« 怎么说呢 »: ‘zěn me shuō ne’ or ‘it’s difficult to describe’ is an expression that I learnt in China, which aptly summarises my trip. When I was offered the opportunity to travel and study at Zhejiang University in China in April 2015, I immediately accepted it; however, it is difficult to describe the vibrancy and sensory overload of China unless you have experienced it yourself!
This April, I travelled to Zhejiang University where I fell in love with the city of Hangzhou and the Chinese way of life. The Study China Programme is a 3-week intensive Chinese language course designed to develop your written and spoken language skills whilst living like a Chinese university student. Best of all, the UK Government funds the tuition, accommodation and costs for any organised trips. Like normal Chinese students, I shared a room with another girl from the Programme and ate meals in large, industrial-style canteens. Whilst these living arrangements may sound far from ideal, I loved the authenticity of them all, even the guessing games of choosing dishes using rudimentary phrases and sign language. Everyone works together to adjust to the Chinese lifestyle, which does take time to get used to. As a big group of touristy students, we accumulated a large group of ‘admirers’ wherever we ventured; Chinese locals and fellow students were always being so welcoming and recommending us places to visit. Being involved in nightlife was a popular way of becoming acquainted with China and other students; compared to the UK, going out in China is extraordinarily cheap. KTV or karaoke was usually £10 per person and was always a guaranteed night of hilarity and bonding, whilst meals can be under £2 and a bottle of beer was 50p.
On the weekends, we were able to venture further afield and I travelled with some friends to Shanghai. It was 150km away, but with tickets costing 100 ¥ or £10 for the high speed train, we arrived in the city in under an hour! Weekends were full of opportunities to explore and experience the local culture and food, whilst we tried to haggle in street markets using phrases learnt in class. It doesn’t matter if you’ve never seen Chinese characters before or you’re studying it as part of your degree because there are classes for all abilities. Most students were complete beginners, but for all of us, the early mornings and teaching style were very different to what we’re used to in the West: it is tough and fast-paced. As Chinese is a part of my degree, I was placed in an ‘Advanced’ class where I met international students who were studying abroad for a year. While the daily vocabulary test was a challenge, my progress and confidence in Chinese has multiplied. I also chose an additional module in an area of interest: Chinese Business Culture, Nation and Nationalism or Chinese Media. All of which were taught by Chinese professors and so gave us a fascinating insight of China from their perspective.
These 3 weeks were some of the best, most unforgettable times of my life and I would definitely do it all over again. I don’t think that many of us would normally have this opportunity to live and learn for free in such an exotic country; the Study China Programme is a perfect chance to do just that! And it beats – hands down – the alternative way of spending your Easter holidays: revising for your summer exams!
For more information and to apply now, visit: http://www.studychina.org.uk/
Written by Hannah Grisley
The UoB Linguist Magazine
Guild of Students,
University of Birmingham