Jon Ainsworth, Global Summer Exchange 2019 – Shanghai

What do you study at King’s?

MSc Emerging Economies and International Development.

Where did your Global Summer Experience take place?

Shanghai Jiao Tong University, China.

What course did you take and why?

China’s Policy on Climate Change, Energy and Environment because of the unique interdisciplinary nature of the course on offer.

How did receiving the Global Summer Exchange Award shape your experience?

Being a self-funded part-time student, I have often found it difficult to attend activities outside of class due to time and money constraints. The award contributed to paying for pretty much the entire cost of my return tickets, which of course was a massive help. As the airfare was accounted for, I was able to stay in the country for longer and go to the largest skatepark in the world (SMP Shanghai) to fulfill the dream I have had for many years of riding the masterpiece.

How was the application process?

The application process was straight forward as the initial application was submitted to King’s and then I was nominated to apply to Jiao Tong. The Global Mobility Team go above and beyond to support your application at the host university as the team have a wealth of experience in dealing with global applications.

What were the highlights of your Global Summer Experience?

The opportunity to study alongside a group of like minded cosmopolitan individuals from such a diverse array of fields including environmental science, geography and economics definitely made the in-class discussions a lot more interesting as there was an assimilation of knowledge from the hard and social sciences taking place throughout the course. It was very refreshing to grasp some engineering concepts and solutions to the environmental problems we are facing today. Additionally, the wisdom of Dr. Junhua Zhang made the experience unforgettable.

What was the biggest challenge you encountered during your Global Summer Experience?

The biggest challenge I encountered was a problem with my accommodation situation. I booked a place on AirBnB, which FYI is blocked on China’s firewall, to later be told by Jiao Tong that I must report to the local police station details of my whereabouts for the duration of my stay within 24 hours (a requirement when staying off campus). This is a statutory requirement when on a student visa that I was unaware of and subsequently led to a very nerve-wracking day of tracking down landlords, signing document and contemplating my fear of spending the rest of my days in Chinese detention if this wasn’t boxed off. Luckily, I was able to get the documents to the relevant authorities in time. The lesson was learnt. Ignorance is no excuse; you must respect the laws of the land you are in and conform to any bureaucracy or formalities expected of a visitor. I made this mistake so you as the reader does not have to!

Any other surprises?

Prior to departure I was aware of the mobile payment giants such as WeChat and Alipay, but I completely underestimated their usage among the population. It soon became apparent that QR codes are ubiquitous to the core function of the modern Chinese economy as they are used for things ranging from payments, to unlocking a motorbike and even when you sign up to WeChat you will get your own personalised QR code for new friends to scan, rendering any prior language miscommunication obsolete as you can now communicate through the comfort of a translating app.

Do you have any advice for those thinking of applying?

Go for it. If you are curious, open-minded and intrigued to learn Chinese ways of thinking and problem solving, you should not hold back. It was an experience that has inspired me greatly and it will continue to do so for the rest of my life. If you are not so interested in academia, China also has incredible rice and bakery treats.

Stellenbosch University Summer School – Megan Binnie

I decided to attend Stellenbosch Summer School because it offered a unique and challenging academic experience with an all-inclusive social and cultural programme. By choosing Stellenbosch, I knew I would get to study fulfilling, intellectually stimulating modules while also exploring the Western Cape of South Africa with the guidance of local students.

A fantastic opening function was held on arrival to welcome us all to the programme. A group of performers called Drum Café came to play authentic African music for us, making it interactive so that we all had the chance to play, dance and sing along. Afterwards, we introduced ourselves to one another over some wine from the local vineyards and watched the South African students dancing to Afrikaans music, called Sokkie. I also got to experience the popular SA tradition of having a Braai, which is like a BBQ with music and dancing!

