What not to do: Tips from a returning scholar

Before sitting down to write this blog piece, I really had to think about what I wanted to say in it. Spending that time looking over this past year, it only makes me realise how amazing this year has been. Being home, China feels like a distant memory, but one that will stick with me forever. Thinking about the mix of feelings I had at the Scholar’s meeting this time last year, I cannot believe that the year is over – or that I made it through it! When I first found out I had received a place on the scholarship, I think I didn’t really grasp what I had signed myself up for. It was only when we landed in Beijing that reality sunk in, and with reality came an overwhelming sense of panic. Spending 10 months in a country half way around the world, with next to no understanding of the language, culture and society is genuinely not easy – but it is what made this scholarship the most extraordinary and memorable experience of my life. To those who will come after us, just know, it is okay to freak out a little. Having made it through to the other side, and now wise – well maybe not wise, but definitely not as clueless as before – to the art of surviving half way around the world, I can see the little errors of judgement and mistakes I made along the way. And so, in an effort to try and prevent others from making the same mistakes as I did, here is a list of what not to do when you arrive in China:

Don’t panic if your Chinese isn’t as good as you thought it was.

I arrived in China with a Higher in Mandarin, and on our first day of college was put in 四班 (Class 4), with a mix of Thai, Vietnamese, Ukrainian and Korean students most of whom had already been studying at the college for a semester. What happened next was absolute carnage. It took me a week to be able to tell when the Thai people were speaking Thai and when they were speaking Chinese; it took me another week to be able to follow a lesson in it’s entirety; and it took me 4 weeks until I managed to successfully answer a question. It was tough at first but once I got used to the Chinese teaching style and the classroom set up I realised the class was just at the right level for me. If I had panicked and moved down class the first week I don’t think my level of Mandarin would have improved as much as it has.

Don’t be embarrassed to say something wrong.

Those first few weeks in 四班 I was terrified to say something wrong or make a mistake, the other students in the class spoke with such fluency it intimidated me. However, the more I got to grips with what they were saying the more I realised that they were also making mistakes – but just didn’t care.

Don’t miss the opportunity to make friends from all around the world.

One of the hardest things about this scholarship quickly coming to an end is knowing that, soon, we are going to have to say goodbye to our friends. However, the long goodbye is definitely worth it. Making friends from all around the world has truly been one of the most enjoyable things about this experience. It has opened my eyes to how, despite different languages and cultures, if you and another person have enough in common friendship will come naturally. I am definitely going to miss persuading our Laos friends to cook for us and having our dancing shown up on nights out with Thai friends.

Don’t forget to travel China.

Travelling around Japan and South East Asia during Spring Festival was one of the best times of my life, but looking back there are still so many places in China I wish I could have gone to. China train tickets are so cheap that weekend trips are a great option. I’ve been lucky enough to go to most of the big cities, but if we had been more organised in the first semester we could have seen a lot more! Studying in China and knowing the language puts you in a unique opportunity to travel the country like a local, a chance you may never get again.

Don’t be scared to get a bike.

A few near death experiences is definitely a good way to wake you up in the morning.

Don’t be worried about making mistakes.

Living apart from our parents for the first time, in China of all places, meant a bit of a shaky start at adulthood. There were points where the responsibility of it all got too much and mistakes were made – whether it was burning your eyelids so badly sunbathing in Thailand that you are partly blinded for 2 days or accidentally booking a fake hostel and arriving in Shanghai on Chinese New Years Eve with no where to stay – but they now make for a good laugh.

In the end, however, no amount of advice can prepare you for the experience of living and studying in China for 10 months. There are hard parts to it, and everybody experienced low points, naturally. However, the high points will prove not to be just the highlights of your year – they will be the highlights of your life.

Maeve MacLeod 安小薇

 

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Settling in

So it’s almost been two weeks since we arrived in China and it almost feels like home is a distant memory. After a few tears at the airport, loosing then finding a passport in Amsterdam and a long flight we finally arrived in Tianjin safe and sound. It was a bit of a shock to our systems at first doing basic ‘parent jobs’ like feeding ourselves, tidying our room and doing shopping but as a team we manage really well.

Our first event was the ‘University of Strathclyde’s Alumni Event’ hosted in the Kerry Hotel in Beijing. Travelling to Beijing was an experience in itself as we had to figure out taxis, the bullet train and the general rush of Beijing. Afterwards we spent a night in a nice hostel and travelled back to our now home, Tianjin.

Although we were all extremely homesick at first, now having the routine of college and learning Chinese means we only have time to be excited and immerse in the culture. The highlights of Tianjin definitely have to be the kind people, our international friends and the nightlife. The only low is sometimes it is frustrating not being able to communicate in Chinese and be understood, however this only makes us all the more determined to study hard.

In summary, so far we all love Tianjin, enjoy the rich culture and can’t wait for what the next year has in store for us all.

Ben Lomako

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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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