When I first heard that I had been accepted for this scholarship in December 2015 I had no idea what to expect. The prospect of living not only away from home but living halfway around the world was a very daunting one! However, over the months leading up to our departure it became clearer what should be expected from our time here and by the time it came for us to leave we were all very excited.Our first few weeks in Tianjin were full of ups and downs. Initially it was difficult at times not being able to communicate in the way that we would like to be able to. This did however motivate us to concentrate on our studies in order to make our lives here easier and be able to do things more independently. After we began to settle into our lives here things became a lot better, we began exploring the city more and discovering all of the exciting things there are to do here. We found places like the People’s Park (人民公园), Minyuan (民院) where you can buy international produce and eat in various nice restaurants and Binjiangdao （滨江道） which is the main shopping street in Tianjin. Once we started college and our Chinese began to improve to a level where we could travel confidently and easily, the city was really ours to explore.
Over the next few months our Chinese progressed so quickly that I think it surprised even ourselves at times. When you use the language every single day it is sometimes important to take a step back and really appreciate just how far you’ve come. Through the college we had opportunities to visit other universities, meet many other foreign students which whom we could practise our language skills and even to participate in competitions and displays. These ranged from Kung Fu displays to robot building! These things all gave us more chances to use and improve our Chinese in a practical, fun setting.
In November we had the incredible opportunity to attend the St Andrews Day Ball in Beijing. I took this opportunity to spend some time in the capital and explore various famous sites which was brilliant. Being able to just decide to go to the Summer Palace, one of the most famous places in China, and then just get on a train and go for the day is something I couldn’t have imagined myself doing before I came here. The ball itself was something that we had all been very much looking forward to and it most certainly did not disappoint. There we had the opportunity to meet people from various different countries and positions including the representative for Scotland in the British embassy in Beijing. This was truly an incredible night and gave us the chance to really act as ambassadors for Scotland.
A few months into our scholarship we celebrated what, for many of us, was our first Christmas away from home. The thought of this made many of us feel quite homesick leading up to it but in reality I think that many of us felt that it was one of our best Christmases ever. We may not have been able to celebrate with our real families but having spent all of our time together in the first few months it really felt as though we were celebrating with a different kind of family. In one of the days leading up to the 25th we all pulled out mattresses into one room and sat together watching Elf together. This is most certainly one of the days that stands out most to me in my time here.After Christmas and exams were over for the first term it was time for us to have our two months holiday for Spring Festival （春节）and we all set off on our travels. Some scholars travelled around south east Asia, many went to Japan, some travelled as far as Australia and other returned home to see family and friends. The chance to visit Japan is one which I will never forget. It was made especially memorable because our Japanese friends whom we had met in China came to Tokyo to meet us and show us around. We wouldn’t have been able to do this without studying Chinese as many of them don’t speak much, if any, English.
In our second term we started studying at Tianjin Foreign Studies University, where we also been living the previously. This was a very positive change as we already had many international friends from the university and knew the area well. We also had the added bonus of having most our international friends from college join us here. Although classes are very different at the university they are equally as enjoyable. Every day we have classes from 8am until 11:40am and then have the option to take afternoon cultural classes or use our time however we want. Often this is occupied with seeing friends, travelling around the city or studying.
The opportunity to study Chinese in China is one for which I am incredibly grateful for many reasons. Our Chinese has improved more than I had even imagined it would and as well as becoming more confident using the language we have all become so much more independent as individuals this year. Following this year two of us will continue on to study Chinese at University in Edinburgh and a few others hope to return to study in China over the next few years. To the scholars future scholars I would say this:
- Go out and see the city
- Use your Chinese as much as you can to make new friends
- Travel as much as possible
- And don’t be worried, you’ll have an incredible year, 加油！