A journey of self-discovery – 2015 Antai Global Summer Program

Posted on: October 1st, 2015 by chris No Comments

Life is a journey, not a destination – Ralph Waldo Emerson

Inspirational and beautiful, this quote seems to be always on my mind. Indeed, life is a journey, never a straight path but we are always moving forward in it with the destination unknown to us. Life is also a book, as we start each day on a new page, with time as the best companion in our journey.

Two years ago, I started a new chapter in my life when I enrolled for the MBA education at the University of Strathclyde. It has been an enjoyable journey, as I gained a wide range of knowledge to satisfy my intellectual curiosity. When I was approaching the second year of my MBA, I was considering how to make the best use of the remaining programme.

Having graduated from a local university, I have always contemplated embarking on an overseas study program one day. Becoming a full-time student will be a new experience for me, which is actually something I look forward to. I am also keen to learn more about China as her developments in the last 30 years have been remarkable yet challenging. It has been 11 years since I last visited China.

Hence, I was keen to enroll for the Shanghai Jiao Tong University – Antai Global Summer Program to accomplish my MBA elective requirements and to fulfill my dream. However, other than the curriculum structure available online, I did not really know what to expect as no one had shared any experiences about the program. Would it be fun? What about the assignment? I asked myself. Besides, I was not sure if I could go on an extended period of leave from work. The defining moment came when my application for three weeks of annual leave was approved. It was a sign to follow my heart.

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… and I went to Shanghai. Photo taken from Hyatt on the bund.

Background about Shanghai Jiao Tong University – Antai Global Summer Program

I felt privileged to have been selected to participate in this program, together with fellow Strathclyde Singapore students Judy Tham and Edward Chiang. Established in 1896, Shanghai Jiao Tong University (SJTU) is one of the top 4 universities in China today. Famous alumni include Mr Jiang Zemin, former President of the People’s Republic of China and Mr Qian Xue Sen, the father of

China’s space program. The Antai Global Summer Program was organised by the Antai College of Economics and Management in SJTU.

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Main gate of the Shanghai Jiao Tong University, Xuhui Campus

For the class of 2015, there were a total of 85 students from 30 countries, of which nearly half were postgraduate students. It was a great opportunity to interact with participants from countries such as from Australia, Canada, Czech Republic, France, Korea, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and the United States of America. Many of us become friends and stay connected through social media such as Facebook and weChat.

This year, the program was held in the Xuhui campus of SJTU from July 6 – July 24. Usually during this period of the year, the weather would be very hot, and temperature could be as high as 39 degree Celsius. However, this year the summer was delayed by the Plum Rain season, with occasional showers and sunshine. I actually liked this weather, especially when I walked along the tree-lined road in the campus with the beautiful historical architecture at the side. The ambience was surreal and I was seemingly transported back to the 1920’s Shanghai, a period when the city was known as “the Paris of the East”.

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Beautiful architecture of Zhong Yuan building

Accommodation and Getting around

Accommodation was included in this program and I stayed in the Graduate Students Dormitory or Yan Yi Lou on campus. Judy was my roommate and we were allocated a room at the 17th floor with beautiful city view. It was big and comfortable, with the facilities of a three-star hotel. A five minutes stroll from the dormitory will bring us to the Antai College of Economics & Management building and Xin Shang Yuan, where we had our classes.

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Left photo: Antai College of Economics & Management, Right photo: Xin Shang Yuan

As the campus is located in the commercial district of Xujiahui, there is never a dull moment for food, shopping and entertainment activities. For a quick meal, we would visit the eating places along Panyu road, which is just outside Gate 3 nearest to the dormitory. Alternatively, we would go for food hunts in the Xujiahui shopping area, with the most satisfying ones at ShunFeng restaurant and Shanghai Uncle restaurant.

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Satisfying Shanghainese dinner at ShunFeng restaurant, recommended by local student helper Ding Yifan (second from right)

SJTU is also well connected by two metro stations, which makes it so convenient to explore other areas such as the Shanghai French Concession and the China Art Museum (former China Pavilion at Expo 2010). However, the last train ended rather early at about 10:30pm and there was once when I missed it by a few minutes!

In Singapore, I would normally call if I need a taxi. But here in Shanghai, I felt stranded trying to hail a taxi along the road after ten minutes. I then walked to the nearest convenience store where the manager told me that most people in Shanghai use the Didi Dache mobile app to book taxi. Perhaps it explained why the taxis were not stopping for me. I asked if he could book a taxi for me. He shook his head and said that he did not have this app. (I guessed he drove a car?) I then asked if he could help me to flag a taxi. He agreed. Upon spotting a taxi at the opposite side of the road, he ran across it and managed to get one. Thankfully, I had met a kind man and felt relieved that I could finally get back to the dormitory.

Academic programs

The lectures were conducted by academic professors and industry experts, with diversified views to understand the present China from the historical, cultural, social, economic and innovation perspectives. Two lecturers left a lasting impression on me. The first lecturer was Mr Graham Earnshaw, a businessman and writer who has been walking across China carrying a guitar since 2004. As he advocated, the best way to learn about China is to talk to the people. A talented composer who is fluent in Mandarin, he has been walking from Shanghai to Zhejiang, Anhui, Hubei and Sichuan to find out more about the “real” China, talking and singing to the villagers. The stories are

documented in his book The Great Walk of China. What really inspired me was his perseverance. Indeed, there are no mountains too high to climb.