The university organised some optional excursions for us, so I chose a one-day safari at Aquila Private Game Reserve and Spa. This was an experience like no other – we drove out on a cold, crisp African morning and saw buffalo, rhinos, lions, zebras and elephants. The baby rhino was super curious about our adventure and came right over to our truck, flicking his ears and sniffing the air! We managed to get very close to the elephants which was amazing for me, as I’d never seen one before. Getting up close to the lions was a little scarier, but luckily for us they were happy and undisturbed by our presence!

On our first weekend we visited Cape Town, where we rode the sight-seeing city tour bus around. The highlight was visiting the District Six museum and hearing the story of our guide who had grown up there with her family. They lived there happily for years until the State declared it a ‘whites only’ area during the apartheid area, forcing her family to relocate and bulldozing the whole district. Hearing about her experience was very emotional, but really brought to life my studies of apartheid South Africa and opened my eyes to the significance with which it effected (and still does affect) people’s lives. On a lighter note, we had the chance to view all of Cape Town from the top of Table Mountain and ventured up there in a cable car. Due to the winter weather, we only managed a small glimpse of the beautiful view as the clouds passed and spent most of our time enjoying coffee and cake in the mountain-top café, before grabbing lunch at an open-front beach bar and café. The next morning, we watched the sunrise at the Victoria and Albert Waterfront and spent a few hours relaxing, enjoying South Africa’s best wines and street performers there.

Back at Stellenbosch, the summer school staff organized a South African Food Evening where we could sample popular foods of the nation, including; milk tart, koeksisters and pap. A few nights later they organised a career café, where a former Stellenbosch student came to speak about how his international experiences and connections have shaped his career and personal life. He helped us see the value in international experiences through his interesting and inspiring story. Since Stellenbosch is a small university town and relatively quiet out of term time, we were taken on a weekend away to Mykonos Resort on the Langebaan coast. It resembled a small Greek island and was the chance for us to relax from the intensity of our studies! We went on a yacht trip there and used the spa, which was amazing and super cheap. It was a really nice touch to our experience to have a mini holiday weekend.

On the journey back from our weekend away we were given a few hours at Spice Route Tastings, where we received vouchers to use on chocolate, wine, beer, biltong, or coffee. Stellenbosch is a wine region so as we enjoyed a nice meal at the pizzeria there, we overlooked the beautiful scenery of vineyards and mountains.

At Stellenbosch I studied South African Political History, which gave me a detailed insight into the history of a country I had never previously visited or studied. My second elective; Transitional Justice, has had a huge effect on me and my future plans. We were taught by a practitioner working as a peace-process advisor for war-torn countries, and mediator for victims of gross human rights violations. We examined peace processes in a variety of countries, including South Africa, Argentina, Chile etc. and were required to suggest and develop a strategy for peace in a country of choice. The chance to work with students from different academic backgrounds around the world was valuable in broadening my perspective on the controversial and sensitive issues of discussion. The elective was extremely engaging and inspiring, opening my eyes to an important line of work that I may wish to pursue in the future and helping me make international connections to facilitate my future career. Overall, my summer school experience at Stellenbosch was everything I had hoped for and more! Thank you Associated Commonwealth Universities for the grant!

Higher School of Economics, Saint Petersburg – Niklas Brag

Why Russia?

As part of my studies in International Management, I had the opportunity to go abroad for my 3rd year. As I had studied Russian for the past two years, it was an obvious choice to make knowing that I was curious about the culture and I wanted to experience it for myself. Personally, my main criteria for my study abroad experience was to visit a country I had never been to before. Russia felt like the perfect opportunity to discover a country with great historical and artistic heritage. My main objective was to improve my language skills and learn more about their culture.

The initial reaction I get from almost 100% of the people (including Russians) when I tell them that I went to Russia for my study abroad is: “but why?”. I always had this feeling that people were apprehensive of Russians due to their country’s international perspective. However, all the Russians I had met up until this point had always been really nice and caring. I wanted to experience this for myself and traveled without any expectations or judgements.

