Updated: Mar 10
Which city were you based in?
After graduating from university in England I really didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life, and I applied to do lots of different things in different places. I found myself in a city called Jinan 济南, (don't worry, I hadn't heard of it either) which is two hours by high speed train from Beijing, in Shandong Province. I studied Chinese at Jinan University for five months. It was some of the best few months of my life.
Why did you decide to apply?
I was just about to graduate from university, and I was looking at every language learning opportunity available as languages can open so many doors. Also, studying in China is a little bit cool isn't it?
What did you think about your scholarship placement and what was your life like on a day-to-day basis?
It's difficult to sum it up in just a few words, because it's so different and so amazing at the same time. The university was wonderful. My class was full of students from places I knew barely anything about (I still need to do some research on Tajikistan), as well as a bizarrely large contingent of Mexicans. I learnt so much Chinese, I made so many friends and did so many things I thought I'd never do. I cannot recommend it enough. We had 4 hours of class every weekday, with homework to do afterwards. Then we had optional classes of Kung Fu (which is much more relaxing than it sounds, however terrifying the teacher was), Chinese painting, and my personal favourite, paper cutting. Then in the evening, I would go for street food (normally some meat and rice), or eat at the canteen (the biggest bowl of noodles you've ever seen: maximum €0.80), or if we went as a group, to a nearby restaurant (the fried aubergine is to die for). I'd go for an evening stroll through the extensive night market (which was probably over 3km long) and buy some fruit for bargain prices. Then, if the pollution wasn't too bad, I'd join the hundreds of students walking (in the dark) around the athletics track. I'd always go with my friends, and think how ridiculous it was, but it became a part of my routine!
What was the most enjoyable/exciting part of your experience in China?
The places I went, and the people I met, were unforgettable. I had never been to Asia before, and I will never forget climbing great mountains, visiting Confucian temples, watching football superstars, seeing great ice sculptures, but it's the bargaining in street markets, the requests for selfies, and my now excellent chopstick skills that I truly value.
What was the most surprising thing you learnt about China and/or yourself?
I learnt that China is so big, in so many ways, and that after five months, I only got to see a glimpse of what the real China is like. I learnt that knowing the phrase 'I've come to China to study Chinese' (wǒ lái zhōngguó xuéxì hànyǔ) can be the answer to any question that you will ever receive in China.
How did it help you in achieving your goals?
It made a difference when achieving my life goals, both inside and outside China. China opens so many doors. Since then, I’ve been lucky enough to get a traineeship at the European Commission which turned into a job. I think knowing a bit of Chinese made me stand out before I finally got in. I’m now studying a Master’s at Peking University in China while doing an internship at the United Nations.
I cannot encourage you enough to study abroad, be it in Europe, Asia or anywhere else!
Walker Darke, British Council Scholar 2016-2017 & Chinese Government Scholar 2019-2021.
The opinions expressed here are those of the writer and do not represent the views of European Guanxi.
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