Another lecture which I enjoyed tremendously was on the topic When the world comes to China: Social, Cultural and Economic Issues and Opportunities. The lecturer was Mr John Van Fleet, Assistant Dean, USC Marshall School of Business; Executive Director of the Global Executive MBA in Shanghai (GEMBA). Mr Fleet first walked us through the history of China before explaining to us the various issues happening in China today. Using charts and videos, we were informed about China’s estate bubble, the adverse effect of the one child policy and the sustainability of China’s growth rate.

His lecture was engaging and very informative. I benefited greatly from his lecture, as one of my learning objectives was to have a better understanding of the influencing factors for China’s developments with the intention of minimising challenges so as to increase opportunities for business. He was also voted the best lecturer by the students, a testament of his dedication to teaching.

Guest speakers and company visits

Besides understanding China from a macro perspective, we also have a particular interest to understand how companies succeeded or failed in China. Hearing the guest speakers from McDonald’s and Dianping.com sharing about the current trends and challenges faced in their operating business made it easier for us to appreciate the business environment in China. In addition, the visits to advertising company BBDO, beverage giant Coca-cola and agriculture leader Wilmar allowed us to gain insights on how their businesses work. These visits also enabled me to reflect upon the lessons learnt from operations management, leadership, innovation, corporate culture and strategy analysis, and consider how these would apply in China’s context.

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Company visit to BBDO

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Company visit to Coca-Cola

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Factory visit to Wilmar Yihai Kerry

Chinese language class and Project Presentation

To graduate from the programme, all students have to pass the Chinese Language test and the Project Presentation. There are three levels of Chinese classes – beginner, intermediate and advanced where students can choose according to their language fluency. I attended the Advanced class, where we discussed about the current social issues in China. Take for example the children in China today. On one end, there are the “left behind children” unattended in the rural areas as their parents have gone to work in the big cities. On the other end, there are the “little emperors” who are spoilt by their parents and grandparents. It is often said that children are our future. How should we explain this situation in China? It is a myriad of complexities but also enlightening as I learn about China.

For the project presentation, we were allocated into groups to work on a case-study company. The soft skills learnt from the Strategic Consulting in Practice (SCIP) module came in handy. However, a more consulting-based problem-solving approach is used in this presentation which makes learning more interesting. Although we had one less group member than others, we turned this disadvantage into an advantage by adopting a pragmatic style of working. We came prepared with research materials, engaged in productive discussions and practiced procedural justice in decision-making.

Working with new people from different nationalities can be challenging, especially having to complete a project in one week. By being open-minded and non-judgmental, I was learning fast and absorbing ideas like a sponge, connecting the dots and sharing new formed perspectives. It was about what I did not know and how I could apply after learning it.

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Graduation photo with my project group mates

From left: Mr John Van Fleet, Andrew Morris, Marine Jaspers, me, Sebastian Salcedo, Dean Zhou Lin (and Marie Adeyemi who has flown off early to attend her sister’s graduation)

Cultural and sightseeing activities

Besides the academic programs, there were also cultural and sightseeing activities. A day visit to the temple, where we attended the Zen Practice and Tea appreciation class, enabled me to relax and experience tranquility and be thankful for the simple things in life. There was also the dumpling making class which was filled with a lot of laughter and fun. My team was the most creative, and we made the unforgettable largest dumpling you could have ever eaten. We also visited the Site of the First National Congress of the Communist Party of China, Xintiandi Area, the Bund, Yu Garden, Xitang water town and watched the most popular acrobatics show in Shanghai “ERA – Intersection of Time”.

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Photograph with the Tea master

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The legendary dumpling

Family dinner with SJTU alumni

The family dinner hosted by STJU alumni student was another highlight of this program. We were invited by Mr Sha Ying to his lovely house. Mr Sha is the Head of a local China bank and in charge of its Shanghai operations. His wife is a management consultant and they have a daughter Mina who recently won the equestrian competition in France. They were very friendly and approachable. It was very heartwarming to know that they have spent so much effort to prepare the nuts and dates, Chinese gongfu tea, Shanghainese dinner and desserts to make us feel welcomed. There is nothing like home-cooked food which I missed dearly.

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Dinner with Mr Sha’s family together with classmates Jay Nair and Ann-Sophie Truchot

This summer spent in Shanghai has been an incredible journey of learning and self-discovery. Having an innate passion for the Chinese language and culture, I have developed my perspectives of China through the media and books. However, these three weeks of immersion in the studies of China has enriched me with deeper understanding of China and I found myself to be constantly learning, unlearning and relearning every day. My old paradigms were being challenged and new perspectives were formed. Last but not least, I am thankful to the SJTU’s Tracy Lin and team who have put in tremendous effort in organizing this program. This summer school has definitely provided me with beautiful memories to bring me to my next journey.

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Photograph with fellow Strathclyde students

Front row from left: Edward Chiang (Singapore), David Liaw (Malaysia), Twiggy Ng (Hong Kong) and me.

Back row from left: Nicolai Bernhad (Switzerland), Jay Nair (Switzerland), Reto Koller (Switzerland), Rahel Weber (Switzerland) and Judy Tham (Singapore)