Sowing the seeds of success: Local students rave about Chinese trip sponsored by Huawei

New York is famous for being the “city that never sleeps.”

But if Christian Shurepa had his way, the financial capital of North America would have to cede that title to an emerging centre of international commerce on the other side of the world.

Fresh off a two-week trip to China with 17 other young people from across Canada, the 22-year-old communications engineering student at Carleton University said recently he was overwhelmed by the sheer size of Beijing, where the group spent the first week of their stay learning the basics of Mandarin.

“It’s like having Canada in one city,” he said in an interview with OBJ, referring to the Chinese capital’s estimated population of about 25 million. “The city basically never sleeps. They call New York the city that never sleeps, but really that should be Beijing. It’s incredible. It’s almost impossible to describe.”

Mr. Shurepa was one of four engineering students from Carleton and the University of Ottawa who took part in Huawei’s “Seeds for the Future” excursion in mid-May. 

The Chinese telecommunications equipment maker sponsored the trip as a way to promote a greater understanding of its business sector and encourage participation in the field of information and communications technology, the company said.

“It is our hope this international experience will expose them to a global, cross-cultural business environment and help prepare those students for a bright future in technology,” said Huawei Canada president Sean Yang.

In addition to Mandarin training at Beijing Language and Culture University, the group spent the first week learning about local customs and visiting historic sites in the 3,000-year-old city.

Yet with its modern skyscrapers and growing population of executives, Beijing didn’t feel as different from North American cities as the students thought it would.

“Probably the thing that surprised me the most about China was how westernized it has become,” Mr. Shurepa said. “I kind of had this impression in my head … where it’s kind of different culturally, but Beijing especially, it actually seemed very, very similar to a larger city that you’d find in North America. Sure, they speak a different language, but a lot of them do speak English. I was kind of surprised how similar the Chinese are to us.”

Kathleen Rozman, his classmate at Carleton, agreed.

“I was definitely expecting a huge culture shock, but once I got there, it was different, but not as different as I thought it would be,” said the 21-year-old, who is entering her fourth year of studies in the fall. “I definitely see myself going back for sure.”

The students spent the second week of the excursion at Huawei’s headquarters in Shenzhen, a city in the southeastern province of Guangdong. 

The largest telecommunications equipment maker in the world with revenues of more than $46 billion US in 2014, Huawei is a leader in the development of 5G network technology. The company employs more than 160,000 people worldwide, including about 200 at its facility in Ottawa.

The company said in 2013 its Ottawa research centre will be at the forefront of next-generation wireless technology, which is expected to be at least 100 times faster than current 4G network speeds. Huawei has pledged to invest about $600 million US in 5G research by 2018.

“I didn’t really realize how big of a company Huawei was,” Mr. Shurepa said. 

He and Ms. Rozman were joined by third-year University of Ottawa computer engineering students Etienne Dumont and Kaneez-Saba Shaik, who are both 23.