Education is one of the most important weapons you have. It will place you in a far better position to serve yourself and your community.” This quote was made by an international leader who, in my eyes, redefined what it meant to be a true human. Time and time again, he influenced and continues to influence the world by his simple acts of humility, which he displayed during a seriously troubled time. He was battered, bruised and banished by his own country, but when he rose to power and transformed his country to the rainbow nation, he instead of returning this barbaric behaviour to his oppressors, saw grace and forgave. This quote from prior South African president, Nelson Mandela, is what motivates me to seek education, not only through the official education system, but rather in my everyday life.
I am currently enrolled in a Bachelor of Languages at the University of Adelaide (UoA) and I plan to graduate at the end of 2016. Within this bachelor, students are permitted to study a vast range and number of languages. This structure suits my personality quite well, as it means that it gives me the opportunity to concurrently study a number of languages and broaden my linguistic and cultural horizons. I chose to study both Mandarin Chinese and German. From the get go, I knew that I wished to go on exchange during my tertiary studies, as I knew that UoA had connections with many other universities around the globe. This, paired with the fact that Australian tertiary students are able to access two tax-free loans from the government for overseas, full-time exchanges (OS-HELP), it was now the time to decide where to go. Having had the opportunity to visit Germany in 2013 during my European adventure, I thought that I should venture to China, to grasp the opportunity to improve my Chinese skills within its natural environment.
Hence, here I am. Room 443, Building no. 1, Beijing Foreign Studies University (BFSU), Haidian district, Beijing, The People’s Republic of China. This has been my home for the past three months and it will see me to the beginning of July. I share this room with a Zimbabwean friend, Robert, who is studying business administration at the International Business School within BFSU. My exchange is with the school of Chinese Language and Literature, where I study full-time Chinese language with 14 classmates from all around the world; Malaysia, Germany, Indonesia, France, Thailand, Costa Rica and Laos. We have two different types of classes including Chinese grammar and spoken language, both which are taught in Chinese. When I first came to Beijing, I had been studying Chinese language at UoA for two years (as one of my four subjects per semester), however I was at a similar level to some students who had only been studying full-time for one semester in China. This shows how much faster you can learn a language when you are in its natural environment. Additionally, I know that since being here I have improved exponentially. Due to this improvement in my Chinese language skills, my professor in Adelaide has deemed me suitable to transfer from the beginners stream to the advanced stream once I return to UoA. When I began studying at UoA, I had never learnt Chinese before and I can now see how far I have come with my linguistic developments. Moreover, I do not regret my decision to go on exchange one little bit.
As well as the language learning in the classroom, there are so many opportunites to improve your skills at BFSU by meeting some local students and just chatting. Making friends here is a breeze, whether local or foreign. BFSU is known to be the top language tertiary school in the country and one of the biggest institutions for foreign languages in the world, offering approximately 60 languages! Due to this most students at BFSU can speak at least two languages and it’s very common for students to speak three or even four. It’s an amazing hub of linguistic learning and cultural cultivation. Just within my class, seven countries are represented, but there are countless others at this uni too. Not long after arriving in China I befriended a local Chinese whose major is German studies. We quickly became good friends as well as language partners and so my education continued deepening, but within a social context. She, like all other Chinese university students, can speak some English as in order for Chinese students to enter tertiary education, they must pass a very difficult English exam. By simply meeting every now and again in a local cafe she has been able to help me with my Chinese, I have been able to help her with her English and we have been mutually able to practise and support each other with our German. During our meets the most spoken language frequently became German, as this helped us to explain what we were trying to say while chatting and catching up over coffee. While learning German as a second language at high school, I never imagined myself, being Australian, to be using this language to simply chat with a Chinese friend at a cafe in Beijing. This goes to show how language learning can open up so many doors for exciting adventures; meeting the people of the world over coffee.
As well as having the opportunity to meet numerous new people and learn their fascinating way of life, language learning can open up the door for many professional adventures. Recently I have been given the incredible opportunity aquire a modelling job for a German company at their product exhibition in Beijing. The exhibition will take place within the next month and I have been tasked to present the company’s products to potential clients and customers. The few days of the exhibition will see me using all the languages English, German and Chinese. I managed to land this job via my Italian dorm mate’s, teacher’s, friend’s, friend’s manager. It’s just amazing how you are able to aquire such an experience here while on exchange, but this is very often how it works China. Additionally, if it weren’t for my ability to communicate in multiple languages, such an adventure may have just slip through my fingers and I may never have had the chance to work for a German company at an international exhibition centre, located in the capital city of one of the biggest countries in the world. This kind of experience, simultaneously using a number of languages in a professional context, will surely grow my professional image and skills, as well as my personal development. The learning is invaluable.
