Hutong School Alumni Stories: From Shanghai to Marrakesh

This week, we have a special interview with a former Hutong School student, Delphine. She studied Chinese with us in Shanghai during an Erasmus exchange program and recently participated in the 4L Trophy. 4L is a humanitarian student rally that takes every year in the deserts of Morocco. Participants must drive across a variety of unforgiving landscapes in small Renault 4L cars, using nothing more than a map and compass. Along the way, they deliver thousands of kilos of school supplies to children in impoverished communities. In the following interview, Delphine tells us about her experiences in China and Morocco, and how they’ve changed her outlook on the world. 

Can you introduce yourself? 

Hello, my name is Delphine. I’m 24 years old and I’m in the last year of my master’s degree. I’m studying business management with a major in digital marketing. I like adventure and constantly challenge myself by going the extra mile.

Why did you choose to study abroad in China? And why with Hutong School?

Actually, at the beginning, I didn’t choose to go to China. I was supposed to go to Singapore, but I was unable to acquire the necessary paperwork. During a few discussions with my Erasmus teacher, he told me that if I couldn’t go to Singapore, I should go to Shanghai.

One big point was still scaring me: learning a new language by following evening classes during the year of my bachelor thesis. But in fact, I realized that there was no reason to be afraid of this. And furthermore, all the ‘negative’ arguments, were things that I had always wanted to do. When I was 8 I did a presentation at school and choose Shanghai. It had been my dream for a long time to visit it once and to learn Chinese. So the disappointment of not being able to go to Singapore, became a great excitement about going to Shanghai.

Hutong School Alumni

My first contact with Hutong School was during the presentation of my Erasmus. I had a lot of contacts and there was a trustful relationship. I was confident to start my Erasmus there.

What about your time in China that inspired you to keep traveling? 

During my time in China, I traveled a lot. I went two times to Beijing and did some trips with friends to small cities. It was fascinating to see how every city was different and how people were behaving. This trip was my first long trip, and the first one on my own. I wasn’t sure about how I would react, if I would like it and if I would adapt quickly. And luckily, I loved it. This trip was a real trigger to new adventures. I knew that from now on I could say to myself “You survived four months on your own in a country where you can’t read a word and barely say something, why wouldn’t you be able to survive this new adventure?

What’s something you learned in China that has proven valuable during your subsequent travels?

In China I learned to talk to people when I needed help. It is sometimes scary to ask people to help you when  don’t know them and don’t speak the language. But the more you force yourself to do this, the easier it will be. I also learned to look at what people are eating and how they are eating it. And even if it looks strange and smells weird, I tried some food that I would never have thought of eating.

What inspired you to get involved with 4L?

First of all, what helped me a lot to accept my boyfriend’s idea to participate in the 4L Trophy is that I had already done a big trip before. Moreover, when I was in Shanghai he came to visit for a few days and we had a great time. I was convinced that this time it would be even easier since we would be traveling together. We were excited to learn a new culture, to see new landscapes and to travel again. Another big reason to participate at in the 4L Trophy is that it was perfect match between his studies (mechatronics) and my studies (marketing). And finally, the fact that this rally could help children in Morocco helped us to make our decision.

What was the biggest challenge you encountered during 4L?

The biggest challenge during the 4L Trophy was that we had a lot of car issues. This caused a lack of sleep, a lot of stress, required huge concentration and resulted in a lot of long days. I would be lying if I say that this trip was easy or that I never questioned why I was doing it. But we encouraged each other, set small, achievable objectives and decided to never give up. This attitude is the reason we never gave up and that we were able to reach Marrakech.

How have your experiences in Morocco and China changed the way you see the world? 

I learned during those trips to understand and accept why people behave differently. For example, I learned that in China people are asked to be great at doing their tasks but may not necessarily take the initiative. In Morocco I learned that their way of driving is completely different from ours. Those simple examples have made it easier to understand why some Chinese and Moroccans act the way they do in Belgium. I had to experience it myself to see that when you go to a different country, even if you try to adapt as well as you can, you can’t help but keep some ways of doing things because they make up a part of your habits, of yourself. I learned that the Hofstede’s cultural dimensions theory could be helpful to understand my colleagues and could be helpful in my daily life.

What advice would you give to others considering embarking on an international adventure of their own? 

I would advise them to not think too much!  Of course, you need to prepare for your trip and be aware of some consequences. But if you think too much, you won’t do anything. You can only experience an adventure when you trust your instincts and make spontaneous decisions. For example, I knew that in Shanghai Hutong School would be there to help me if I needed it. So even though I like to plan everything, I decided to go against my habit and to act according to my dreams and feelings. To be honest, I have never regretted it.

What’s next for you? 

Once you go on adventure, you will keep doing it. And indeed, on the way back we were thinking about doing another rally. I’m not allowed to currently give a lot of details, but I can tell you that the 4L Trophy would not be our last trip. We are planning of doing something a little bit similar. Again we would like help an association/charity. But this time it will be from our own initiative.

Thanks very much to Delphine for sharing her incredible experiences with us! Everyone at Hutong School wishes you the very best in your future endeavors!

If you’re interested in hearing more about other former students’ experiences, check out our previous posts on doing a gap year in China or about Jerry’s unique story of studying with us in Shanghai.

Feeling inspired and ready to embark on an international adventure of your own? Check out our wide range of award-winning programs, from intensive Chinese programs to internships. Get started today!

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