With their different skin color and language, international students are shrouded in mystery as they walk around the campus. However, a common living environment and identity as SDUers bring them much closer to Chinese students.
"How happy we are to meet friends from afar." Eager to become better acquainted, we extend them a warm welcome. We interviewed Muhammad Shahbaz (Ali) to learn about his educational experiences, lives at Shandong University (SDU), and visions for the future.
Given his height and warm smile, Ali, who speaks Chinese fluently, can be easily spotted in a crowd. His research expertise, gained through attending international medical conferences and publishing SCI papers, is so amazing that we praise him as being a xue ba (i.e., a straight A student). Ali works hard at fulfilling his dreams, choosing to study abroad to satisfy his medical dream and establishing charity organizations that are consistent with his educational dream.
"Zhong Guo Tong" (China Expert) at SDU
It seems that virtually everyone on Baotuquan Campus knows Ali, including the guard at the gate who, taught by Ali, always greets him in English with, “My friend, how are you?” Miss Bai, an acquaintance of Ali, has taught him Peking opera, was quite impressed with him too.
Ali’s hearty laughter and enthusiastic speech underscore his popularity. “Many people here know me. You say the tall Ali, and they know it’s me,” Ali said as he smiled.
Originally from Pakistan, Ali, whose actual name is Muhammad Shahbaz, graduated with a master's degree in general surgery from SDU this year.
Having studied at SDU for nine years, Ali has integrated well into life at SDU and in China. Given his fondness for SDU, Ali has decided to continue studying for his Ph.D. and has been granted a CSC scholarship. His love of China prompted him to encourage his two younger brothers to study in China. The brothers have been reunited and all three are now studying in Jinan.
Remembering his initial arrival in China at the beginning of February 2006, Ali sighed and stated that language was the greatest obstacle. “I learned to say hello in Chinese at Beijing airport, namely ni hao, which was the first Chinese word I’ve ever known in my life. Then the airport staff told me that I had to learn two more important words, which were chi fan and xie xie, meaning eating and thanks, respectively.” Ali dedicated two years to studying Chinese after his arrival at SDU.
Recognizing language as an essential tool, Ali now speaks six languages, including Urdu, Punjabi, Arabic, English, Chinese, Hindi, and French, the latter of which he is still learning.
Ali’s friends call him Zhong Guo Tong, which means China expert, based on his knowledge of, and love for, China as well as his fluency in speaking the Chinese language gained during the last nine years.
China Daily once featured his “8 stories from 8 years in China” in which he highlighted his wonderful experience performing opera and wearing traditional Chinese opera costumes at the Inter-University Club show as well as how one of his happiest memories was making dumplings with friends during Spring Festival.
Ali has visited many places in China, including Beijing where he travelled for twenty-eight hours, Urumqi where he experienced snow for the first time in his life, Zhengzhou where he practiced kung fu in Shaolin Temple, Anhui where he climbed Mount Huang, and Yunnan where he simply had a good time—all unforgettable experiences.
Ali recalled about an amusing experience that occurred at a party when one of his friends said, “Come on! Let us seven Shandong people and one foreigner cheers!” Ali was quick to respond, saying, “No, Laoshi (a common folk way of addressing people in Jinan, the provincial capital of Shandong, which means sir in English]). I’m not a foreigner, but a Shandong person.” Hearing this, his friends laughed happily.
Ali continued, stating, “Jinan is my second hometown. I love it, and I’m proud to be a graduate of Shandong University.”
According to Chinese students, Ali is one hundred percent a xue ba (straight A student). Ali said, “I don’t know what xue ba means. But I’ve got a nickname called king of eagles in my native language,” thereby suggesting these two terms share a common meaning.
When thinking about deadly diseases, cancer is often top of mind. This is the research area in which Ali specializes. Motivated by the marginal successes in treating cancer globally, through his research, Ali wants to discover new cancer treatments and make existing methods more effective.
The primary focus of his research team has been enhancing the effectiveness of existing treatments and exploring the role targeted therapy plays in precision medicine as well as how targeted therapy works against cancer.
To achieve his research goals, Ali started reading academic papers, undertaking simple studies, collecting data, and attending international conferences at the beginning of his undergraduate studies.
