3 weeks and counting…

The next cohort of Tianjin Scholars are getting ready to leave for their year in China. Scholar Vishal wrote about how he was feeling for the blog.

It’s roughly 3 weeks until we depart for China, but it still hasn’t really sunk in yet. We’ll be living and studying Mandarin there for almost a whole year. I feel both excited and nervous. Excited, as I will be able to fully experience and embrace the Chinese culture. Nervous, as I will be away from my friends and family in Scotland for so long.

I feel that it will take me a while to fully adapt to the Chinese culture, as unlike the majority of the other scholars who completed the China Bridge camp last year, I completed it 3 years ago. So it has been a really long time since I have been exposed to this remarkably different culture. Overall, I’m really excited about actually being able to live and study in China for almost an entire year, especially because I know this is a very unique and valuable experience, one which I will be able to use for the rest of my life.

Vishal Dhanda

Tianjin Scholar 2016-17

Looking back on China

We’ve come to the end of a truly amazing year. So much has happened that it would be impossible to comment on it all right here. We’ve all gone through so much, good and bad, that has made us all new people.

It all started 10 months ago in September 2015 at Edinburgh airport. The 16 of us meeting there, along with our parents and friends, about to head on an extraordinary journey even though we barely knew each other. We all made friends very quickly however, helping each other with this strange new language and exploring the city of Tianjin together. It was all so strange and slightly overwhelming at the start with so many new things to experience!

About a month into the year I feel like we’d all settled down into our new routines and were really enjoying being in China, having just started to get a good grip on the basics of the language. Every day still brought new challenges to overcome, whether it was getting on the wrong bus and finding your way home or trying to buy food at a restaurant with no pictures on the menu, but we could now start to work our way through them smoothly instead of struggling with gestures.

In January and February came, arguably, our biggest challenge of the year, travelling around East Asia on our own. In little groups we headed off to so many different places, helping to bring a little bit of Scotland to Asia. Those two months were incredible! There have been scholars in Japan, Thailand, South Korea and all over China. I’d always wanted to try backpacking and, even though it is exhausting, I wouldn’t hesitate to do it again. It is a real test of your language and organisational skills though. One thing I would tell next year’s scholars is to study hard before travelling and to book things well in advance!

The first semester and the two months travelling all felt like one really big holiday with us experiencing so many new and exciting things, but the mood was different coming back to Tianjin for the second semester. We knew the place now, we were familiar with things, and it started to feel like a second home. A few of us bought bikes and started cycling to college and around the rest of the city too, which made us feel even more like locals. All of a sudden we weren’t the newest and most clueless students living on campus anymore and it was a nice feeling.

Our language has improved drastically between the first semester and the second. Now we can have good conversations with people and understand at least the gist of what is being said. It’s crazy how far we’ve all come in just 10 months. Just last week the scholars that sat HSK 4 on a computer were told that we’d all passed! The other Scots did the written version and won’t know for another couple of weeks.

Now we’re all heading back to Scotland via different routes. Some of us are starting university, others college or work. Gregor and Grace are only coming back for a couple of months before they head back out to continue studying in China for another 4 years! I wish them the best! It’s sad that we’re all going our separate ways. Obviously we can meet up in Scotland but it won’t be the same as having all your friends just metres from you all the time.

Thank you to everyone that helped give us this opportunity. I only hope that we can repay you in the future by helping build stronger ties between China and Scotland.

Stephen Roberts

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Karaoke, Tunnocks and water fights

April seemed to pass by very quickly. At the start of the month it was Clare and Andrew’s birthdays so we celebrated by going out together and eventually ended up at KTV, a karaoke place where you get a private room for your group. It was my first time going to one (first time really doing karaoke at all!) and I had a great time. Going to KTV is one of those things you really have to do when you come to China.

This month we’ve also been visited by a lot of people from home. In the same week we met up with a group Scottish teachers and Scottish students. They came to our school where we helped teach them some Chinese and talked to them about our exciting lives in Tianjin. I find it strange telling people about my life here now because I’ve been here so long that everything just feels normal and I can’t imagine why people would be interested in it. After we’d spoken to the students we had a chat with CISS Project Coordinator Katie and she gave us some Tunnocks Teacakes and Caramel Wafers, which we were all very thankful for.

