Updated: Mar 10
Which city were you based in?
In 2018, during my bachelor’s degree, I was randomly checking my University website, at the time I was enrolled at the University of Florence and I was looking for something to do related with Chinese and China, like additional classes, internships and so on. Suddenly, I discovered something called “extra-EU mobility” that was a sort of Erasmus project, but the universities involved were all based outside Europe.
I was based in Wenzhou, a city in Zhejiang province, a well-known city in my own town, Prato, where the 10% of the population is Chinese, and they are mostly from this city. Honestly, I was not expecting Wenzhou to have such a beautiful university.
Why did you decide to apply?
Since it looked good on the website, I decided to collect some information. There were two universities in Shanghai for graduate students, and Wenzhou University, which was suitable for undergraduate students as well. I mainly decided to apply because it seemed like a good idea. I was not seriously convinced to go to China for a semester, it was just for fun. My GPA was low, just as my expectation to be selected.
When my Chinese teacher told me that I was one of the two students selected for the four-month scholarship, I was shocked. After considering how cool it could be to spend a semester in China, even though I was worried, I decided to accept the scholarship and to leave my home country.
What did you think about your scholarship placement and what was your life like on a day-to-day basis?
Well, it’s difficult to describe my life in China on a day-to-day basis. Despite being a tier-two city, every day there was something going on, the university staff always tried to get foreigners involved in activities, such as Tai-Chi, painting and so on. Personally, I tried my best to set up an ideal routine, so that I could be able to stay focused on my duties. On the weekdays, I spent almost every day attending classes, doing homework and going to the gym, which was next to the campus. During the weekend, I used to hang out both with foreigners and Chinese people. It was incredibly useful to learn some Chinese slang, which is not taught in class.
What was the most enjoyable/exciting part of your experience in China?
I was extremely happy because I was able to sort out many difficult situations on my own - those that basically every “laowai” must face. Also, I can say that I have eaten things that people do not properly consider edible! It is kind of fun, while you are there a lot of things seem acceptable, while in your own country I am not sure it would be the same. Last but not least, I visited Shanghai, which I think is one of the most incredible experiences of my life. I liked it so much that I am considering it as a possible destination for my future, I’d love to start my PhD there. If you like big cities as I do, I extremely suggest you go to Shanghai.
What was the most surprising thing you learnt about China and/or yourself?
I can surely state that the more you think you know about China, the less you actually do. I learnt that China is huge, that the world is an incredible place, and above all that we should always accept new challenges, that’s what makes life so unique to me.
How did it help you in achieving your goals?
I can effortlessly admit that it was incredibly useful. Now that I am undertaking my master’s degree, I have a relatively solid background in Chinese language and culture. It helped me to gain a huge amount of self-confidence and to begin mastering such a complicated language. Surely, in the future it will help me again, differentiating me in front of possible employers, or maybe helping me to obtain a scholarship for my future studies. Now, the only advice I can give to everybody is to go to China, you won’t regret it, trust me.
Niccolò Ellena is a graduate of the University of Florence. He now studies international relations at the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart of Milan.
The opinions expressed here are those of the writer and do not represent the views of European Guanxi.
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