Spotlight on Alumni – Jennie Trapp

Jennie Trapp is a Coventry University lecturer with a difference. She teaches legal English at the Southwest University of Political Science and Law (SWUPL) in Chongqing, China.

She works with Chinese law students to improve their knowledge of the English legal system. The catch is, Jennie doesn’t speak Chinese!

We caught up with her to see what made her make the 5000-mile trip, how the course is doing and if she can now say anything more then Ni Hâo!

Jennie is part of the team behind our new Commercial Law dual-degree programme. She works with Chinese law students to improve their knowledge of the English legal system. The dual degree launched in Chongqing last year, where it is attended by 100 high-calibre students from 15 provinces across China. Initially the plan was for Jennie to teach students legal English and for her colleague George Haughie to teach academic English. However they soon found that whilst the students were knowledgeable about the Chinese legal system, they were unfamiliar with how a scenario would play out here in England.

Jenny explains:

“We’ve had to take it right back to basics, I’ve taught them all about the English legal system first. […]The idea is to get these 100 students into international law firms when they graduate, so they need to understand both Chinese and English law. I’m responsible for teaching [the students] legal English, which is in preparation for when the Coventry lecturers come over to teach in the third semester.”

The duel degree is a 3+1 program, which means that students spend three years at SWUPL first, then once they pass they can complete their final year here in Coventry. They will receive a degree from both institutions.

“Our students are incredible, they try very hard, and they work very hard. We have a laugh and a joke, they’re brilliant – a pleasure to teach. They want to feel closer to the UK experience, and to be able to talk to some students from Coventry and understand the experience first hand. I know that people over here [at CU] are working to achieve that.”

I asked Jennie what made her want to get involved in the programme, and agree to move so far from home?

“I’ve always wanted to travel, and I’ve always wanted it to be with my job, if I could. I got to the stage here in England where I was ready for a change, to make a move. This opportunity came up; there were two jobs available, an assistant lecturer position in England and the same position in China. I went to the interview not really sure which one I was going for… within four days I’d been given the job – in China!”

After first living out of a suitcase, Jennie now lives on the 28th floor of a 33-floor tower block in Chongqing; she assures me there is a lift! As Jennie didn’t know the language, I was intrigued about how she got to know her new neighbours:

 “People are really inquisitive – they aren’t rude, or ignorant, they’re just so curious about having this western face there. Everyone knows how to say hello in English, but that’s it – a bit like me with Chinese! They all say hello; they all want to touch you, your hair and face because it’s so different to Chinese features. They all get their children to say hello too! The language barrier has been the hardest thing but everyone is so friendly and so desperate to help you. They’ll stand there until they understand. I’ve not come across anybody who hasn’t wanted to help and that’s made my experience so much easier.”

Jennie has certainly had some interesting experiences in China, which she captures on her hilarious travel blog. One post that stood out to me covers the time she ordered shrimp at a restaurant. The meal, called ‘Hot-Pot’, looks a little like a savoury fondue. Raw meat or fish can be dropped into a hot pot of boiling oil in the centre of the table, then eaten freshly fried. When the shrimps were bought to the table, they came out of the kitchen not just raw, but STILL ALIVE!

“It was such a shock! I felt the need to put them out of their misery but was rather put off by them spending five seconds flapping their tails around in the hot oil… It’s things like this that make you suddenly realise how far from home you are, but it was the best shrimp I’ve ever eaten, it’s the best seafood I’ve ever had!

A traditional 'Hot Pot' meal

The qualities that come across from Jennie’s blog are her determination and humour. She is a true survivor, and she survives by laughing!

“My way to get through things like this is just to laugh, I just find things really funny! People have said to me ‘Oh you’ve adapted really well’ but I thought, it’s sink or swim really!”

Indeed there are some occasions where laughter is the only appropriate response:

“I got a little over excited at seeing the light switch by the bed – as getting out of bed to switch the light off is the norm in the UK. I couldn’t work out why the apartment started beeping rather loudly, until I got a knock on the door from the building’s guard office. Apparently my apartment has a panic alarm installed next to the bed, not a light switch… Turns out that inviting the guard into the master bedroom late one Thursday evening whist not speaking a common language makes for some interesting looks… Good job he had a sense of humour!”

new year

As we’re currently in the midst of Chinese New Year. I was intrigued as to why Jennie had come home to Coventry, rather then getting involved the local celebrations. However, I forgot just how massive China’s population is and the strain that can be put on the country’s transport system…

“Because China has such an enormous population, when everyone moves around during Chinese New Year to visit family– trains, planes, buses etc. are absolutely packed, everyone’s on the move. Everything has shut down over there, universities are shut, and I think the shops are too. They shut down for the whole of February, even though New Year itself is celebrated over 4 days. I wanted to come and see my family anyway; this seemed like the perfect opportunity. I am going to see Chinese New Year over there one year, most definitely. I’d be such a fool not too, but right now I want to take the chance to be visit home.”

Chongqing centre at night. CR: vichie81 /

“It’s been an amazing experience, I’ve learnt so much in the last four months. I love the lifestyle out there – I absolutely love it! There are things you have to get used to, but I was talking to some students in Coventry the other day and I just said to them – go with an open mind. If you go with preconceived ideas you’ll be disappointed because you’ll have these expectations of what it’s going to be like.”

Feeling tempted? There are many fantastic opportunities to visit distant lands through various CU schemes. Our Global Leaders Programme run multiple trips, including one to China in April. Find out more here .
I asked Jennie what advice she would give to any student considering studying or travelling abroad next year:

“GO! It gives people such an opportunity; to go and visit part of the world you wouldn’t necessarily go to.. It has been an absolutely amazing experience, I wouldn’t change anything. It’s surreal – you hear these cliché phrases when people say ‘it’s made me who I am’, – but it’s true. It really has! Mainly because it’s been so different to anything I’m used to. It’s the best move I ever made!”

And finally..
Throughout her interview Jennie mentioned how beautiful the SWUPL campus is, so we’ve added a gallery below!

Southwest University of Political Science and Law, Chongqing, China:

All photographs copyright 2007-2012 SWUPL