Having lived and worked extensively in both CAPA global cities in China - Beijing and Shanghai, Director of China Programs Colin Speakman has a acquired a wealth of knowledge to share with students studying abroad in these locations. Below he shares some of his favorite hidden gems in both cities, an excellent reason why studying abroad in China is important and why he's excited about CAPA's new Summer International Business Program in Shanghai.
CAPA WORLD: Tell us a bit about your work with CAPA.
COLIN SPEAKMAN: I am based mainly in Beijing, the political capital of China. I am the Director of China Programs and I first worked for CAPA in Fall 2010.
CW: How long have you lived in Beijing and what brought you there? Which area do you call home?
CS: I first came to China just over 10 years ago while working in international education, spending a few months in Beijing, Nanjing and Shanghai each year till January 2008 when I moved to Nanjing and then Shanghai to live. I switched my base to Beijing in Spring 2011 as CAPA expanded programs there.
Shanghai, the economic capital, always feels like my home in China and I have the most friends there. However, although I came to China after living a few years in the USA, as a Brit I have to regard my ancient home as London. Having lived on three continents, I am pleased to be able to write a regular column for CAPA World called "Connecting Global Cities".
CW: Where are your favorite places in Beijing and Shanghai to soak up some culture during the weekend?
CS: In Beijing, I love going to the 798 Art District, which is a huge former munitions factory complex. There are great art galleries, sculptures and cafes. It's a good place to chill out over several hours
In Shanghai, I love to stroll the Bund, the HuangPu River Bank, and gaze over to inspiring Pudong with its tall towers of the Lujiazui financial district. The main part of the Bund is historic western architecture and there are new developments on the North and South Bund, including a neat area called the Cool Docks.
CW: Why is studying abroad in China important?
CS: I can refer to nothing less than President Obama's statement that "the relationship between the US and China is the most important of the 21st Century." The top two economic powers are heavily inter-connected, yet China is not well-understood in America; the media there often have a bias in how it is presented.
CW: Where do you CAPA students in Beijing live? What is the area like?
CS: Students on our semester and summer programs in the global city of Beijing live on the campus of Capital Normal University in the Haidian District in West Beijing (there is also a homestay option for those with at least intermediate Mandarin). The campus surrounding is a typical older style Chinese residential area which gives a reflection of traditional Beijing life while having good access by metro to the Central Business District, Tiananmen Square and East Beijing. Students of Mandarin and of Chinese Art, Culture, History, International Affairs and more, will enjoy what Beijing has to offer.
CW: Why has CAPA launched a summer international business program in Shanghai?
CS: China just began a new period of reforms designed to develop the Chinese economy and Shanghai is the "City of Experiment" for many of these changes. A good example is the recently established Pilot China Free Trade Zone in Shanghai - the first in China. So for business, economics and finance students, Shanghai is the place to be.
CW: Why have internship placements been added in Shanghai?
CS: Part-time internships have been very popular in CAPA's Beijing programs and should be even more so in Shanghai. In the summer program, students in Shanghai can experience a number of business related placements in fields such as advertising, business administration, IT and web design, marketing, PR, print media, social media, hospitality management and others. Internships are a great way to engage with locals and something valuable to add to a resume.
CW: Where are your favorite hidden gems in Beijing and Shanghai and what is special about them?
CS: In Beijing, the Dashilar Hutong and Ancient Cultural street. It's an area not teaming with visitors and a very pleasant stroll back to older times.
In Shanghai, Qibao watertown. It's a small, restful canal area in the heart of Shanghai which also takes one back to old times.
CW: What most interests you about China right now?
CS: It has to be the concept of the China Dream which the new leader, President Xi, first proposed in November 2012. It is a belief in the rejuvenation of the Chinese people, increasing prosperity and a more global role for China. I had a chance to write about it in my monthly column for China Daily at the end of December.
CW: As Director for CAPA International Education’s China programs, how can students best prepare for their program abroad?
CS: For China, I do advise reading about its history and current affairs before coming, from a good book that balances out the stereotype images in the media. China will probably be different from what students imagined, and my students usually say it is. Thus come with an open mind and "go with the flow".