MIT’s “global classroom” comes to Shenzhen

MIT's “global classroom” comes to Shenzhen


“I’m pleased to hold MIT’s first overseas Chinese program in Shenzhen. MIT-IAP Shenzhen is benefiting from technological advances, creative culture and social innovation resources within the city.”

------Dr. Haohsiang Liao 

Director of MIT Chinese Program


MIT-IAP Shenzhen (4-19 January 2020)


*MIT: Massachusetts Institute of Technology

*SUSTech: Southern University of Science and Technology

*SUSTech Global: Global Engagement Office

*IAP: Independent Activities Period


MIT-IAP Shenzhen

The program was jointly designed by the MIT Chinese Program and SUSTech Global. The morning sessions were taught by the MIT instructor, with one hour practice assisted by SUSTech students as language buddies. The afternoon sessions were comprised of field studies arranged by SUSTech Global. The course outcome was that each student would be able to make a presentation in Mandarin on a topic related to China.

On January 4, Southern University of Science and Technology (SUSTech) welcomed a group of undergraduate students from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) to take part in the MIT Independent Activities Period Shenzhen Program (MIT-IAP Shenzhen). Eight students studied Mandarin and experienced life in Shenzhen for two weeks.

MIT began building their Global Strategy in 2017 which emphasized MIT’s distinctive “global classroom” in which students develop communicative and intercultural competencies, critical thinking skills, intellectual curiosity, and cross-cultural understanding through on-site projects, augmented by country-specific cultural and historical education and language training. This year, MIT’s Chinese Program chose Shenzhen as its first overseas project site in partnership with SUSTech.


MIT students lived and studied on SUSTech campus, undertaking projects and exploring city life together with SUSTech students


The program of MIT-IAP Shenzhen allowed students to fully immerse themselves in the local environment, boosting their language proficiency and cultural awareness. Moreover, it helped students start to gain understanding & insight into contemporary China; as well as highlighting interest in cultural differences between China and the United States.

Heekyoung Woo, Elizebeth Murray and John Lin decided to carry out research on - respectively - educational differences between China and the U.S., China’s college entrance examination system, prejudices between both nations.

Minna Wyttenbach, a MIT student in mechanical engineering interviewed Chinese students Luyu Xiaohou and Haichuang Che to learn about the SUSTech course CAD(Computer Aided Design) Engineering with regards to its pedagogy and research assignment. During the final presentation, Minna shared her findings about the differences between students’ conducting research project at MIT and SUSTech.


SUSTech robotics lab


Tencent’s VR technology


Experiencing Shenzhen’s innovative culture at Chaihuo Makers


Meeting the start-up company CODEMAO’s CTO Mr. Yue Sun


Field studies

The afternoon sessions were both introductory and informative. Students visited a variety of local landmarks, cultural sites, tech companies, start-ups and incubators, as well as local non-government organizations across the city. The visits were not only an interactive demonstration of Shenzhen’s innovative nature, but serve as a living testament to the city’s transformation.

Although all the students were from science-related majors, it was evident they were equally passionate and fascinated by Chinese history and culture.

During the visit to Artron Art Center, Students from MIT and SUSTech explored the exhibition hall and fell into the beauty of calligraphy, paintings, sculptures, and porcelain.


Artron Center - enjoying the beauty of ancient and modern Chinese art

Grameen China is a charity providing women with micro and guarantee-free loans to set up their own business. The charity helps women who normally cannot get loans because of their credit history. By breaking down barriers the charity helps to open doors for these women.

MIT students met with charity staff in an office located in an urban village. Students were impressed by the 99% loan payment ratio and also heard stories from some of the beneficiaries of the loans.

Grameen China - a poverty reduction trip


“May you have a lovely son soon! (zaoshengguizi in Chinese)” The auspicious wedding wish can be represented by red dates (hongzao), peanut (huasheng), longan (guiyuan), and lotus seeds (lianzi) in China since they together share the pronunciation of the wish. At U·Nature Life (酉心生), a sex education organization in Shenzhen, students had a taste of these dried fruits and the play of words represented by these fruits.

More interestingly, students dived into the wedding customs across various ethnic groups in China and the changes toward sexual attitudes. Students tied the discussions with current issues, like the differences between sex education in China and America; the traditional marriage mindset and its legacy in rural China; the absence of sex education in China.


U·Nature Life (酉心生) - sex education in China


Chinese Buddhism was a special part of this program. MIT students visited the famous Hongfa Temple where they exchanged ideas with Abbot Yinshun and Buddhism School students. They practiced Buddhist meditation and tried Buddhist cuisine, both of which were eye-opening for them. “There are different cultures, languages, and beliefs on earth but we have a shared value: love and benevolence”. said Abbot Yinshun.


