Name: Gary Izunwa
University: University of Leicester
Programme: Suzhou University, Jiangsu Programme, February 2016
From a young age I realised that almost everything was “Made in China” – this made me instantly interested in the country. That, coupled with the fact that China’s economy has grown at unprecedented rates over the last three decades, made me sure that at some point in my life I had to go and experience China for myself.
An internship in banking at the end of my second year of university taught me two things: firstly, that I didn’t want to work in finance, and secondly, that I didn’t want to go straight into work after graduating.
After looking for opportunities to travel and immerse myself in different cultures I came across the Generation UK – China scholarship programme and immediately applied – easily one of the best decisions I’ve made yet!
I was placed at Suzhou University in Suzhou – a city located on the south-eastern coast of China and less than 30 minutes from Shanghai by high-speed rail.
Known as the “Venice of the East”, Suzhou is famous for its beautiful canals, pagodas and intricately designed courtyard gardens – all of which have made Suzhou a top tourist attraction.
Soon after arriving in China and realising that next to no-one spoke anything other than Mandarin, I realised that in the coming months I would have to really concentrate on my language studies and improve my Chinese for basic survival.
The teaching environment at Suzhou University was surprisingly similar to what I had experienced during high school. Class would start at 8.30am everyday and finish at 12pm, giving students ample time to focus on other endeavours. Teaching consisted of dictations, group speaking activities and presentations – to name a few.
As I came to China having not learned Mandarin before it was initially difficult to pick up the language, but with the support of the great teachers at Suzhou I got to grips with it quickly and once I could understand some of what the native speakers were saying I was hooked!
One of the best parts of the scholarships is that scholars are placed at universities where the language courses attract students from all over the world.
As a result of studying on the scholarship, I now have new friends from France, Nigeria, Russia, America, South Korea and many more. There were a large number of Korean students studying at Suzhou University, which exposed me to Korean culture and customs - which I have since fallen in love with. At the end of the semester I travelled to South Korea for a few weeks with two friends who I met whilst studying in China and who are now like brothers to me.
Towards the end of the semester I had seen online that TechCrunch, a leading Technology online media publisher, were holding a Hackathon in Shanghai. Applications were open to everyone and I persuaded a few friends to apply. We were fortunate enough to be selected to attend the Hackathon, which turned out to be a phenomenal experience.
Pertaining to the Connected Car revolution, PSA Peugeot Citroen, the second largest automotive manufacturer in Europe, tasked the TechCrunch Shanghai Hackathon participants to build an innovative product that increases user engagement.
Along with my team, we strategised, built a product and pitched our idea all within 24 hours, to a panel of judges including Céline Le Cotonnec, Head of Connected Services, Digital and Mobility at PSA Peugeot Citroen.
Following the Hackathon, participants were given the opportunity to attend the following three-day Tech summit for free, the cost to attend was usually $730. Here I got to meet and hear from some of China's most reputable technology influencers such as Louis Yang (CEO of Music.ly), Amir Gal-Or (Founder & Managing Director of Infinity Group), Hongwei Chen (Executive Director at Tencent Investment) and many more. An incredible and enlightening experience, the Hackathon and summit cemented my specific interest in the Chinese technology industry.
Travelling the country and learning about the behaviours and culture of Chinese people was very fun and insightful. For example I found it interesting that Chinese people rarely drink cold drinks – they even drink water hot!
Since finishing the programme I have moved to Dublin, where I have started to work at LinkedIn on the Business Leadership Programme. I am very fortunate to start my career at a company that invests in its employees and also strives to have a positive impact on the world by making professionals more productive and successful.
Although I have moved to a different country to start my career, I couldn’t help but bring my enthusiasm for China with me - since starting work I have taught an Introduction to China class to my colleagues and have recently started language tuition with a Chinese native who lives in Dublin.