Editor’s Note: Jovan Yap is an undergraduate student majoring in Electrical and Computer Engineering at the University of Michigan – Shanghai Jiao Tong University Joint Institute (UM-SJTU JI, JI hereafter) located on the Minhang campus of SJTU. Yap regards himself as a friendly, cheerful and approachable person who is interested in artificial intelligence (AI) and data science and has hobbies including travelling, sports such as golf and basketball, playing violin and piano.

To the 21-year-old Singaporean Jovan Yap, his overseas study at JI in China serves two great purposes: advanced technology and lasting friendship.

“Given that China has very advanced technology in the engineering and AI sector, I would like to solidify my engineering foundation here. I aim to contribute to the international scientific community and society by harnessing the capabilities of technology as a holistic and competent engineer. Therefore, a solid foundation is necessary to achieve these goals and I believe that JI, with its cutting-edge facilities and talented professors, will be instrumental in helping me realize them,” said Yap.

“I strongly believe that there are a multitude of intangible things in life to learn and explore, such as forging many long-lasting friendships with both the local and international students, to gain a global perspective. In this increasingly interconnected world, JI’s emphasis on internationalization and its interdisciplinary education system will allow me to gain a broad perspective of the world, acquire the strengths of different societies, and develop holistically as a leader,” he added.

Yap with Chinese classmates at the Temple Gate of SJTU

Tortuous beginning under pandemic

Yap was admitted to JI in the autumn of 2021 as whole world was still plagued by the COVID-19 pandemic which prevented him from entering China as planned. He had to take online courses at home in Singapore for the first semester.

In February 2022, Yap managed to get an air ticket to fly to Shanghai. Soon after he arrived, however, the metropolitan city with a population of over 26 million encountered an unprecedented wave of COVID-19 resurgence which led to the lockdown of all SJTU campuses.

SJTU arranged Yap and a few other international students to stay at Nanyang Beiyuan, a dormitory building outside the Minhang campus. “I am grateful for SJTU and JI for taking care of my welfare and well-being during the lockdown. Food is provided and the teachers were very caring and responsible by responding quickly to our needs. Personally, I felt that SJTU and JI managed the lockdown very well and they were agile as they responded and adapted quickly to any changes,” he said.

Yap with classmates at Nanyang Beiyuan during the lockdown period

During the lockdown, Yap was able to meet with other international students at the dorm and studied together with them. They were also able to play badminton or go for runs within the stipulated vicinity of the dorm. “Even though life during the lockdown wasn’t easy, my friends around me brought happiness to me and made life much easier. “

Fulfilling life on SJTU campus

The strong wave of the pandemic in Shanghai gradually subsided in May. Lockdown measures taken by SJTU were loosened accordingly. Yap was finally able to enter the campus in June. “When I walked into the huge SJTU campus, I was mesmerized by its beauty. I love how the campus reflects the Chinese culture and it has amazing sceneries at different rivers and lakes.”

Yap was also happy to see the return of normal life on and off the campus. Although the online learning was still conducted in the summer semester, he was able to study with friends or engage in discussions for their work in the classroom, laboratory and library. “I feel that the students and faculty members are very friendly and approachable. I often hang out with both the locals and internationals and I enjoy interacting with them, “ he said.  Gang Zheng is Yap’s favorite professor as he “puts his very best in all the classes to impart the knowledge and takes time off his busy schedule to clarify the doubts of the students.”

Yap hosts JI All International Students Meeting.

Yap stands near a lake at Shangri-la of South China’s Yunnan Province.

In his leisure time, Yap would play basketball and other sports activities on the campus, travel around Shanghai or other Chinese cities to explore the culture, heritage and delicacies, or do some personal projects with respect to app development and artificial intelligence. Yap also takes part in some extracurricular activities organized by JI. He serves as Vice President of International Student Association and a member of JI volunteering club.

“Life at JI and SJTU is really enriching and fulfilling because there are a lot of activities and facilities on campus. Furthermore, there are a lot of programs that we can participate in. I also enjoy the very convenient life in Shanghai, a technologically advanced city complemented with the rich Chinese culture. The sceneries are amazing, and the people here are really friendly,” he said.

Yap is expected to graduate in 2025 and be posted in China to work on projects with Chinese. “I hope to be the bridge for the exchange of ideas and collaboration between countries, especially in engineering. By sharing our knowledge and cooperation, the world can continue to push the boundaries of science and engineering. In the future, I will actively seek to establish more partnerships and projects and be the link between different countries, so that we can prosper together through mutual benefits,” he said.