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In Beichuan, meet doctors from 12 countries

(From Campus Network)

Editor's NoteThe International Research Association on Large Landslides, initiated and organized by SKLGP, held the second iRALL School on October 15th, 2017, which was based on “the investigation, analysis and management of large landslides”. on October 18th, 36 Ph.D. students set out from CDUT to Beichuan Field base where they will take a 10-day course. And five reporters from Cloud Media accompanied them to record their studies and lives there.

In Beichuan, meet doctors from 12 countries

3-day documentary on iRALL School in Beichuan

Field investigation 1

Field investigation 2

Field investigation 3

Anne-Sophie Mreyen lifted the bus’s curtain, then the buildings with Qiang characteristics greeted her. The city is as quiet as it was last year, and the slogan on the station remains the same: “Beichuan, from solemn to heroic!” Although the 5. 12 earthquake has passed for 9 years, for this ruined city, 9-year is not enough to become heroic.

Sophie is a second year Ph. D. student in engineering geology at University of Liege, Belgium. It is her second time to take part in iRALL school. The large landslide induced by earthquake has become a precious geological model. So, our lab set up a field base there to carry out field investigation. Since 2016, every year in October, the teachers and students in iRALL school will come here to do field investigation. This year, Sophie will spend a 10-day trip with her iRALL classmates in Beichuan field base.

When the bus was arriving at the familiar courtyard, Sophie whispered to her junior sister apprentice Valentine Piroton: “Here we are.” This is Valentine’s first visit to Beichuan.

Difference and resonance

The first lunch in Beichuan was Chinese style. 36 students and six teachers from twelve countries, were seated at six tables. The difference between western and Chinese cultures was displayed over the small round table.

A plate of garlic sprout was served, which is a strange vegetable for westerners. So, Fang Qinglin, a volunteer from CDUT, introduced it to these foreign friends by a translation app: “It is garlic sprout.” Guilem Domènech, from Spanish, was the first one to try this dish. Guilem is one of the first batch of foreign post-doctors. He has mastered the posture of grabbing chopsticks, but can not use them well. He spent some effort to pick up some garlic sprouts. When Guilem put them into mouth, all people around this table looked at him, and their questions were vividly expressed: "Is it delicious?" Others did bot try it until Guilem nodded and praised its taste.

This kind of situation was very common during meals, which has been a funny topic for students. It was difficult to meet everyone’s taste because these international students from different countries. But the thoughtful sponsor try their best to satisfy everyone. For example, fish and vegetables are especially served for Muslims; tea and coffee break between two meals was served for considering European students. While others have not been used to Chinese cuisine, Sophie and Valentine have already become fans of Chinese dishes, especially Maocai, a hodgepodge of vegetables with Sichuan flavor, which gave them a new idea about cooking.

After a noon break, they went to the old site of Beichuan county for investigation. Mauri McSaveney, from Geological survey of New Zealand, told the students about the geological structure of Beichuan area and deconstructed the cause of the damage to the buildings in Beichuan area during the earthquake.The old town still retained its ruined appearance. In front of the monument, lay a lot of flowers. Many students lifted their cameras and photographed the Beichuan scene. There was a silence when they were told that among 22,000 people, less than 7,000 people survived. One of our guest professors, Theo Van Asch once came there five years ago, which was his first visit to Beichuan. He said: “Although this is not my first time to come here, I still feel shocked as I see this scene.”

70-year-old is not old

This was a scientific writing class taught by Niek Rengers. In order to make students understand the key points of scientific writing, he printed out the framework of a paper to students. For many students, this Netherlandish professor is an “old gentleman". They got that right. The 78-year-old man was still graceful bearing. He talks slowly with others with his blue eyes conveying the patience of the listener. Nike is a famous engineering geologist who won the China International Science and Technology Cooperation Award in 2015. When he was going to retire, he accepted the invitation from Prof. Huang Runqiu and began to work in CDUT as a guest professor in 2006.

Along with Nike, his old friend Theo also came here. The 73-year-old man is a famous geomorphologist in debris flow assessment, who was invited as a guest professor by CDUT in 2011. For Theo, Nike is the bridge between CDUT and him. “After the earthquake in 2008, a lot of meaningful and valuable projects emerged, and Nick told me that I could come to Chengdu to try." Therefore, Theo came to CDUT. He thought this re-work ushered him to a new world in geohazard research.

When asked about the funny things with Chinese students, Theo has a lot of stories to share. He said that what impressed him most was the Chinese students' respect to the old. “In China, people respect the aged and give them much care. But in Netherlands, people do not. When I was falling down, these students would hold me immediately.”Theo’s imitation raised a laugh.

In China, most people at Nike’s and Theo’ age have been retired. But in iRALL school, there are many senior foreign professors who still keep a good spirit, participate in the routine teaching and even go out with students to field investigation. When asked if he would continue teaching after he retired, Nike answered without hesitation: “It's pleased to be with interesting juniors, and I would be happy to continue devoting myself to what I love.”

It is such a delight to have friends coming from afar

Prof. Fan Xuanmei arrived Beichuan at the second evening of this trip. As one of the teachers for iRALL school, she would lead a group of students to the mountain area near the old Beichuan.

After dinner, Prof. Fan communicated with Nike, Theo and other foreign teachers happily in the lobby. Besides teachers, some students also chatted there. The lobby has become a social gathering place.

After the end of the day's course, students gathered together with snacks and drinks. Some were discussing homework, and some were playing games. Language was not a barrier in this gathering. Guo Bin and Fang Qinglin as volunteers have played the role of translators. They introduced the game rules to those foreign friends. Spanish enthusiasm, Korean shyness, Romanian humor, Chinese easy-going...Different personalities of the students from different countries are mixed together, and the harmony is achieved in the complementation.

According to Prof. Hu Wei who was in charge of iRALL school, the number of foreign students in iRALL school has doubled compared with last year, accounting for 60%. In recent years, our lab has made unremitting efforts to improve its international level. Many foreign scholars, such as Nick and Theo, joined us and provided a driving force for our lab. “More and more international teachers and students come to join us, which shows that the influence of iRALL is expanding internationally."

When more and more international teachers and students join the program, the differences between East and West become more and more serious. And exotic friendships were built here. There were old acquaintances and new friends, with old stories retold to new friends. Finally, a closer friendship was woven.