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PPLE student Floris van Dijk

Floris took part in the Netherlands Asia Honours Summer School and shares his experience. During this six-month summer programme, set up to strenghten ties with China, students follow academic classes, do an internship and go on field trips in China.

Floris van Dijk

What is the NAHSS and what is the importance of the programme?

"NAHSS stands for Netherlands Asia Honours Summer School. It is a summer school programme in Asia for students from the Netherlands. To apply for the programme, students don't have to have the Dutch nationality, but they do need to be able to speak Dutch. It is a six-month programme, which consists of three elements. One being the academic part. The second being the business aspect of it, which means you do an internship at a ministry or a company or any partner of the programme. And then there's the cultural aspect of it, part three, which is the trip to China.”

How is time divided over these three elements?

"You go to China for six weeks; five of which you spend at summer school and one for field trips and business visits."

So the importance of the programme is also to increase the number of students going to China?

Exactly, to strengthen Dutch - Chinese relations basically. This is of importance since there are very few Dutch students studying in Asia, specifically in China right now. Only 0,1% of all Dutch students eventually end up studying in China, which is very low since we know that China is going to have a rather important role in the coming decades.

Can you tell a little bit more about your time in China?

"I arrived with a quarter of all the students. Those are the ones that go to your city, but the programme is not just in one city. The students are divided over four universities. Next year it will be five universities. Before you even go to China, you have to choose a project you want to work on for a particular company. Each company is linked to one city in China. Four groups were linked to Peking University, so in total 30 students went to Beijing. Almost as soon as we arrived, we started the summer school, during which we did two courses. Those two courses you take together with mostly Chinese students studying there."

Which courses did you do?

"I took one course in Transition and Political Economy and another one in Modern Chinese Fiction (so Literature and Cinematography of China in the 20th century): subjects that I never would have had in the Netherlands. The Transition course was attended mostly by nationals and a large portion of Dutch students. In the Chinese fiction course, however, there were only two Dutch students and 33 Chinese students. Those two courses take about two thirds of your time while you are in Beijing for the first five weeks and you have a couple of company visits at the same time. But you will also have time to visit Beijing and all the major sights and they are really worth going to. Finally, in the last week, all participating students go to Shanghai to attend a “culture and business week” there."

How did you experience China?

"I had been to Asia once before. That was Singapore, a relatively Western country. China was a far larger culture shock. Since I barely speak any Chinese I couldn’t really talk to anyone there. Although China is modernising and Beijing is an international city, hardly anyone speaks English. So at first, I found it quite difficult to get around, so in the beginning I used  mostly non-verbal. There was this language barrier and some other culture shocks of course, but I actually enjoyed it. I was expecting it to be destabilizing in some way, but I was enjoying it instead. If you take an adventurous attitude, you will have the best time."

What did this experience bring you?

"I’m going to start with the least “sexy” part of it: merely the fact that I managed to join this programme, which has a tough selection that has quite a reputation, gave me the opportunity to do an internship at the Ministry of Infrastructure, which afterwards allowed me to push my cv and get accepted to other organisations, where I wouldn’t initially expect to be accepted. Then, on a more personal level, we received a lot of training by major players in the market. The training at ABN AMRO and McKinsey, for example, definitely helped me afterwards in the way I try to work in a group in other situations, at PPLE as well."

Were those training sessions before you went to China?

"Some of the training was before, and a few sessions took place during our stay in China. So these visits definitely helped me in other situations in my work experience. And of course the fact that I had never been to China before and really enjoyed my stay there. Actually, there were three reasons why I really liked the entire programme. One, because it was a great for my cv afterwards, the other one was that I had never visited this area of the world before, and finally because I wanted to go to summer school and attend Beijing University."

What did you learn during the trip?

"I didn’t know that much about China before to be honest. I knew China is a major international player, and that it plays a major role in geopolitics and technics. I didn’t know that much about the culture, gastronomy and practices. I expected to learn much there and it turned out to be right. The courses I took at Peking University were quite intensive. So I learned a lot about public policy in China and literature, which I never even thought about studying before. I learned about European and Dutch involvement specifically in China and about Dutch businesses active in China, which I also didn’t know a lot about."

Do you think that you could use this knowledge in the future?

"I am definitely going back to China again: it was just a very nice time to be there. I might be working somewhere in China during my career. What I learned in the field is how to interact with others through intercultural communication. This will definitely help me if I ever go back there. The content of the courses I took will of course help me in essays, where I can give examples that I don’t think anyone else can give without this experience. It gives me something to talk about during essays or in discussions."

Why should students participate in the NAHSS?

"Because it is basically three summers in one. These being the academic, the business and cultural aspect to it. This was exactly what I was looking for back in January. I saw the mail that PPLE sent out, four days before the deadline, and it had all the three things that I was looking for. I was looking for a summer school programme, or an internship, to gain some work experience, and I was looking for somewhere to visit and get a taste of a different culture. NAHSS offers all three in one, so it is an amazing experience."