As seen by the opporrtunity to use my language skills hands on with the modelling job and meeting new friends from thoughout the world, not all learning has to be within a classroom. While traveling, I am a firm believer of eating my way around the world. Each country I visit I try to make sure that I try some of the local delicacies. During my stay in Beijing I have managed to taste some curious Chinese foods, some better than others. For example, Peking duck, steamed pig intestines, chicken feet, boiled sheep stomach and a lot of tofu. The enlightenment of these experiences is best left for your imagination. You can be your own judge for which foods are worth trying. There are a number of Chinese foods which are notoriously questionable in flavour and one’s ability to stomach it can easily be lost when you simply here what it is made of. Despite this common conception, in general Chinese food is delicious. The concept of ‘Chinese food’ is not a simple one to conceptualise, as each part of the large and greatly populated China has a different type of cuisine. Some cuisines are more spicy (such as sichuan (四川) province), some are more sweet (such as the Shanghai (上海) area), some use more seafood (southern China), some are more salty (northen China), some include more soup (north-eastern China), some include more red meat (western China). If you visit Beijing, however, it is said that you will have the best chance to try most of these varying cuisines, as Beijing is the cultural hub of modern China. Having had the opportunity to try a number of these differing cuisines, I constantly want to try more and more Chinese food. The desire to travel to the far borders of China and try their local delicacies grows with each meal. I am glad to have come to China and see for myself what ‘Chinese food’ really is, and not rely on my experiences of eating the Aussie versions. Admittedly, Aussie Chinese food isn’t too far off the real thing, but it is such a narrow window of what is really available in China. I’m looking foward to many more meals in China and seeing how they compare to my past experiences. Such tastes will go with me forever and I hope to learn to cook some of these meals to recreate later on. I’m sure my friends and family with thank me for it
Including its delicious and differing cuisines, China is a country which has an under-appreciated wealth of learning, especially for those from Western countries. As we emerge into what many scholars claim to be the ‘Asian century’, we can look to China for so much more than their economic advantages. The opportunity is awaiting us to venture to the many natural and man-made wonders which this country has to offer. To name just one, close by to Beijing and in the northern part of China you can marvel over the extensive and breathtaking ‘Great Wall of China’. Many of us have heard so much about this treasured man-made wonder of the world, however I believe that there is much more than meets the eye. Prior to coming to China I was already aware that the wall was not simply one continuous wall which streached the whole distance of the country, but rather a selection of shorter walls built to surround the vast spance of northern China. The few walls as a whole are still considered the Great Wall, however the history of each section differs and they all date back hundreds of years. A mere fraction of the country’s few thousand year history. In China there is a saying that if a person never ventures to the Great Wall in their lifetime, then they can never be considered a real person. Thankfully, according to this belief, I recently became an authentic human! During a visit to the northern city of Chengde (承德), my classmates and I grasped the chance to climb the steepest part of the Great Wall. This was my first time to visit the wall and it was only once I began to climb it, that I really started to comprehend the incredible magnitude of this structure. The direct translation of the Great Wall from Chinese is in fact ‘long city wall’. The word ‘Great’ in the English name directly refers to the wall’s grandness, but also indirectly refers to its grandness in terms of its length. It seems obvious to understand that the name refers to its length as we all know that the wall is very long, however I believe that one can only really comprehend such grandness when you have personally climbed it. Each step leaves you more exposed to the elements of mother nature, come terential rain or sizzling heat. Also, each step brings you closer to falling off the edge, as every step is a different height, length and width. After hiking to reach the wall arest the top mountain ledge, climbing to the highest peak of this section of the wall and returning the same way to a much lower altitutde, we covered a large number of kilometres. This trek is but a very small accomplishment in comparison to the size of the Great Wall in its entirety. However this trekking adventure is one which I will treasure my entire life. Such a learning experience is unforgettable.
Even though I have only been in China for three months, due to how much I have experienced so far, I feel as if I have been living here for at least one year. Nelson Mandela’s quote about the strength of learning in terms of its benefit to your community and yourself, rings true in my life again and again. Most recently seen in my Chinese language improvements during my official university exchange, the growth in my ability to meet the people of the world and mutually teach each other our languages and cultures, the development of my professional image and skills while taking part in the international exhibition, my enlightenment of the various and delicious tastes of Chinese cuisines and personally learning the grandness of China’s natural and man-made wonders. With these incredible experiences in mind and including numerous others during my life, I know that I am continually blessed to be able to personally learn so much from the people of this world and their achievements. I pray and encourage you that if any learning opportunity comes your way, you should take hold of it with both hands and think of how it can help yourself and those around you. No matter how big or small, whether in a classroom or in any other aspect of your daily life, it will bring a magnitude of wealth.