Cameron HENDERSON-BEGG FS2014-15, Oxford University | to China
My recent year abroad in China was one of the most illuminating, testing and transformative of my life. From August 2013 to July 2014, I spent a total of over ten months living and studying in Beijing at Peking University (PKU) on the Oxford programme for Chinese as a second language. My time away was generously supported by the Fung scholarship, and indeed it would not have been possible without it.
If the Foundation seeks to promote leadership and cultural exchange, the year our scholarship facilitated was a gift for both of those. In terms of the former, I was given a particular opportunity. I acted as class representative for our group of students, a challenging role in a difficult environment. Early in the year one of my classmates fell suddenly ill, and I was responsible for liaising between the hospital, the university and his insurers to help ensure smooth treatment. Other responsibilities included the preparation, collation and editing of a 75-page guide to help the next cohort of year abroad students understand and settle into life overseas.
Beijing offered numerous openings for cultural exchange. A year with my language partner at PKU helped me to comprehend the challenges of (mis)communication across different languages and social environments. The university’s rich extra-curricular life also gave me the chance to interact with the artists, businesspeople and leaders of tomorrow’s China. In particular, I spent most of the year rehearsing with the Peking University Chinese Music Institute’s main orchestra, directed by the incomparable Professor Bryan Bi Minghui. The group combined Chinese and Western instruments, and I led the first flutes. As the only non-Asian player in the ensemble, rehearsals and sectionals were a superb chance to bond over music with my Chinese (and one South Korean) counterparts.
Having to rehearse in underground car parks—the largest rehearsal space available—for most of the year probably helped bring us closer too… Our final concert, in the university’s main hall, was a fine example of dialogue across musical cultures: half of the programme was our already multicultural ensemble, and the other half was performed by visiting musicians from the University of Texas.
That concert is among my most enduring memories of China—and I am enormously grateful to the foundation for making such a memory possible.