That same week, as part of the new year, all of the students and a few of the teachers took part in a water fight at school with the Thai students. I hadn’t been in a water fight for so long and it was such a hot day that it was good to cool down and have some fun.

This month, we’ve just been finding ways to experience the little things in China and of course going to school everyday. With only 2 months to go the idea of going home is starting to become very real. I’m really excited to go back, but I know that once I’m back I’ll miss China and all its quirks so I’m going to try and make the most of the time I have left here.

Stephen

Making friends with Mandarin

Three months, I can’t believe we only have three months left in China! The last seven months have been a whirlwind of learning, travelling and adapting to Chinese culture. When I first arrived in China, two of the few words I could say were hello and thank you (and looking back, even they were questionable).  Thankfully now, my vocabulary has expanded to the point where I could confidently communicate whilst travelling (although, hand gestures were never too far away).

Travelling around China was incredible. During the Spring Festival I went to Harbin, Shanghai, Guilin, Chengdu and Xi’an. On my adventures I saw many things and ticked a lot off my bucket list. I saw pandas up close, got to try the famous Sichuan hotpot and see the beautiful skylines that China boasts. I even took a bamboo raft down the Yangtze River. I felt my love for China increase as I gained a better understanding of it; seeing the diversity of China and all it has to offer. Taking night trains and sleeping in hostels meant I got to meet a lot of people and practise my Chinese. You learn a lot of things travelling around China. It’s an experience that opens your mind up to everything. You see both the good and the bad and after it all, once you have analysed your journey and had the opportunity to reflect on your experience, you feel you have come a long way. Looking back on the last seven months as a whole, I can definitely see how far we have come.

I went from awkward encounters every day, everywhere, desperately thrusting my phone in people’s faces after looking up a word on my dictionary, to now having friendships that solely use Chinese as the main form of communication. It’s a huge transition that means I now have friends from all over the world, who I would of never have had the chance to know! I have made a lot of Korean friends at the dormitory and during the holiday I also went to Korea to see them with my two friends, Erin my roommate and a Danish girl called Lia. Experiencing Korea, with friends who can show you around and advise you of what is the best to eat, see and do was incredible. Talking to them in Chinese while doing all this is even better. I can’t wait for them to come to Scotland, so I can return the hospitality they showed me and show them my home country. Staying in China has made me truly realise how much I love Scotland and I can’t wait to show it to the rest of the world.

After travelling we all returned to Tianjin to start the new term. We had to sit a practice HSK 3 to determine which class we would be put into. After the first week of putting us in classes, opening ceremonies and information meetings with teachers, we settled back in to the usual routine.

Although a lot of our old Thai friends left at the end of last term, we still regularly see them and the new term has brought a new bunch of international students from Thailand, Korea, Ukraine and Burma.

After a really bitterly cold winter, Tianjin is finally getting warmer. After a few weeks of normal warm springtime weather, the temperature is now above 25 degrees most days. As Scottish people, of course, when the sun is out we all put on shorts and T-shirts while many Chinese people are still wearing jeans and jackets.

John Somers, the First Secretary for Scottish Affairs in Beijing, came to meet us and took us out for an amazing lunch. It was great to talk to him and share stories of our time here as well as find out a bit more about him that we did not already know like where he had lived and worked and how he came to be in China. We hope to meet up with him again before we go home and we are maybe going to the British Embassy in Beijing to see the kind of work the department does.

Although it is early in the new term, we’re already making plans for travel throughout this term and at the end. A few of us are planning to go to Shanghai at the end of June for the opening of the new Shanghai Disneyland. A lot of people have already booked their flights home and Andrew and I are looking at flights for Korea before returning to Scotland.

After everything I have experienced so far, I’m looking forward to what our last three months will bring. The people I will meet, the new friends I will make and the things I will see. I’m also looking forward to what I will learn in class, so those ever-present hand gestures may eventually diminish.

Clare