Initial thoughts and accommodation

When I landed in Saint Petersburg, I was nicely greeted by a student from HSE that I had ‘buddied-up’ with in order to help me at the airport. Already, you feel the change in scenery and the language. Nobody speaks English, Uber is not the main transport service and you quickly realise the importance of cash. On the ride to my student accommodation that I had been assigned to, I could see the landscapes of the Saint Petersburg suburbs which were mainly filled by big, grey blocks of apartment buildings. The student accommodations were no exception to this which can come as a shock at first, but it actually made me enjoy the trip even more.

I was shown around the building and was given a room that I shared with 3 other Russian students from the university. Again, the initial thought of having to share a room with 3 other strangers for 5 months when you don’t really speak the language, can be quite nerve-wracking. However, I was immediately really well received and the 3 made me feel welcome instantly. All three were incredibly nice and enabled me to experience the real student life in Russia. Obviously, there was always a possibility to move and rent an apartment. Nonetheless, that would hinder you from meeting any actual local and even the international students all lived in the same halls. Overall, living in the student accommodations in Russia made the experience much more enjoyable and it turned out to be an unforgettable memory. Maybe the living standards wouldn’t be as nice as somewhere in London, but I never made my choice based upon comfort.



Higher School of Economics – ERASMUS

During a year abroad, changing university will always be a little bit challenging in terms of getting around, timetables, teaching or dealing with administration. This can be a little bit tricky in Russia and it will be important to keep yourself organised by having the right documents in order to provide everything upon arrival. Other than this, I enjoyed the teaching quality at the university. I had the opportunity to choose all my modules, so I decided to take some that were more history based. On top of that I had 8h of Russian per week which was really essential in my language progress. The majority of the students at the university were Russian but I was in class with mostly Erasmus students. During the semester I met an incredibly diverse set of people and made friends from all over Europe. The time abroad enables you to build a new set of social skills and will inevitably make you feel more confident on the future.

Saint Petersburg – The city

The historical parts of the city are beautiful and are more alike European cities such as Stockholm in terms of architecture. The city is divided by the Nevsky river which froze during the winter and there are canals that flows around the city. I had never experienced the cold like this and the city transformed with the snow. My favourite part of the city was the cultural heritage and the incredible museums that were available. Being able to visit the Hermitage when it was snowing, going to the Russian museum or the Erarta for modern arts and even the Fabergé museum (the little eggs that you see in movies) was just unbelievable. Overall, I got to see art that was very different from what I had seen before which nurtured my desire to know more about the culture. Additionally, I went to see a football game from the local Zenith Saint Petersburg team in their brand-new stadium. To sum up, I had an incredible experience in Russia, discovering the local culture, the language, arts and made great friends along the way. I definitely plan to go back in order to visit more parts of the country.


Miami Itch Centre Visit, October 2019, Dr Maria Papanikolaou

I would like to thank King’s College London warmly for supporting me towards my visit to the Miami Itch Centre. This took place in October 2019, over a period of two weeks. This destination was chosen in the context of my current research project, the PRUMEC trial, which focuses on elucidating the cause of itch in an inherited skin condition known as Dystrophic Epidermolysis Bullosa (DEB). I am conducting this under the supervision of Professor John McGrath in the Genetic Skin Disease Group of St John’s Institute of Dermatology. Dr Gil Yosipovitch, one of our main collaborators for this study, is the Head of the Miami Itch Centre and a worldrenowned itch expert.

During my visit I was primarily based at the Gil Yosipovitch Laboratory, located within the Rosenstiel Medical Science Building – University of Miami, where I was hosted by Dr Yosipovitch’s dynamic laboratory group. The primary purpose of my visit was to assist with immunohistochemistry staining of 45 skin samples which I had personally collected as part of my study. Each stain set (five in total) was completed through a three-day protocol; the aim was to use fluorescence-labelled antibodies to quantify and compare the expression of major itch mediators and receptors between patient and control skin. I also had the chance to examine our stained samples under a microscope, and review pictures produced by the relevant computer visualisation software.

