Anna SeligThis summer I was given the opportunity to spend two months in Beijing at Tsinghua University, Asia’s top institution, on a research exchange programme. There I joined the Future Transport Research Centre which aims to combat Beijing’s infamous air pollution through the electrification of motor vehicles.

What made the research particularly relevant was the experience of Beijing’s pollution in person. The day I landed in the city the smog was so thick I didn’t realise how far the plane had descended until it hit the runway. My throat and eyes burned in the city air, although the locals didn’t seem bothered and were almost quizzical about my use of a facemask and pollution monitoring app. However air pollution does pose a serious health risk to the local population.

The work was challenging and a wide jump from the module I had studied in university, but I could begin to see the wider applications of the theories I had learnt. Additionally, my placement coincided with the organisation of fourth annual conference organised by the Asian Network on Climate Science and Technology, which I helped take part in. It was inspiring to see delegates from universities all over Asia and Europe coming together to exchange and discuss ideas. Research has become a global contribution and it is particularly vital with large-scale problems such as climate change. 

Something that really made the placement memorable was the people I met. Despite the language barrier the PhD students in my office were incredibly accommodating and eager to show me what they loved most about China. This involved a lot of great food; it cannot be emphasised enough how much Chinese people cherish their cuisine as it brings together friends, families and communities in a way that dwarfs European culture! Exploring the city extensively in my spare time with the other placement students also allowed me to absorb the more subtle cultural quirks, which would be missed on a holiday. We experienced the best of Beijing including its incredible history and its eccentric social culture.

Before this trip, my knowledge of China largely came from reading the news. I found that the trip helped to round out my knowledge of the country; some perceptions were confirmed and others proved to be misconceptions. I am glad to have experienced it in such depth, especially the academic culture within a different environment. 

Despite the language barrier the PhD students in my office were incredibly accommodating and eager to show me what they loved most about China"

Anna Selig