Editor’s Note: Daniela Mata from Peru is an undergraduate student majoring in Mechanical Engineering at the University of Michigan – Shanghai Jiao Tong University Joint Institute (UM-SJTU JI, JI hereafter) at the Minhang campus of SJTU in Shanghai. She was admitted to JI in 2019 and is expected to graduate in August 2023. Mata is also pursuing a dual bachelor’s degree program with UM in Aerospace Engineering. She regards herself as a hardworking, enthusiastic, passionate and friendly person with hobbies that include travelling, exploring cultures and tasting food.

A life-changing trip to China

To Peruvian girl Daniela Mata, studying in China, a country thousands of miles away from South America, was a crazy idea. She would have entered a Canadian university after high school, if it were not for a short trip to China in 2019.
Mata’s father is a successful businessman in Peru. He has business contacts with many Chinese companies and often take business trips to China. At the beginning of 2019, Mata joined her father to China and visited Guangdong, Beijing, Shandong, Jiangsu and Shanghai.

The trip opened her eyes. She was deeply impressed by China’s prosperous market and friendly people. What’s more, the delicious Chinese food simply captivated her.
“One unforgettable memory was the breakfast I had when I went to Wuxi with my dad and his business friends. We stopped by a small local restaurant early in the morning and ordered some dumplings and tofu soup. The tofu soup was absolutely what I loved. I had never tasted such delicious soup!”

Mata has breakfast with her father at a Wuxi restaurant.

On the last stop of her trip to China, Mata and her father visited her sister Ana Mata, who was studying for a master’s degree in food science at SJTU. They talked about the campus life and mentioned JI has a good reputation among students. Daniela Mata, who had received the admission notice from a Canadian University at that time, was deeply interested. Right after meeting with her sister, she logged onto the JI websites at her Shanghai hotel and submitted her application online. “I applied right away because it was a unique opportunity and because of how good the program is. I didn’t want to think much about it because I didn’t want to have self-doubt.” A few weeks later, the girl got what she wanted: a letter of admission from Shanghai Jiao Tong University.

A campus life that is never enough

In September 2019, the Peruvian girl landed on the SJTU campus as a freshman and kicked off her dreamy, unique life of self-discovery.

Daniela Mata with her father and sister in front of the Long Bin Building of JI.

Although she had been to Shanghai, Daniela Mata was still surprised by a series of cultural shocks in the first two weeks. She suddenly found the language, culture and food of the city were very different from Peruvian. Most of her classmates are from Asia and they seemed to have little in common with her. “These factors fogged my mind and almost made me drop out of college without even trying to finish the first semester. Nonetheless, thanks to my family’s support, I persisted. I’m glad I did because it was the best experience of my life.”

Daniela Mata with her classmates at the welcome banquet for new JI students.

The Minhang campus of SJTU is the largest campus the girl has ever seen. The bountiful facilities, student associations and activities keep her happily busy every day.

On Monday morning, Mata would ride a bicycle to attend classes a few kilometers away, inhaling fresh and a bit chilly air of autumn along the way. After class, she would stroll around campus with her textbooks to gain experiences of studying in different places. There are a few large libraries on the campus, but she doesn’t feel like studying there as they are too quiet. The Timo Café near the JI Long Bin Building is her favorite place. She would often choose to sit on a sofa in the coffee shop for hours, to study with her friends and freshly-brewed coffee. Sister Ana Mata’s laboratory is also a place to go, where she would visit occasionally and enjoy the mint coffee shake made by her sister.

Daniela Mata takes photo at the Bund of Shanghai.

In her leisure time, Daniela Mata often wanders on campus, tasting various snacks and drinks and playing various games. On weekends, she would bring her sister and friends out of the campus to loiter in the streets of Shanghai. As the Minhang campus is a bit far from the city center, Daniela Mata sometimes would stay in the downtown area for the weekend, so that she could enjoy walking, shopping and eating in the international metropolis to the fullest. “My sister and I had a classic spot where we often went for lunch. The owner welcomed us from the very first day and knew what we would always order, sweet tofu and roasted garlic eggplant. We would order these in English using WeChat, and he would then translate the text into Chinese. It is truly very convenient.”

A unique experience in the pandemic era

After the fall semester in 2019, Daniela Mata chose to return to Peru to spend the Christmas holiday with her family. She would never have expected, however, the COVID-19 pandemic which started during the winter holiday would prevent her from returning to the SJTU campus. She had to stay at home with a jet lag of 13 hours from Shanghai to complete her study via online courses. The online courses often started from 7 pm and lasted till the next morning. “Virtual education is a new experience for everyone. I value all the efforts by the professors to deliver excellent and clear lectures. They are very strict. On the other hand, they are very understanding and reasonable. Many professors allowed me to watch the recordings of the lectures that were conducted after 1 am.”

Daniela Mata takes online courses at her home in Peru.

Professor Olga Danikina from Russia and Professor Shane Johnson are Daniela Mata’s two favorite professors. Danikina of the Calculus course explains theories and exercises very well. Daniela Mata was also impressed by her passion while conducting online classes. Johnson of the Mechanical Behavior of Materials course conducts his lectures in a very interactive way. Students not only need to listen to him, but also get ready to answer questions and participate in discussions.

JI has a strong internationally recruited faculty team with advanced degrees in subfields of engineering, mathematics, sciences, liberal arts and business. More than half of the faculty members are foreigners. In spite of the global pandemic, JI continues working with its international partners on cooperation projects. Among them, the multiple Dual Bachelor’s Degree programs with UM, and the Global Degree Pathways programs in collaboration with several top European and American universities are still favorable choices of many students.

Daniela Mata with her fellow students of UM.

Daniela (left) watching football game at UM.

After two years of study at JI, Daniela Mata laid a solid foundation in the field of mechanical engineering and decided to pursue other interests as well. In the second semester of her sophomore year, she applied for the dual degree program with UM in aerospace engineering and was admitted. In the following two years, she is expected to fulfill the courses of aerospace engineering of UM and the last semester of mechanical engineering study at SJTU.

Looking back on her journey of overseas study in the past three years, Daniela Mata said, “When I graduated from high school, I thought I would stay in Peru or go to Canada to be a university student. Never in my dream would I have thought that I will travel so far away to study at JI in Shanghai, to make so many Asian friends and to have an opportunity of obtaining two bachelor’s degrees from two top universities in China and United States.”

Upon her graduation next year, Daniela Mata plans to pursue graduate study in China, as she misses Shanghai very much and loves her days of living on the SJTU campus and traveling around China.


The above story is also published by China Daily, the leading national English-language news group in China. Please refer to the weblink: http://regional.chinadaily.com.cn/en/2022-10/06/c_813249.htm.