Letters to the Editor

From Jamaica to China, and back

Sunday, September 15, 2019

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WHEN David Scott left his little-known community of New River in Santa Cruz, St Elizabeth to study at the prestigious Hohai University over 8,000 miles away, in Nanjing, China, the then 18-year-old was not sure what to expect — it was his first experience away from home.
The former Manchester High school student was among five Jamaicans awarded fully funded scholarships by China Harbour Engineering Company (CHEC) to pursue bachelor of engineer degrees, majoring in harbour, coastal and offshore engineering.
“I was fresh out of high school and had never really been away from home,” Scott told the Jamaica Observer.
“I had applied and got accepted to do civil engineering at The University of the West Indies (UWI) when I saw this scholarship opportunity in the newspaper. I saw that this would be an amazing opportunity and so I applied not really expecting to get it, and also not fully grasping that this university was half-way across the world. I was very surprised when I got the call to say that I was actually selected among the five recipients and that was when everything came rushing in — I am now going to China.”
The other recipients were Rushawn Marshall, Kimmesha Skinner, Tashae Thompson, and Clenmar Rowe.
The scholarship programme forms part of a commitment by CHEC to develop long-term collaboration and lasting relations between Jamaica and China and to contribute to the economic, environmental and social development of the island. The company provided full funding for the students' journey to and stay in China.
“Before leaving Jamaica I had gone into full research mode about life in China, where Nanjing is, how people live there and basic greetings in Chinese, and CHEC was very supportive; any issues, we could just call them. As soon as we touched down, we were greeted by the CHEC team in Beijing, which was a lifesaver. They carried us around and they understood that we didn't speak Chinese so they tried to be as accommodating as possible. They spoke fluent English and made us feel very welcome. so that helped with the initial nervousness,” Scott said.
The CHEC team accompanied the students on the over 1,000-mile trip from Beijing to Nanjing where they would spend the next five years fully immersed in Chinese culture. They spent their first year learning the language at Nanjing Normal University and had to pass the HSK level-four test, which assesses ability in the application of Mandarin. This, according to Scott, was one of the most difficult parts of the five-year experience.
“I would say I am pretty fluent in Mandarin, but I could not be a professional translator. The first year was an intensive language course that most international students have to complete, especially if they are going for a bachelor's programme because the programmes are almost all taught in Chinese. The pressure was on to do well in this because we wouldn't be able to start the actual engineering degree if we didn't pass the language course,” he explained.
Once this obstacle was surpassed, Scott and his fellow countrymen studied courses such as fundamentals in electrotechnics and electronics, underground water conservancy, road and port engineering, introduction to harbour logistics systems, application of engineering design software, and others specific to designing and building solutions for coastal issues such as sea level rise and shoreline degradation.
“CHEC had a lot of input in the course load that we had. They essentially picked the courses that we did because the idea was that we would come back to Jamaica with this new knowledge that would be of benefit here, so they made sure that the courses we took would bring the knowledge that was needed here in Jamaica,” said Scott.
As for living in China, the young man described the experience as a complete culture shock.
“At first, it was quite a shocking experience when it sunk in that I was actually so far away from home and I didn't know anybody outside of my fellow Jamaicans. We did not speak the language, but the people around us helped to make it easier — they tried their best to communicate and be patient. Chinese is one of the hardest languages to learn, so even the teachers made an extra effort to be patient with us,” he told Career & Education.
But as time went on things got better, due in no small part to the opportunities to travel across the Asian country and soak up some of its historic engineering landmarks.
“We went out with our lecturers and new friends to visit natural parks and historic spots. China is a very beautiful country as it pertains to the natural environment, so they made a concerted effort to ensure that we absorbed as much of the Chinese culture as we could. One of my most memorable experiences was going to the Three Gorges Dam, one of the world's largest power stations. Not many foreigners get to see that because it is a restricted area, but our supervisor took us there.”
During the course of his studies, Scott returned home to Jamaica once per year to visit family.
“CHEC was gracious enough to buy us flights once per year, and I was fortunate enough to have also got the experience to work on the north-south highway while back in Jamaica. That was a very eye-opening experience as I was just starting my engineering course load so I was able to see all the things that I was learning being put into practice and see how all the parts fit together.”
After five years, Scott and the other scholarship recipients are back in Jamaica and are ready and rearing to put their wealth of knowledge and experience to good use.
Said he, “I am really looking forward to what is next, getting some experience here in Jamaica and getting my professional engineering licence. Eventually, I would also want to get a master's degree in structural coastal engineering to continue along the same lines and contribute to creating coastal solutions to help combat climate change.”


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