Collaborating Across Cultures – Stories from SUSTech International Scholars

Few of us spend much time thinking about courage, but we know it when we see it – or do we?  It takes a lot of courage to leave everything behind and step into the unknown, but international students and scholars are travelling long distances and investing lots of time and energy in order to start a new life at SUSTech in the heart of Shenzhen, China’s most innovating city. What attracts them to relocate here to study and do research? How are they collaborating with people from other cultures? What are some of their suggestions for SUSTech? We would like to share their stories.

SUSTech’s Meeting International Scholars is a project focused on allowing the varied and unique experiences of studying and doing research at SUSTech be shared through creative methods. The project takes the form of a multimedia approach based on the format the interviewees feel most comfortable with.

This week, we are lucky to have three scholars share their stories that you should not miss! They are Matthew Jellick from the Center for Language Education, Dr. Farhad Pourpanah in the Department of Computer Science and Engineering, and Dr. Ashfaq Ahmad in the Department of Biology.

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“SUSTech is a university where you can find both dynamic innovation and academic prowess”

Matthew Jellick, United States of America

Matthew Jellick used to work in South Korea where he taught for five years. After that, he spent two years on a fellowship in Africa lecturing at universities in Ethiopia.  Now he joins the SUSTech family and teaches in the Center for Language Education (CLE).

With a strong interest in Asian educational culture, Mr. Jellick decided to work for SUSTech because he realized that he wanted to return to an Asian educational context and more importantly, believes that SUSTech is a university where he can find both dynamic innovation and academic prowess.   These ideals can be manifested by SUSTech’s founding spirit of “being innovative, truthful and realistic” coupled with its commitment to the cultivation of innovative talents and the work taking place on innovative centers and projects.

According to Jellick, what attracted him most to SUSTech is the fact that he can gain new perspectives and learn new ways. “SUSTech offered me a chance to develop both professionally and personally – teaching while learning,” he said in an interview.

With a Master’s Degree in Teaching from the University of Southern California, Mr. Jellick feels fulfilled within the CLE since he can work with both Chinese and foreign teachers. They come from different countries, but work together towards the same goal – to teach and improve the English attainment of the students and faculty of SUSTech.

Although Jellick is a foreigner and a newcomer to the university, he doesn’t feel out of place, rather, SUSTech makes him feel at home. “SUSTech is a group of researchers, educators and learners which defines the school, making it feel like more of a community as opposed to a campus.” he said, adding that the staff he teaches, including librarians, laboratory assistants, secretaries and administrators are friendly and helpful, making him feel that he is a member of a big family. With a competitive salary package, generous start-up funding and modern teaching facilities, SUSTech is truly a place where the faculty can realize their dreams.

Mr. Jellick thinks that SUSTech is similar to Shenzhen itself in many ways for their respect and tolerance for different people and cultures. “It is our differences which attracts us, complex worldviews coming together to be shared in a constructive classroom environment, mirroring in a lot of ways the realities in the city of Shenzhen itself,” said Jellick.

As much as he enjoys his work and life at SUSTech, he misses the U.S. for its multiculturalism because he believes “diversity brings about beauty in the compound mixtures of food, language and beliefs”. However, his homesickness can be relieved a bit in Shenzhen, a city where he can experience different cultures from all parts of China including regional cuisines, variations on dialect and even differing forms of attire.

As a lecturer at SUSTech, Mr. Jellick keeps innovating and pushing himself out of his comfort zone by offering his students (SUSTech Staff) opportunities which stretch beyond the classroom. Apart from teaching, he also runs an English Book Club, acts as advisor to the English Speaking Club and even has taken the Staff out for an English-movie day at the theatre. With continued plans to expand his students’ worldview, he is working on collaborations with colleagues in Africa and the U.S. to do educational webinars, shortening the distance between classrooms and cultures, sharing with each other and learning new perspectives.

He never stops writing too. In his spare time, he writes for the New York Times, Shenzhen Daily, and the USC Chinese Institute’s US-China Today. Being a life-long learner, he keeps doing things which help him develop both professionally and personally.

