Which city were you based in?
I was based in Shantou, in the Guangdong province, located in the South of China, so if you want to study in Shantou University, I suggest packing shorts and sunscreen! It was definitely a change from the rainy, groggy weather of Ireland. I studied there for a full academic year, 10 months, and was definitely immersed into the very different culture of Southern China. You’ll be delighted to know that not only do they speak Mandarin there, but the local dialect is also frequently spoken! So it was definitely a shock to me, as I didn’t know that there were local dialects in China at all. Turns out, there’s many of them and they are virtually their own distinct languages.
Why did you decide to apply?
I've always loved a challenge. I was considering spending a year abroad in a European country, but when in your life are you going to get a chance to visit a country and experience a culture that is so vastly different from anything you have ever experienced? My love for adventure and thirst for knowledge guided me in my decision to apply and I am so glad I did.
What did you think about your scholarship placement and what was your life like on a day-to-day basis?
That is a hard question, really. There were ups and downs, times of uncertainty and times where I thought “Wow! I’m really doing this, I’m really here”. I was never a good language learner and I was terrified of my first Chinese language lessons, but (probably unsurprisingly) the teachers were all friendly and supportive. I had 4 hours of Chinese language classes each day and then occasionally I had international law classes in the evening, along with homework. Afterwards, or in between lessons, I’d go to East Gate with my friends and usually eat rice, noodles, meat or a selection of fried vegetables and tofu. I never knew how much I loved tofu until China, especially Japanese-style tofu (rìběn dòufu). I love running, so I was also delighted to discover that there was a running track on campus, and that quickly became a ritual for me.
In between the day-to-day lessons and rituals, I also made a lot of amazing friends from all over the world. It was not just a cultural experience in terms of Chinese culture, I also learned a lot about American, Indian, Canadian, and French culture. I made some of my closest Chinese friends through my law classes, and I still keep in contact with them to this day. In terms of submerging myself in Chinese culture, the university provided us with a lot of traditional Chinese activities such as paper-cutting, mask-making, and Chinese calligraphy, just to name a few. What pleasantly surprised me the most was the enthusiasm of my Chinese classmates to share their culture and to make friends with us. It was a surreal, unique experience and if I could do it all again, I’d do it in a heartbeat.
What was the most enjoyable/exciting part of your experience in China?
It’s hard to narrow it down to just one thing, but for me, the most enjoyable part of my experience was the travelling, hands down. I got to experience the various cultures within China and visit many historical and cultural sites such as temples, museums, the Terracotta Warriors, the Forbidden City, and the Great Wall of China, just to name a few! It was a truly magical experience that enhanced my understanding of Chinese culture. Each city I visited was nothing like the last. The contrast between the North and South of China is truly breathtaking, and I cannot put into words how delightfully different the regions were.
Making friends and learning Chinese was a close second favourite. Throughout my studies, I made some lifelong international and Chinese friends, whom I would have never had a chance to meet otherwise. Now that I’m back home, knowing that I have friends all around the world is an amazing feeling.
What was the most surprising thing you learnt about China and/or yourself?
I think the most surprising thing I learnt about myself was how independent I can be, it has definitely given me a strong sense of confidence in myself and my ability to do whatever I put my mind to. The most surprising thing I learned about China was how different the culture was, but how similar my Chinese friends and I were. They were just as curious to know about my culture as I was about theirs. The food was vastly different and some Chinese traditions fascinated me, such as the many gods that the locals had. I didn’t know what to expect when I first came to China, but somehow I think that if I had had any expectations they would have been blown away by the real thing.
How did it help you in achieving your goals?
Since I am a law student, it has definitely made me stand out to international legal firms. EU-China relations are the future, and a lot of international businesses based in Ireland also have offices in China. So in that way, my experience made me a unique candidate and I’ve since gotten a training contract with an international law firm.
Personally, my experience has made me more confident and more of a go-getter, so naturally it has been easier for me to pursue my goals with a lot more confidence. I also am a more confident language learner since taking on Chinese, which has motivated me to keep working on my Chinese, as well as to take up French!
Katrina Barbosova is a Dublin City University graduate, currently undertaking the FE-1s. She studied law and Mandarin Chinese during the 2018/2019 academic year in Shantou University, China, and is a future trainee solicitor in an international law firm. You can find her on LinkedIn here.
The opinions expressed here are those of the writer and do not represent the views of European Guanxi.
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