Arriving as an exchange student to Tongji gives you two more options for finding courses to broaden your repertoire. The first one is quite straight forward, the International School offers courses in Mandarin in several levels, but it also has a few courses such as sustainability, culture and history etc. From what I’ve been told the latter ones might not be the best bet for high level education, but if you have a hard time filling your schedule (it’s not really a problem…) they may offer a quite manageable work load and mostly individual work, which can be a great thing if you plan to go for any trips during the semester.
The Sino-Finnish Centre is more of a mixed jar, both in offerings and quality of education. This innovation and design lab is part of a collaboration with Aalto University in Finland which has several similar centers around the world. The focus is to bring design and innovation thinking into students’ minds, no matter their major. All students at Tongji are invited to participate in the courses. As it’s almost exclusively project courses the possibly interesting mix of backgrounds and expertise can make for great experiences as well as great frustrations.
The courses during the fall ranged from Project management, through design for sustainability, to intensive courses in entrepreneurship. Many professors are visiting from other universities and countries. Some courses were labeled intensive courses, which meant they had several lectures a week for only a couple of weeks, or even just one. This meant that to take one you might have to be able to drop some other lectures for a few times, but on the other hand it’s a good way to quickly get some credits done.
I only had one course at the SFC, called “Designing New Ventures: Techniques in High-tech Innovation. Fancy name, but the course mostly lived up to it. It consisted of 2 weeks with 3 full evening lectures and two extra full days on the weekends. The course covered everything from the innovators dilemma and design thinking to business models and getting investment. It followed a model used at Stanford University, modified for this occasion. This had both good and bad sides to it, as the material was thorough and well made, but it was supposed to be used for a course spanning more hours. Thus, we had to skip or hurry through some parts.
My class consisted of about 15 students, several from mechanical engineering but also marketing, design and civil engineering, among others. It was my first project course in China, and my first project with such diversity both regarding knowledge background as well as culture and language. It was a great challenge and I have never been so frustrated before as I was at some points during the project. I’ve never learnt so much about teamwork either, and I am very happy I took on the challenge. On the other end I had made some really good friends as well as gained lots of experience.
There is one major drawback with the courses at the SFC, and that is that they seem to be down prioritized by many students. This may also be because of a difference between how they count credits for foreign and local students. The result is that on the longer running courses there is an unbalance in how much effort students are willing or able to put into group work, making most of the longer running courses a frustration for the friends of mine that were in them.
As it is now there seems to be some kind of downsizing of the SFC going on, as the spring semester courses are much fewer. I do believe it brings an interesting experience that is hard to get elsewhere, but it’s hard to say if it is going to be available for much longer. As a design student myself, most topics are covered by the College of Design and Innovation, and that’s were I’ll be taking my primary courses during the spring.