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‘Reminded me of Mexico’: What it’s like studying in Peking, China

Born in Monterrey, Mexico, Luis Abraham Taboada was a mere eight years old when he moved to the US to chase the American Dream. Growing up in the US, some of his hobbies included American football, street soccer and basketball.

Then, the urge to study abroad struck and he chose to do it in the faraway land of China. “I never thought I would get a chance to study abroad, but with the number of scholarships out there, it was possible,” he says.

Getting personal with us, he fills us in on how he managed to find substitutes for foods he missed back home, a 23-hour flight away. He laughs, “I eat anything and everything,” but there simply isn’t anything like your authentic “birria” tacos with spicy salsa in Asia, much less in China.

Undaunted, he managed to locate a vendor in Peking University who would make the equivalent of a Mexican “gordita” — a thick corn tortilla, stuffed with meat, veggies, egg and sauces. Something parallel to that would be “gua bao”  — made out of lotus leaf and packed with pork belly. Find out more about what he has to say about being an international student in China:

Luis (centre) with his professor and classmate. Source: Luis Taboada

 

Tell us more about when you decided to venture abroad with your studies.

Since I joined college, I knew that studying abroad was an experience I’d always wanted. Truth be told, I never thought I would be able to afford it. Nevertheless, one night at 9 p.m. sitting in my room, I received an email from the study abroad coordinator. In the email, there was something that really stood out for me, and I just had this feeling like I needed to take this opportunity. 

This ended up being the Globex Julmester programme, and there was a scholarship available for it.  It was like the universe was speaking to me so I gave it a shot and applied with low expectations. Two of the longest weeks after, my acceptance letter came in and all I can remember feeling was shocked and joyful at the same time. 

What exactly were you studying and where?

I took part in the Globex Julmester programme at the College of Engineering at Peking University in Beijing. Over two months during summer 2015, I enrolled in two courses: Smart Materials Engineering and Neural Prosthetic Engineering. I collaborated with students from all over the world on assignments and projects on latest technology. 

The two courses show the advanced steps humanity has progressed to and showcase the endless possibilities for these technologies. On another note, learning basic Mandarin was something is something I can proudly add to my repertoire. 

What impact did studying in China have on you?

When I think of China, my mind wanders to martial arts, temples, bizarre food, and a completely different culture (very stereotypical, I know!). Upon my arrival, it oddly reminded me of Mexico. It was similar in a way that street vendors were everywhere, the traffic was as insane, and the high disparity between the high-class and working/lower-class of people. 

I definitely fell in love with China, it was like a moment lost in translation. Exploring a culture unknown to me helped me broaden my views. I got to meet a lot of people from all over the globe because I was in an international programme, and that introduced me to the multicultural community. Moreover, using their train system and trying all types of foods was such an epic adventure. Consequently, I am now a huge fan of hot pot, skewers, boba tea, soup dumplings, duck meat, fried chicken, and Chinese beer (in China you are allowed to drink at age 18, unlike the US at age 21).

What were your fond memories at Peking University? Tell us about it.

Something that stood out to me was taking part in group projects — it was like working with family. In one team, there was a guy from Hong Kong, another from Pakistan, and then myself from Mexico. Researching together was great fun, we also talked about our home countries and even shared birthday songs (proud to say Mexico’s birthday song remains undefeated). We still keep in touch from time to time. It’s nice to know that the connection we formed is still there and I think that’s another great thing about studying abroad. 

Luis (centre) with fellow classmates he worked with in group projects. Source: Luis Taboada

What advice do you have for other international students planning to take on the Middle Kingdom?

My parents were against the idea of me studying abroad, they were scared about something happening to me and not being able to pay for it. Although the idea of travelling to the other side of the world is daunting to some, I didn’t have to pay for much apart from the plane ticket, food, and housing in China which were all really cheap. 

If you want to study in China, just do it! Everyone focuses too much on going to Europe for various stereotypical reasons. Apart from their education system and heritage, they want to compare their study life to what they see in the movies which are always Westernised. Why not try something completely new, exploring new things is so exciting!

Being far from your family is a pretty big thing. For reassurance, I would call my parents every 12 hours on the way to China and when I arrived so they felt more at ease. It was a challenge to get good wifi anywhere outside the university, and you need VPN access to use your Western social media apps. 

In my humble opinion, any Asian or even African university is worth going abroad to study at. Not only are you getting top-notch education, but you are immersing yourself in a completely different culture. It’s very unique to learn about the future growth of the world from different perspectives and how you can help in the bigger scheme of things.

Luis, a Latin student abroad in China. Source: Luis Taboada

What do you see yourself doing in the near future?

There is no doubt in my mind that I would like to do my MBA abroad. Deciding where is the tricky part. I am currently looking at programmes in Singapore, Hong Kong, South Korea, Japan, Switzerland, UK, Australia, and Latin America. My last choices would be Stanford, UPenn, UChicago, Harvard or Rice in the US.

Professionally, I am looking into getting my certificate to be a Professional Engineer (PE) in Texas over the next couple of years. I would start the process by becoming an Engineer in Training and choose to take my PE license in my home state after five years of relevant work. After, I can then choose to get licensed in other states which would make me more sought after. On an unrelated note, it’s always been a dream of mine to own a Harley Davidson — so that is also on my future cards.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

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