Teaching at BDIC, Beijing
Dr. Vivek Nallur is a lecturer in the School of Computer Science. He lectures at the Beijing Dublin International College (BDIC), in Beijing. BDIC was set up as a collaboration between UCD and Beijing University of Technology. BDIC offers undergraduate courses in Finance, Software Engineering, IoT and Electronic and Information Engineering. The school of Computer Science in UCD offers its undergraduate cohort, in their final year, the opportunity to go to Beijing and complete their courses at BDIC. Final year students from BDIC also have a similar opportunity, to come to Dublin and finish their undergraduate courses here.
For the past two years now, I have been travelling to Beijing to teach the autumn semester (September - December) at BDIC. I still remember the anticipation, the excitement, and the trepidation when I first arrived in Beijing. There were the usual anxieties about the lack of language skills and different-ness of practically everything. But I found that while all of these anxieties are real, if you approach it with an open-mind it can turn into an exciting experience.
Food, being one of our primal needs, is what really affects your daily experience of a place. How different the cuisine is, what ingredients are used, and of course the use of chopsticks everywhere. Depending on your sense of adventure either it’s a gastronomic delight or a maze that needs to be navigated every day. The university campus has multiple restaurants that cater to the student community and staff every day, from about 7:00 am till about 8:00 pm. Most chinese meals are served hot, and hence, most people eat at the university restaurants instead of bringing a packed lunch from home. Being a huge country, the cuisine is quite diverse. Students from different parts of the country can have food from their specific regions in the same restaurant. For me, this was a great discovery since I was able to sample a huge variety of dishes that I would’ve otherwise not been able to access (or even know about), as a tourist. Also, food at the campus restaurants are subsidized and so it is quite normal to get a full meal for about 2 euros. Whenever I get back to Dublin, I’m in shock for a week or two at the steep difference in food prices. Eating with chopsticks is an acquired skill and, after my second outing, I’m much more comfortable with them.
Beijing is very dry, which makes for a significant change from the damp back in Dublin. During late summer and autumn it can be uncomfortably hot with temperatures hovering around 30 degrees Celsius. Autumn, while beautiful, doesn’t last long and t-shirts and shorts in October quickly give way to scarves and thick jackets by mid-November. By December the temperatures are usually below freezing (last year, there were several weeks where the maximum temperature during the day was about minus two degrees Celsius). Sunny days are quite crisp and, if you’re wearing the right clothing, quite pleasant to walk about. Of course, if it’s windy, make sure you’re bundled up warm.
Lecture slots are 1.5 hours long, which is a departure from the usual lecture slots that one is used to. This means that I always take a bottle of water (hot tea in winters!) with me to class, else I’d be thirsty by the end of the lecture. The students are quite friendly, but class sizes are bigger. My smallest class is about 60 students, and the largest class is almost 200 strong. Classes begin at 8:00 am and can go up to 7:30pm on some days. Those days are quite tiring, and I am ready to crash by the time I get back home! It’s quite an intense experience, and one that I have grown to like.