Reflections From a Cultural Exchange in Guangzhou

It is definitely the most wonderful time of the year; the winter holidays are again here to remind us time spent at home with our beloved ones is precious, but also to make us reflect on the previous year.

For Ivona Shukuroska, an architect by education and a passionate traveler by calling, exploring China is the event that marked her 2016. She applied for a summer exchange via AIESEC and got to spend 6 weeks in Guangzhou. The aim of the exchange was to get to know better the Chinese culture, architecture, tradition, as well as to help Chinese people revive some of their traditions and to promote the tradition and culture of her native country, Macedonia.

Cultural Exchange Guangzhou

What made you apply for this exchange?

Spending a summer in another foreign country is the best way to spend some free time. Also, as a person who loves adventures, traveling, making friends and exploring other cultures, this exchange was the best opportunity to get all these things together. At the same time, the project offered many different topics, debates, conferences and workshops. The good thing about this exchange is that you get to learn a lot about the topics that you have chosen, and at the same time, you get to feel the process of self-improvement very fast.

Cultural Exchange in Guangzhou

Besides being a country with an enormous population and area, China firstly is a country with rich culture, amazing architecture, and beautiful nature. What were you most impressed about?

I’m an architect, so I have to say that the most impressive thing for me was the architecture, and of course, the culture, because somehow they are inseparable. The traditional architecture has very known and remarkable shape and includes some, unknown to us, different architecture elements that have amazing, quite colorful decoration. Every city has a different and recognizable architectural style and decoration. The center areas in the big cities are really breathtaking. They are mostly built with skyscrapers and architectural masterpieces signed from the most famous world architects. Most of the big cities have their recognizable skylines.

Cultural Exchange in Guangzhou

After spending 2 months there and being directly involved in their non-formal education process, what are the differences and similarities between Europe and Asia and Guangzhou and Skopje?

I can say there are almost no similarities between Europe and Asia and Guangzhou and Skopje. Even though I expected to be very different, I have to admit I had a cultural shock the first 2-3 days in China. Still, the only way to enjoy the trip was to get used to this and accept all differences. They have completely different lifestyle and habits. Everything is very different, even the basic stuff. They eat with chopsticks, wash the dishes with tea before they eat, they always share food on the table, their cutlery contains only one small plate for the leftovers and one small plate for rice, drink the soup, and it’s totally OK if you make any kind of noise while you eat. They have different behavior and mentality. They even drink hot water 🙂

international-exchange

How can this kind of international exchanges influence one’s life?

Spending 2 months in China was one of the most difficult and challenging things that I have ever done. The first days of the project, and during the conference, the host advised us to write down all things we want to change within us and check the result at the end of the trip. He was right, the changes came very fast and they were positive. During the 6 weeks, I witnessed the changes happening within me. I came back as a different person, stronger and better. That included many new and close friends from all around the world, one more visited country on my list and an amazing experience. Even if it’s 10 times more difficult next time, I’ll definitely do it again… 🙂

In your opinion, which of the methods used there should we apply in our educational systems (formal or non-formal)?

I took part in many different workshops: calligraphy, Chinese embroidery, sand art, pottery, the process of making and drinking Chinese morning tea, material dying, Chinese lessons, Kung Fu… I liked all of them, though sand art was my favorite. Almost all of the workshops had the usual method of explaining. But, according to me, the best and most useful method was finding the solution of the problem through a game. It makes the task more interesting and it makes you find creative solutions.

cultural-exchange

Why should someone from Europe take part in an exchange of this nature? Can you give tips on how to make an attractive application?

I say, Europe is the queen of the world; people live a perfect life here. I think young people should take part in this exchange project only if they want to explore the world and explore themselves, get out of their comfort zone, challenge themselves, and experience a different way of life. For us, difficult way of life, different behaviors, and environment… all that can make us a better person.

The only way to be an attractive applicant is to be open, accept the differences, be creative and willing to become a better person.

Contributed by Klimentina Gjorgjioska

Photo contribution by Ivona Shukuroska