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