Hongfa Temple - a Buddhist tour


The Huaqiangbei area is a microcosm of Shenzhen’s historic economic jumpstart. Mary Ann O’Donnell, an American anthropologist and the co-editor of the multidisciplinary research book Learning from Shenzhen (2017, University of Chicago Press) who has lived in Shenzhen for 25 years, guided students on a walking tour passing a community compound, through the highstreets and into an electronic goods market, all the while narrating the history of the continuing transformation of the once rural villages from several decades past. Through her guided tour, Dr. O’Donnell unveiled Shenzhen’s journey from “world factory” to “global Silicon Valley”.


Huaqiangbei - a Shenzhen story told by Mary Ann O’Donnell


Huaqiangbei - saw the history of Shenzhen’s tech industry


Student experience

Below we follow what some of the students have been up to as well as their experience. From attempting to solve novel problems using science through to expressing their own ideas on traditional art forms.

Marco Rivera was fascinated by the Chinese calligraphy hanging over the wall in Phoenix, a local tea house. He had gained a basic understanding of calligraphy in MIT and chose to carry on his study of calligraphy through a mini-project during his stay in China. During the final presentation, Marco was excited to share his understanding of the traditional literary game known as “floating cup on a winding brook”.

Chinese calligraphy displays at tea house Phoenix


Thiago Bergamaschi discovered that it was hard for AI to win games of Mahjong due to logical complexity, imbalanced information and randomness. He started to find out ways to tackle these difficulties and to empower AI through machine learning.


Learning from Chinese Kongfu athlete Sheng Yang


Nia Myrie was born and raised in Jamaica where dance and music are indispensable parts of life. She studied various dancing styles of Chinese ethnic groups, and was particularly fascinated by the Chinese Ballad. She had an idea to choreograph a new staged dance combining Chinese dance movements with Jamaican dance.


Trying out the Guzheng (the Chinese zither)


Bibek Pandit from Nepal was astonished by Shenzhen’s economic development and the general speed of development in China. Graduating this summer, Bibek spent time learning about the Chinese experience of rapid modernization with the goal of applying what he has learnt to the development of his own country.


Being greeted by Abbot Yinshun at Hongfa Temple


John Lin is American Chinese. In an afternoon, following his peers, he visited a residential community where a humble social enterprise is located--- Good People Good Things (好人好事), dedicated to help the vulnerable in the city. John tried his hands at the mutually benefiting programs and gained a vivid picture on how it works in the daily life of Shenzhen. As John said, this is the most impressive part of this tour because it presented a snapshot of tears and laughter of real life in contemporary China.


Visiting Good People Good Things (好人好事), a social enterprise


In the final days of their time in Shenzhen and at SUSTech, the MIT students expressed their thanks to the student volunteers who had devoted their time and passion to help them improve their language skills and understand China throughout the past two weeks at SUSTech and in Shenzhen. In return, the SUSTech students have found that they had learned a lot from the hard-working MIT students and were keen to travel to Boston to experience the education that MIT offers.

The year 2020 marks the 10th anniversary of SUSTech, and the university will welcome students from HEC Paris, University of Toronto, University of British Columbia, and the University of Queensland for visits and exchanges.

Receiving Red Envelope - the Chinese New Year Gift


what they said

"The SUSTech students were absolutely amazing! They were also full of energy and enthusiastic to help us out with whatever we needed. On days where we had free time, students took it upon themselves to plan an itinerary full of fun activities. Additionally, I feel like I’ve made long term friends."

——MIT student's anonymous feedback from the program evaluation


"The past two weeks were an incredible experience and I am endlessly grateful I was given this opportunity to come to Shenzhen, learn some Chinese, and meet some unforgettable people."

——Minna Wyttenbach


"I understand why China is the way it is. China is a massive economy today, it became so only in a few decades. I can see how the details of what prompted that change. I think the amount of details we were provided for every place we went, especially Li Laoshi’s description made things so much meaningful. Those descriptions were the best."

——MIT student's anonymous feedback from the program evaluation


"The program gave us a very diverse range of experiences throughout Shenzhen from seeing humble urban villages to grandiose government buildings to major companies like DJI and Tencent and then back again to a humble (and noble) societal good company like 好人好事 (Good People Good Things)."

——John Lin


"I am so impressed with Shenzhen’s history and development, and I really love this city. In the future, I would like to come back to visit Shenzhen again and see the change."

——MIT student's anonymous feedback from the program evaluation


"The experience with SUSTech peers is my favorite part of the program! I learned so much from them. I was always so happy when they participated in the afternoon activities with us. They all went above and beyond taking us out into the city and sharing their culture and experiences with us. Please let them know how grateful I am for their support."

——MIT student's anonymous feedback from the program evaluation


- By SUSTech Global and SUSTech students -