During the course of my visit I was also fortunate to join Dr Leigh Nattkemper in several clinical trial visits, involving both topical and systemic anti-itch agents. The visits involved amongst other things, induction of itch with histamine or cowhage (a plant native to Africa and tropical Asia, whose seedpods induce itch when touched), sensory testing for itch and pain and the use of itch assessment questionnaires. These provided great insight into translational aspects as well as some sound clinical practices in itch-related research.

Finally, my visit to the Miami Itch Centre was complemented by a rich portfolio of clinical activities. This included attendance of the weekly Dermatology Departmental Meetings, where several interesting cases were discussed in depth, an exciting lecture on Chronic Itch by Dr Takashi Hashimoto and participation in an all-day itch clinic alongside Dr Gil Yosipovitch. In the latter, we reviewed several patients suffering from itch of different aetiologies. This not only helped sharpen my diagnostic skills, but also allowed me to familiarise with the therapeutic modalities available in clinic for the alleviation of severe generalised itch.

I am grateful to Dr Yosipovitch and his team for organising an exciting and productive couple of weeks for me, as well as to Professor McGrath for making this trip possible; my visit provided a great overview of the scientific and clinical armamentarium available for the investigation, assessment and eventually management of itch. I am confident this will be an excellent foundation to build on as I move on with my PhD project and beyond. I would like to finish by expressing my gratitude to King’s College London once more, for supporting me in organizing this fantastic trip.

Studying Abroad at the University of North Carolina – Amir Rezaei

This blog is for those of you who want to do a study abroad in America. I’ll be going over some of the key aspects of the experience and what you can expect. I myself did my study abroad at UNC Chapel Hill so there’ll be some content specifically to do with that University but anyone who’s going to be studying abroad can learn from these experiences no matter what University they’ll be heading to. I’m going to cover some of the basics and then give my overall take on it.

The People and Culture

Put simply, it’s a whole another world out there. You’ll find yourself re-learning basic social behaviours and manners from scratch. People communicate differently, move differently and interact differently. Some things we would consider socially acceptable isn’t considered so over there and vice versa. You’ll find that the majority of people at your university will be from the state it’s located in. This is thanks to a law which makes it cheaper and easier for residents of a state to attend its universities than universities in other states. In a place like North Carolina, people have different attitudes and habits, about pretty much everything. Living in London for most my life I thought everyone is as sarcastic or sharing as a Londoner is. But you quickly realise that that is not the case. This is not to say people in North Carolina are not at all, just not to the extent of Londoners. And they will have personality traits that we won’t have as much of. This is one of the most eye-opening things you’ll learn on your study abroad experience. That people around the world are so different from each other. It lets you clearly see the habits and ideologies that you live by that were brought upon you due to the place that you grew up in. People dress differently, address one another differently and see each other differently. What you and your best friend are willing to do for each other won’t be the same as what 2 North Carolinian best friends would do for each other. And that’s where you learn what’s unique about the ideologies you live by. The personality of people will be different depending on where you attend. For instance, people in California will be different than those at Michigan. There’s no ‘better’ personality, it’s just that they’re different. But no matter what they’re like, you’ll learn that they are very different to you and you’ll ultimately learn about yourself.

The sports

It’s impossible to write an article on American schools without mentioning sports. King’s is in London. London has multiple major football teams. But you’d never know if you were a tourist just looking around. America is the exact opposite. Sports is everywhere and is dearly loved by Americans. In order to play professional sports in America, an athlete has to go through the sports system at universities and schools. Professional sports and universities are very closely tied. This makes universities care greatly about their athletics department. I believe all the universities KCL has a partnership with are Division 1 schools. Meaning, they’re the best of the best in terms of their athletics. No matter what university you go to, the university will have immense sports facilities. I’m talking an American football stadium the size of Wembley, countless basketball courts, free gyms, swimming pools etc. You will run into athletes on campus who will become professionals in a few years and you even get to see them perform for free. UNC in particular is a huge basketball school. Michael Jordan played there, so you can imagine the basketball facilities they have. I was able to attend a few of their games and got to see some players who are currently in the NBA. The best part about this is that they are very inclusive. The American football stadium is open most the time for anyone to go in, the gyms are free, the basketball courts are free. The perks are endless. It’s probably a good thing you have all that access to sports facilities because you’ll find yourself gaining a little weight. Thanks to the incredible food.

