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.



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