Elizabeth TOTTEN FS2013-14, The University of Oxford | to China
Spending my year abroad in China was a truly fantastic experience. To make use of my funding and China’s brilliant transport system during the holidays I took the opportunity to attempt to see as much of China as I could. A particular highlight would have to be my trip to Yunnan over Chinese New Year- I did a lot of hiking, cycling, and exploring some of the beautiful villages of the ethnic minorities. The dramatic views from the Tiger Leaping Gorge were simply incredible.
I also spent much of my time in Beijing partaking in various sports which was another real highlight. Running the Beijing half marathon was an amazing experience- warming up to ‘Gangnam Style’ in Tiananmen Square is something I will never forget. Moreover my participation in sports teams at PKU was a lot of fun. I joined the swimming, athletics and orienteering teams and took part in a number of competitions across Beijing during the year. Through these teams and the training and competitions, I made a number of friends helped me learn Chinese and would often meet with me for lunch or dinner, many of whom I am still in touch with.
Beijing was a fascinating place to live because of the diversity of the different people living there. Whilst it was interesting to meet other internationals also studying Chinese, it was great to hear the views of the migrant workers and hutong restaurant owners. The taxi drivers told us their life stories in brief trips across Beijing- how they travelled in from the outer suburbs every day and only had time to sleep in their cars between shifts. I also developed a great relationship with a Chinese family on my staircase. I taught their daughter English each week and then I was treated to dinner in their apartment and some (very high pace!) Chinese conversational practice afterwards! Another neighbour also taught me how to make Baozi and invited me for tea on several occasions. Although only small gestures, these things were so lovely- despite being a laowai, families like these made me feel ever so slightly more integrated into Chinese society.
I also made a visit to an orphanage- Bethel- set up to provide for blind orphans which was a very emotional but interesting day. It made me aware of the many challenges China still faces but also eager to remain involved in this amazing country.
Furthermore, many thanks to the funding we received, I was able to stay in Beijing for the summer where I had a fantastic time working in a Chinese office. At the weekends I made trips to Qingdao for the Beer festival and went walking and camping on the Great Wall.
My time in China presented me with some of the greatest challenges I have ever faced, not only linguistically but emotionally and culturally as well. I learnt so much about myself, China and Chinese and I have no doubt was one of the most incredible experiences I will have in my life.