Last month I spent nearly two weeks traipsing around China as part of the International Scholar Laureate Program’s International Relations and Diplomacy delegation. For those who remember, last year I went on this same delegation, but to South Africa.
As I’ve previously written about my experiences in South Africa as part of the International Scholar Laureate Program, I thought it would be worth comparing the my experiences in both China and South Africa for any future scholars.
My goodness, the China delegation is so tightly packed that you will be exhausted by the end of it. But it is absolutely worth it. You get to explore three Chinese cities – Xi’an, Beijing and Shanghai – and see past, present and future China respectively.
We had some really interesting talks from NGOs, government officials, think tank researchers, university lecturers. We even visited the Polish Embassy in Beijing! As someone who wants to break into diplomacy, this provides valuable insight into the world of international affairs.
I do however recommend critically analysing the content that government officials say, as you would in any country. But keep in mind that China adopts the culture of “saving/keeping face” – so consider the language you use if you feel like voicing your opinions.
Then there was the fun stuff… we visited the Great Wall and took sweaty selfies, the terracotta warrior army of Xi’an (which is still being excavated!), we attended a cheesy kung fu show and intense acrobatic show in Shanghai. There are also multiple additional excursions that you can choose to opt into at an additional cost, which isn’t really touched upon in the pre-departure information.
The Diplomacy delegation to China is one of the largest programs run by Envision. In 2017 we had approximately 80 scholars, with other delegations (nursing, engineering, business etc.) there were 210 of us in China at once. That means no time for dilly dallying or you’ll get left behind.
If you prefer a more relaxed approach to your study tours, the South African delegation is definitely the way to go. Fewer people choose to attend the South Africa delegation (there were about 20 of us in 2016), meaning that there is a greater chance of flexibility in the schedule. For example, I was super interested in visiting the International Criminal Court, where crimes committed under apartheid were trialed. This wasn’t in the original schedule, but I mentioned it to our guide and he arranged a visit – we just had to start the day half an hour earlier.
A large portion of this trip is focused on learning about the historical context of apartheid in South Africa, its implications and moving forward to seek justice and reconciliation. This is a really moving topic, and can really affect you if you’re empathetic to hearing about these stories. Visiting the apartheid museum puts things into perspective and will probably make you cry.
One thing I found really refreshing about South Africa is how aware everyone is of current affairs and the political climate. Everyone seems to be well-versed in these issues and have really interesting conversations and debates about them.
A big bonus if you choose to head to South Africa is the optional cultural extension – you’ll spend two days on safari searching for the “big five”: the African lion, African elephant, Cape buffalo, African leopard, and rhinoceros.
In short, both the China and South African International Relations and Diplomacy delegations are incredible experiences and they are what you choose to make of them. You’ll meet a lot of interesting and passionate people – whether they’re speakers, university students, members of the delegation or even people you meet on the street. Each delegation will teach you about a different area of international affairs and you’ll learn an incredible amount in such a short period of time through experiential learning. While no study abroad tour is 100% perfect, I would still absolutely recommend experiences such as these – textbooks and internet searches can only teach you so much.