Having had been teaching and living abroad for almost ten years with educational experiences on six different continents, Mr. Jellick gained an ability to communicate effectively within diverse cultural groups. To him, language comprises a small part of culture, as it also incorporates foods, clothing and even music. Therefore he understands more than anyone else that each respective culture has its own positive values. “There is no one single prominent culture, rather, we are a community of global citizens which should work together to share ideas,” he said.

At SUSTech where different cultures co-exist, Jellick has started to adjust himself to the environment by valuing everyone’s opinion, regardless of their social status.

“SUSTech also offers an opportunity to meet well-known professors from all over the world”

Dr. Farhad Pourpanah, Iran

SUSTech also offers an opportunity to meet well-known professors from all over the world, which is the reason why Dr. Pourpanah decided to work here four months ago. Before coming to SUSTech, he worked at Malaysia Science and Technology University.

Dr. Pourpanah was attracted to the clean environment and comfortable campus life of SUSTech, but he also found English a barrier to communicating with others.

Having no family in Shenzhen, he misses them and the food of his country the most.

Different from the universities where he used to work, SUSTech offers access to more data bases and a chance to work with well-known professors, which Dr. Pourpanah considers a big advantage of SUSTech.

In his opinion, China now is a country famous for high-tech technology and industrial zones, which is why people from all over the world come here.

But it is difficult for them to communicate with Chinese people because of language.

Having been abroad for eight years, he respects each country’s culture. However, it is difficult for him to adapt to Chinese culture since he has just arrived, but he looks forward to learning more about Chinese culture.

SUSTech is a fast-growing body with international collaborations.”

Dr. Ashfaq Ahmad, Pakistan

Dr. Ahmad feels lucky to become a part of the SUSTech community, having come to be a Postdoc in the Department of Biology last summer.

He is attracted by the multi-cultural and academic environment of SUSTech.

“Among Chinese universities, SUSTech has a uniqueness for its architectural beauty and academic standards. It is a fast growing body with international collaborations. The research environment is highly professional and scientific which is a great sign for academic development,” said Dr. Ahmad.

Besides, he likes SUSTech because it is young and dynamic. But as a Postdoc, he cares about the research environment the most and SUSTech didn’t fail him. SUSTech has always committed to building itself into a high-level research public university where research funds and investments are valued the most. In the future, the university plans to complete the construction of about 20 research centers by 2020 with two to three built every year, forming a high-level basic research and applied basic research platform.

When Dr. Ahmad first came to the campus, he was amazed at its cleanliness, friendliness and particularly by its environmentally friendly regulations. “I guess very few universities have a no smoking policy on campus,” he said. He is also happy to see that the recreational facilities such as a sports complex are well maintained and easily accessible.

Although most people in SUSTech can speak English fluently, Dr. Ahmad still finds it a pity that he cannot speak Chinese. “I think that not knowing Chinese language sometimes limits my exposure,” he said.

However, with the state-of-art facilities and equipment of SUSTech, the results of his research can be guaranteed. This is also one of the biggest differences between SUSTech and the universities in Pakistan. Besides, the quality and skills of the students and staff also left a deep impression on Dr. Ahmad. Most importantly, he thanked the SUSTech Education Foundation for offering funds not only for research but also for human development, which is one of the reasons why he works here.

On a national level, China and Pakistan are good partners. To Ahmad, Chinese people are friendly and supportive. He attributes the strength of China to Chinese people’s diligence, which is a good quality in his eyes.

Now being in a different country, Dr. Ahmad is dealing with the transition quite well since he understands that people from different cultures can live and work harmoniously in the globalized world. “It is a general perception that India and Pakistan are not friendly but I have met several Indian friends who for me are just like any Pakistani friends,” he said.

At SUSTech, he feels a sense of belonging and thinks working with people from different cultures helps him become more tolerant and moderate about his ideas. Even when he celebrated his own country’s festivals, other SUSTech families joined him and they all shared the joy, which he believes is a delightful experience of respect.