weeks in Dalian at Dongbei University. After five months in Singapore, it was China that stuck in my memory most vividly. My desire to return to China got the better of me after only a year out of university, when I joined INTO and Nankai University.

BT 201508 53 Dialogue Richard J Cook

Richard J. Cook

What discipline and course level did you study in Nankai University?
Ryan - I chose to study international relations as geopolitics and history have always been passions of mine. The chance to study political science in a highly censored, rapidly developing nation such as China was an opportunity that was just too appealing to pass up. The wildly different perspective you gain with studying from "€œthe other side"€ is highly valuable both personally and professionally.


Why did you specifically choose Tianjin?
Malaka - I didn't choose Tianjin, it was INTO China which led me here -before that I'd hardly heard of Tianjin.

Richard - The proximity to Beijing and the famed name of Nankai University were both appealing. Many people ask, why not Beijing or Shanghai? But the population and sheer competitiveness of these cities is daunting. Tianjin is still in the process of establishing itself, so it's better to be a part of the new rising centre as you can rise with it.


Did you find the teaching or studying style different here, and if so, in what ways?
Malaka - Yes, it was very different and even though I expected there to be a certain bias I had lectures that were very critical as well. I think the teaching style is similar to the US and I found it challenging to adjust at the beginning. As foreign students we received special treatment through extended study leave and assistance.


Ryan - Surprisingly no. Aside from the 30% plagiarism threshold, everything else was on par with what I would get from a US university. Most of our professors are Western educated so the course structure is familiar.

Can you explain what makes studying abroad with INTO different from doing it by yourself or any other organization?
Malaka - INTO's student services department is exceptional and the staff there are genuinely keen to help. During the first semester I used to call the emergency number several times a day and they were still enthusiastically helpful. INTO China also takes our concerns to the highest authorities at the university since the system here is very different, so INTO's presence is of great assistance - some of the concerns I personally raised saw changes in the next semester, which is very encouraging.


Ryan - INTO removes the bureaucratic and administrative chaos that comes with anything official in China. The standard Chinese practice of running the customer around in circles or claiming that there is no solution to your problem is removed by INTO's role. INTO arranges all visa and administrative aspects to your study.


BT 201508 54 Dialogue Ryan Ashbaugh

Ryan Ashbaugh

What is the campus life like? What groups and social activities are available, and what have you most enjoyed?
Richard - Campus life is very lively and offers many opportunities to get involved. I joined the United Nations Association, having previously worked for similar organisations. I became the first foreign vice-president and was sent across China to many universities to chair youth debates on major international issues. Now, many universities across China and Asia frequently ask me to chair these debates. I'm also honorary president of the association and the first foreigner in China to hold such a position in these organisations.


What places in Tianjin have you liked? Are there any aspects of life in Tianjin you have especially enjoyed?
Ryan - I love the entire area between Wu Da Dao and Yingkoudao. Just the older buildings and all the little cafes and teahouses make that part of the city the coolest. I also enjoy Italian district as the best Thai food in the city is there.


Malaka - I like to travel to Jinghai because one of my best friends lived there, so I met her family and we tried a lot of food and did many activities away from the busy city life. Apart from that, I liked to travel around the city especially Bingjiangdao, the Italian district, and along the Haihe river.

Has your time studying abroad changed you, and if so, in what ways?
Richard - I think that the experiences and the projects I have worked on have given me great experiences. I would say I'm a much more seasoned man. I am still young but my experiences and current responsibilities have really bolstered my employability.


Have you managed to travel further afield in China? If so, where?
Malaka - I've been to Qingdao, Jinnan and of course Beijing. But most of my time was spent in Tianjin and its suburbs since I was busy studying!


What have been the most challenging aspects of living and studying in Chinaand Tianjin? How did you strive to overcome them?
Richard - I have to say, the most challenging aspect is the bureaucratic mentality. The system that operates in China is often infuriating. Overcoming these issues requires a lot of patience and a nice cold pint of beer after. You will have love/hate days, but how you deal with it is the crucial factor and this will mold you into a better person.

What advice can you give to future students coming here to study with INTO at Nankai University?
Ryan - Spend as much time as you can to learn Mandarin. The chance you have to be immersed in this language is so beneficial. One year studying here is like two of three studying back home.


Finally, what are your plans for after you graduate? Do you intend to start a career in China?
Malaka - If there is the opportunity I will work in China, but I am open to the whole world.


Richard - My time in Tianjin is not over. I will return in September to begin a Ph.D. in international relations and political science. I will continue with the many projects I have here such as the United Nations Association in Nankai. I've been pulled into the orbit of China - the last thing I want to do is to cast myself off from these opportunities.


Ryan - My plans include looking for a job and continuing to study Mandarin. I will pursue a career both in China and elsewhere. We'll see what happens but as of now the future is wide open.


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