By Ioana Dobrescu
After a ten-hour flight plus another 4 hours of bus, train and taxi travel combined, I am in Hangzhou. My first time in China and the first one to arrive from a group of about 20 Dutch, Spanish and Chinese Wetskills participants and organizers. This is also my first time as a supervisor for a Wetskills Water Challenge and China is the place where the first Wetskills ever was organized.
So many firsts.
I am enthusiastic and wondering at the same time. How will this go? A big group of people in an entirely new environment without access to all the little conventions and apps that make life convenient for those coming from other countries, and most of all, having to communicate in a language that is foreign to us all.
Saturday afternoon the participants start coming in, and I get to meet them one by one. A day later we are all here and the programme can start.
We are now in day 5 and so much has happened already. Team building, field visits to a wastewater treatment plant, the beautiful XiXi Wetlands, Hanzghou city and its superb West Lake, the teams formation and the Brain Hurricane, and, of course, amazing dinners with traditional Chinese food.
I have gotten to know Wetskills during the three editions that were organized in Romania every two years since 2013. Mostly as an observer but also as a helping hand sometimes. I knew the way it worked and loved the energy and ideas generated by the teams. Now I am learning the back ropes. How every day is organized, how to involve the case owners and the local partners, how to give support to the participants, and not least, how to thrive on the unknown and the ever-changing through flexibility and adaptability.
But the most important thing I learned so far is that nothing would have been possible without the support of the local network. Without our Chinese counterpart from the Zhejiang University of Technology, and without the professors here and the case owners.
We’ve established ‘headquarters’ at the ZJUT where the participants work every day and get to experience life in the Hangzhou campus. This is not only new for the foreign participants but also for the Chinese coming from Hohai and Wuhan. Besides the sheer size of the campus, what impresses most is the combination of imposing concrete building mellowed down by and abundance of lush green and water canals everywhere. And our host here, Mr Bo Jiang, has arranged classrooms and access to all facilities and involved the most important resource of them all: his students.
My worries and problems have always been solved with the support of the amazing Chinese students who help with everything from translation and communication with case owners, to organizing dinners, and the little things, like getting taxis and bikes, letting us experience the amazingly efficient Chinese system by proxy.
I am happy to see that what in the beginning seem insurmountable differences of culture and language, or even the difference in type of app you use to pay or order food, can be easily reconciled through the dedication of the locals and the warm-heartedness with which they have helped us every step of the way.
I am humbled by and grateful to the Chinese teachers and students I have met here.
I look forward to the rest of the programme, the finals at Aquatech Shanghai, and I already now I will leave with great memories and new friends.