The Food

Since I have returned from my study abroad, I have not spent a penny on food in London. Why? Because it’s ‘trash’, as Americans call it. Honestly, the food there is so much better that you won’t want to spend your hard-earned money on English KFC and Sams Chicken ever again. You’d rather save it for when you go back to America. The food options are endless. All the food chains you hear about on the internet are there, and yes, they are very good. Chick Fil A, Wendy’s and a ton of other places you won’t have heard of but are very popular. The food quantities are substantial, and the prices are very fair. Every area in the US has food which is unique to it too. For example, North Carolina is considered ‘The South’ and so there’s lots of southern food floating about everywhere. North Carolina ice sweet tea is a thing, it is served everywhere, and it is utterly wonderful. Every state has some exclusive restaurant chains too which are always worth exploring. North Carolina has a place called Cookout where you can get a massive burger, fries, hush puppies, a quesadilla and an enormous milkshake for $7. That’s basically £4. Imagine all the meal deals you’ve had for £3. Throw in an extra quid and you’ll get all that. Unbelievable Jeff. I know most of you won’t have heard of hush puppies before. Take note that you’ll have lots of food there that you wouldn’t have had before. All the universities will also have a dining hall which is basically a buffet. The students there are so spoiled with good food that they don’t think it’s all that great but the food in the dining halls is easily comparable to the quality of food at Wasabi Sushi and Bento or other semi cheap options in London. It will have burgers, pizza, ice cream machines, unlimited cookies, and so much more. Don’t hesitate to spend money on food there because there are so many more options than in London and you’ll rarely regret the food you end up buying. There’s also a lot more Mexican food and emphasis on dishes that aren’t so big in London. The same way London doesn’t have many burrito places, American cities won’t have so many Thai food places.

American Universities

The universities out there are a textbook definition of what a university should be. Fun times, big campuses, loads of people, great weather, good food etc. Everything you’ve seen in the movies is real. It’s not a façade. Those massive campuses you see with an American flag planted in the middle of a park size courtyard actually exist. All those frat parties and stories you hear about actually happen. And this is your opportunity to go out and see it close up. You might even realise you like it way more than what you currently have going and alter your life to end up there one day.

It’s very important that I emphasise that the experience depends on you too. If you go there and only talk to other English people, only play ‘soccer’ and eat beans on toast everyday you’re not going to learn much and won’t have much fun. In order to get the most out of the experience, you need to be willing to try new things and join in their society. Eat their traditional food and play their sports. That’s how you get to learn new things and get the most out the experience.

Ultimately the saddest part about the experience is that you can’t properly express all your new learned knowledge and experiences to others. You can read this and pick up that people have different social norms in other parts of the world, but you will not nearly grasp the extent of it until you see it for yourself. I can sit here and tell you that you’ll learn new things, but you won’t truly understand this until you go abroad yourself. This is one of the few chances you’ll have to go abroad and be a fully functioning member of that society, as opposed to a tourist. And as a result, you’ll learn so much. Not only will you learn about the world more and what different places are like, what different people are like. You’ll learn about yourself more. You’ll come to realise what you truly like and don’t like. I’ve lived in London for 15 years and so I’ve never experienced not living in a big city. But now that I have, I’ve realised that I like the quiet life way more. I prefer the nature and scenery to the hustle and busyness of London. You’ll learn about yourself and what you give priority to. On top of that, you’ll learn about the world. What different people around the world are like and the ideas they have. How they approach problems and their outlook on life. And that’s a type of knowledge you can never have too much of.