By chance, when he was a freshman at SDU, Ali met Professor Liu Zhiyu who was going to the "Health Asia Expo" in Pakistan. Professor Liu and Ali formed part of the Chinese delegation that represented SDU at the conference.
"The next day, we went to the mausoleum of the founder of Pakistan Muhammad Ali Jinnah. We received guard of honor, the best memories of my life. I wrote comments in the mausoleum diary with my professor. I was given honor in my country because of the Chinese delegation." Ali says he will treasure that day forever.
Ali conducted laboratory research in his spare time. In his second year as an undergraduate, Ali published a research report under the guidance of his teachers.
In September, 2007, Ali attended the 21st International Congress of Lymphology and Oncology where he made the first presentation of his academic career. Feeling nervous before giving his speech, he was reassured by Professor Liu who said to him, "Ali, there is a long way in front of you, and the success follows the braveness." These words from Professor Liu ignited Ali's confidence and courage.
Two years later, a more confident Ali attended the 22nd International Conference of Lymphology and Oncology in Sydney, Australia and won first prize as well as the best young scientist speaker award in a competition among young scientists from 27 countries.
Upon commencing his master's studies, Ali met Professor Niu Jun who has become his most important tutor and mentor. Under Professor Niu's supervision, Ali has not only actively participated in academic research, but he has also learned surgical skills. Every Monday he works in the Out-patient Department of Qilu Hospital.
Ali began to conduct research with Professor Niu in 2012. The quality he admires most about Professor Niu is his diligence. Professor Niu works until midnight or 1:00 a.m. virtually every day. When Ali is busy, he also works late until one or two in the morning and wakes up at 7:00 a.m.
Ali joined Professor Niu’s research team during his second year of graduate studies and has learned from them as well as made remarkable progress. The eight SCI papers published by the team last year had a total impact factor of 30.
"Ali respectfully introduced all members to us and commented, "They are excellent, and our team is excellent. I have learned a lot from our team."
Ali recounted a touching story about a 17-year-old girl who was admitted to his ward at Qilu Hospital just 22 days before the gaokao (college entrance exam). Because thyroid cancer had metastasized to her lungs, she required immediate surgery to reduce the risk that the cancer would spread to other parts of her body. Because she wanted to take the exam, which was to be held on June 7, the entire team in his General Surgery Department committed to help her recuperate after her operation, which was performed on May 20.
Time was the most significant challenge, but they made a valiant effort. While the girl was recuperating, Ali along with other team members helped her review for the exam. She was discharged from the hospital on May 27 and took the exam.
"There were tears in my eyes as the young girl told Prof. Niu, 'Wo tong guo le' which means I passed the exam," Ali recalled when he heard the exciting news.
With guidance from Professor Niu and support from the research team, Ali believes he will continue to follow his dreams.
Ali said that in Pakistan, most parents, including his own, want their children to become doctors or engineers. Although Ali's initial dream was to conduct theoretical scientific research, the profound knowledge gained after many years of study has compelled him to pursue a career as a doctor and an academician.
With an introduction by Professor Nui, Ali will soon be pursuing his dream in yet another country as he embarks on studying Robotic Surgery and Telesurgery at IRACD in France on a scholarship. Of this opportunity, Ali says, "In this way, even though patients are in other areas or other countries, I can still do remote surgery for them."
Another of Ali's dreams is to be a teacher. He has taught international students at SDU and Taishan Medical College. In addition, he is the founder of a charitable organization called IECO (International Education Charity Organization) in which he organized volunteer teachers and students to teach children in mountain areas.
These efforts resulted in his being named excellent volunteer by the Jinan Municipal Government for two years consecutively.
Ali has been to Laiwu, Zibo, Linyi, Dongying, and other cities in Shandong Province to teach children English. His lively and vivid English classes warmed the children's hearts as he helped them not only to learn a language but also to dream.
Many children wrote their wishes on paper. Some indicated they wanted to be volunteers who help more people. Others expressed a desire to travel and spread Chinese culture all over the world.
Ali epitomizes the phrase that life extends to wherever your dream lies. From Pakistan to China and now to France, Ali has studied across International borders. Being a teacher who shares his knowledge with others as well as a student who acquires knowledge from others, Ali is likely to realize his dream of helping more people.
"Sometimes people ask me, ‘Do you like China?’ My answer is always the same. I don't like China, but I love China," Ali said at the end of the interview.